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Stowe, Buckinghamshire: design for the south front of the house for the 2nd Earl Temple, executed with alterations, 1771 (1)

Signed and dated

  • 1771


Though the Temple family acquired the land at Stowe in 1571, the house was not built until the 1680s for Sir Richard Temple, 3rd Baronet, Commissioner of the Customs, to a design on which Christopher Wren (1632-1723) may have advised. Sir Richard's son, the 4th Baronet, (1675-1749, created Viscount Cobham in 1718) remodelled the exterior in the 1720s, possibly with the help of Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726). With a complicated architectural history James Gibbs (1682-1754), Giacomo Leoni (c1686-1746), William Kent (1685-1748), and Henry Flitcroft (1697-1769) are also thought to have been employed during Cobham's lifetime. A new south front was executed in the 1750s by Giovanni Battista Borra (1713-70). Lord Cobham died without issue, and his title passed to his sister, Countess Temple, and on her death in 1752 to her son, Richard Grenville, 2nd Earl Temple (1711-79) who was a vastly wealthy and powerful Whig member of the House of Lords. In the 1770s Temple undertook a rebuilding programme, with two new pavilions to the east and west, an additional attic storey, and new north and south fronts. The architect of this work is thought to have been Temple's cousin, Thomas Pitt, (1737-93, created 1st Baron Camelford in 1784). The south front was executed in 1772-77 by Pitt to an altered version of a design by Adam, made in 1771. Adam was paid £100 for this design, and it appears from archival evidence to have been his only involvement at Stowe. This is one of the rare instances when Adam provided an executed design which he did not construct himself. According to McCarthy, Adam was not keen to take responsibility for construction under an amateur architect patron who questioned every detail. Despite this, at 450 feet, the south front at Stowe is the longest executed Adam façade. In the early nineteenth century further work was carried out in the house by Sir John Soane (1752-1837), and the house was sold in 1921 and turned into a school founded in 1922. The outbuildings of the house have been much altered and extended to provide accomodation for school activities. The house is open to the public during the school holidays. The important landscape, by Charles Bridgeman (1690-1738) and Lancelot 'Capability' Brown (1716-83) was donated to the National Trust in 1989.

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume I, p. 120, Volume II, Index p. 29; M.J. McCarthy, 'The rebuilding of Stowe House, 1770-77', Huntington Library Quarterly, Volume 36, Number 3, May 1973, pp. 267-69, 272, 275-76, 278-79, 283-84; M. Gibbon, 'Stowe, Buckinghamshire', Architectural History 20, 1977, pp. 32-33, 36; G. Beard, The work of Robert Adam, 1978, p. 49; N. Pevsner, and E. Williamson, The buildings of England: Buckinghamshire, 1994, pp. 660-61; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 204-207; G. Worsley, 'Stowe House, Buckinghamshire: The Property of the Stowe House Preservation Trust', Country Life, 29 January 2004, p. 52

I am grateful to Professor Alistair Rowan for his input when cataloguing this drawing.

Frances Sands, 2011



Digitisation of the Drawings Collection has been made possible through the generosity of the Leon Levy Foundation

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Contents of Stowe, Buckinghamshire: design for the south front of the house for the 2nd Earl Temple, executed with alterations, 1771 (1)