July tour 2022 – The River Stour


It was a day to accumulate small, useless artefacts of knowledge. It started with the River Stour – in fact the head of the River Stour. Whilst looking for the route of the River Stour I discovered this wasn’t quite so easy as there are a total of FIVE River Stours in the United Kingdom.

One each in the counties of Dorset, Kent, Suffolk, Warwickshire and Worcester. The name is of ambiguous and disputed origin, with one theory being that the name derives from the Celtic “sturr” meaning “strong”. However, the river-name Stour, whilst common in England does not occur in Wales…

Secondly, the Grand Tour is not just a TV series hosted by Jeremy Clarkson. The Grand Tour was the principally 17th to early 19th century custom of a traditional trip through Europe, with Italy as a key destination, undertaken by upper class young European men of sufficient means and rank (typically accompanied by a tutor or family member) when they had come of age – around 21 years old. The tradition finally declined in Europe as enthusiasm for classical culture waned, and with the advent of accessible rail and steamship travel.

The head of the River Stour on the Somerset / Wiltshire border is located at Stourhead. The river flows across southern England before finally entering the English Channel at Christchurch in Dorset. At the head of the River Stour is Stourhead House, a National Trust property. Stourhead House was one of the first country villas to be built in the new Palladium Style, the design much influenced by its owners trips on the Grand Tour.

The house was designed for Henry Hoare I by the architect Colen Campbell although Henry died before the house was completed and so never got to enjoy life at Stourhead.

Stourhead House
Stables at Stourhead house

Henry Hoare I, (“Good Henry”) and his successor, Henry Hoare II (“Magnificent Henry”) both made their money as bankers. The private bank, C Hoare & co remains the oldest private bank in England.

The house tour is a selection of rooms on the ground floor. All pristinely preserved and beautifully furnished with original furniture, fixtures and fittings. In 1946 the house was given to the National Trust to care for and look after for future generations. In the entrance hall are portraits of all the key Hoare family members and knowledgeable National Trust guides to pass on the family story.

The garden was described as “a living work of art” when it first opened its doors in the 1750s. The world-famous garden was designed by Henry Hoare II as a series of carefully constructed views, like scenes from a Landscape painting. Henry Hoare II built a dam to form the lake and around it he positioned classical temples and Gothic buildings as well as rare and exotic trees.

The garden was at the forefront of the English Landscape movement and for this achievement, Henry was nicknamed “the Magnificent”.

Map of Stourhead house and gardens
Views across the Lake, Stourhead House
Views across the Lake at Stourhead house
Grotto at Stourhead House
Church at Stourhead