Photograph: E. Smith (1962)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection
Stourhead is best known for its park, not its house. Begun in 1744, some twenty years after the house was built, it actually has little relationship to it. Sunk in its valley, and shrouded by woods, it is not visible from the house at all.
It is a complete contrast with the formal Baroque park. Temples, a grotto and other structures are picturesquely scattered around the irregularly shaped lake, providing charming vistas from and towards each other. The aim was to create a perfected natural landscape such as Nature itself could never produce. Expensive both to create and to maintain, what seems all natural here is really all artifice, as contrived as the paintings it was based upon, by the French artists Nicolas Poussain and Claude Lorraine.
This view looks across the turf bridge towards the Pantheon, its low dome and pediment nestling in the mature woods that surround the serpentine lake. Many other buildings graced the park, ranging stylistically from Classical, Gothic, Chinese, Turkish to the sheer bizarre. A few have been lost, and the current planting has many exotic specimens introduced during the Victorian period. Even so, Stourhead is one of the most complete mid eighteenth-century landscape parks in Britain and certainly amongst the best maintained.