Bowood House and Gardens
Bowood House is a magnificent Grade I listed Georgian country house near Chippenham in Wiltshire. Its fabulous interiors were designed by Robert Adam, while its grounds are considered as one of Lancelot Capability Brown’s greatest creations.
The first house at Bowood was built in the 1720s on the site of a hunting lodge. Having run into financial difficulties, the estate was sold to John Petty, the 1st Earl of Shelburne in 1754. The house was extended by the 1st Earl and also by his son, William Petty, 2nd Earl who was created the Marquess of Landsdowne for negotiating peace with America after the War of Independence. Originally two houses consisting of a ‘Big House’ and a ‘Little House’ these were joined together by the construction of an enormous drawing room. The 1st Marquess commissioned Robert Adam to work on the interior of the house and to build the magnificent orangery wing to conceal the service complex when viewed from the front of the house. The clock tower by Sir Charles Barry and the chapel were added later.
During WWII, the Big House was occupied by the Royal Air Force after which it stood empty for a decade. It had become so dilapidated that the 8th Marquess of Landsdowne had the Big House demolished in 1955. At the same time, the Little House was converted into comfortable living quarters and remains as the family home to this day.
BOWOOD PARK AND GARDENS
Capability Brown's magnificent 2,000-acre park was commissioned in 1762 by the 1st Marquess. It replaced an earlier, more formal garden of avenues and wildernesses. Brown's design included his signature serpentine lake. This was created at the expense of Mannings Hill hamlet, the remains of which were recently discovered by divers at the bottom of the lake. Additional Brownian features including gently sloping lawns, a ha-ha, drifts of mature trees and an arboretum of rare trees can still be seen today. Brown also installed a Doric Temple folly in the Pleasure Grounds which was moved to its current position beside the lake in the mid-19th Century.
Further additions were made to the grounds in the 19th Century. The superb Italianate terrace gardens on the south front were commissioned by the 3rd Marquess. The Upper Terrace was completed in 1818 while the Lower Terrace was completed in 1851. In keeping with Victorian fashion, these were originally planted with hundreds of thousands of annuals in intricate and somewhat gawdy designs. Today, rose parterres sit amongst formally clipped yews while the terrace walls are softened with laurel and climbing roses climbers.
To the rear of the house is the private walled garden of Lord and Lady Lansdowne. Four acres in size, the walled garden is divided into quadrants containing a formal border, a picking garden, working greenhouses and a kitchen garden. With a focus on perfume and colour, this charming garden provides delight across the seasons.
Bowood’s woodland garden offers an extensive collection of rhododendrons, including a number of rare varieties. The woodland garden was commenced by the 3rd Marquess during the 1850s making this one of the oldest rhododendron gardens in England. In spring, walks through the woodlands provide a dazzling display of colour.
In 1987 the formal garden, pleasure ground, park and woodland were listed Grade I on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens of special historic interest in England. Some 370 years after it was first created, this estate still manages to impress.
We visit Bowood House and Gardens on our A Touch of Magnificence tour in 2021.
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Images credit: Eliza Ford