Stowe House is one of England’s grandest country houses and was initially built for Sir Richard Temple in the 17th Century. Successive generations have modified and developed the house and its surroundings, including the creation of its exquisite gardens. In the 20s, Stowe was adapted as a school, and Stowe School remains its tenants today.
In 1999, Stowe House was awarded a major National Heritage Lottery Fund grant and Purcell were appointed as Architects to repair the house’s North Frontage, and for works including upgrading access, removing car parking from the forecourt, and improving the approach to the house and its appearance.
Since then, we have conserved the house’s South Front and reinstated the original roof formation to the mansion house. Internally, we have conserved the North Hall, Blue Room, State Library, Marble Saloon and most recently the State Drawing Room.
The reinstatement of the State Dining Room ceiling is currently on site (January 2021 to June 2021) and will ensure upgrades to the building’s mechanical and electrical services. Each project has involved extensive research from architectural recordings and reports from Conservators, Historians and Archaeologists.
While repairing the North Front of the house, we removed the car park from the forecourt, and improved the visitor approach to the building which included the replacement of the north portico steps.
A local sand quarried at Finmere (formerly a part of Stowe estate) lime, and a self finishing render was specified for all subsequent work. We removed harmful salts to the brick backgrounds with poultices before re-rendering and repairing the building’s façade back to its former glory. The scope also included the reroofing of the colonnades along with repairs to parapets and all abutments.
The South Front
While conserving the mansion’s South Front façade, we returned elevations and replaced the south front steps. The external scope also included the reinstatement of the original roof forms over the mansion house, the repair of the oval skylight, the reinstatement of a copper roof covering to the dome over the Marble Saloon, and the reroofing of the adjacent hipped roofs.
This also required the removal of a 60s aluminum roofing which enclosed the Victorian and 20th Century cast iron water tanks which were installed by the school onto the original masonry parapet walls. The tanks were removed from the parapets with alternative water storage tanks installed to allow the original roof formation to be reinstated, to expose the dome over the Marble Saloon which was supported by (previously) rotten timber beams.
We undertook stonework repairs using Bath stone which matched the stonework used in the original design, using traditional hand tool masonry techniques, with the application of a diluted copperas (iron sulphate) within the South Portico.
This technique was originally used in the 18th Century to disguise the differences in stones, but for the project, we used it to tone in the new elements of stonework and lime render repair. While replacing the failing stone, we created crisp lines to reinstate the original architectural detail.
The South Front contract was extended to include the Marble Saloon which required an extensive programme of conservation. We repaired the fine, highly decorative coffered plastered ceiling and cornice, while cleaning and lime washing.
The work was completed when copies of the original classical statuary were reinstated within the niches. The Roman statue located in the saloon was damaged, and the Conservator replaced its facial features, limbs, and spears. In addition, the marble floor and scagliola columns were also restored to their former glory.
The State Library is located to the east of the mansion house, and has a beautiful ornate ceiling, while looking out at views across what remains of the Capability Brown-designed landscape gardens. In the early 20th Century, the roof had failed, resulting in damage to the internal plasterwork of the library.
Our team reroofed the library, redecorated and gilded the ceiling in gold leaf. The roof trusses were replicated on the matching pavilion to the west, and we recovered the lead before carrying out extensive repairs to the original lath and lime plaster ceiling.
The State Drawing Room
Works to the State Drawing Room commenced in June 2020 and reached completion in March 2021. This included localised structural repair and levelling of the floor prior to a new oak floor finish, where the board widths were reinstated to match the original arrangements.
The lath and plaster ceiling was repaired and fully redecorated to reflect the 1800 decorative scheme which was agreed following specialist paint analysis. The analysis confirmed that the gilded gold leaf to the cornice (to include the frieze) and capitals (including the background decoration) was the original decoration, and was conservation cleaned and repaired. This informed the specification and 1800 decorative scheme which included the redecoration of the low level plastered walls and cornice background and gilding in gold leaf of all joinery mouldings and details to the columns, doors, window shutters, skirtings and chair rails.
Following historical research, the walls were originally lined with a patterned orange silk damask. Due to the space being used for dining in by 800 pupils, 4 times a day, the walls will be lined with an orange decorative paper as an interpretation of the original linings.
The mechanical and electrical services have also been replaced to meet current demands, with all associated cabling and pipework sensitively installed within the floors with concealed access to allow the systems to be maintained.
The original highly decorative fireplace piece was constructed with marble with an Egyptian alabaster inlay below the mantel. It was sold in the great sale of 1922 (along with most of the buildings furniture, tapestries, fireplace pieces, ornaments, and paintings).
The fireplace piece has since been located, and as a result of a digital 3D scan survey, an exact copy has been carved. This has been crafted in timber with a specialist hand painted decoration applied to replicate the original exact finish and veining of the materials which wouldn’t be possible when using newly quarried marble.
Representation of the interiors
In a number of subsequent projects, our team have carefully cleaned and conserved Vincenzo Valdrè’s decorative scheme to the Music Room, while also restoring Stowe's Egyptian Hall, and the Blue Room. Within the house’s North Hall, Kent’s ceiling was carefully conserved, and in 2019, the walls were redecorated, and a new stone floor was laid to reinstate the original floor arrangements which replaced the 1950’s terrazzo floor tiling.
In all the projects completed at Stowe House, we have ensured that the logistical and practical needs of Stowe School have been met, from repairs to joinery, to upgrades to heating and fire protection systems. Importantly, we program works to extend over school holidays as much as possible to avoid noise during term time.