BUCKINGHAMSHIRE.- From Easter 2011 visitors to Stowe House, the magnificent Grade I listed Neo-Classical palace set in 400 acres of landscaped park in Buckinghamshire, will be able to admire the recently restored Large Library (sometimes referred to as the State Library), one of the most magnificent Georgian interiors in Britain. Thanks to the generous support of World Monuments Fund, The Country Houses Foundation, a WMF Robert W. Wilson Challenge grant, an anonymous donor, other trusts, foundations and former pupils (known as Old Stoics), the Library has been extensively refurbished. This restoration is part of an ongoing major conservation project at Stowe, which will enable the public to enjoy the major rooms in the House in all their glory.
Stowe House Preservation Trust (SHPT) has undertaken the daunting challenge of restoring this great mansion with its 400 rooms and 1/6 mile-wide façade and of opening it up to the general public. World Monuments Fund (WMF) included Stowe in its 2002 Watch List of endangered sites and began to support the project by substantially funding the restoration of the astonishing Marble Saloon with its 57-foot-high dome which was completed in 2005. One of the largest and most spectacular spaces to be found in any British country house, the Saloon is an oval version of the Pantheon in Rome .
There are six phases of work, some of which are complete, including the North front and colonnades, the South portico and pavilions as well as the Large Library and Marble Saloon. Visitors this spring will see that the South front is nearly complete, although part of it still has scaffolding in place and this work should be finished by early autumn. A further £500,000 must be raised to achieve the £10 million target needed for the external work and interiors of other State Rooms including the Music Room. An additional £1.2 million is needed for the interpretation centre which will open in 2012, the balustrades on the South front and further State Rooms. An anonymous donor has generously agreed to match all the funds raised.
Stowes Large Library was originally a ballroom when built in the 1740s which was then divided into two rooms in the 1760s. It was united, furnished, gilded and stocked as a library during the 1790s in anticipation of a visit from George III, whose fondness for books is today manifested at the heart of the British Library. But the king never arrived at Stowe and the fortunes of the Temple-Grenville family waned in the coming decades, leaving the library without furniture, its great ceiling beneath layers of white emulsion paint, and the plasterwork failing. Restoring this elegant room with its 750 mahogany bookshelves and magnificent ceiling was no easy task. In March 2010, under the partnership of the Stowe House Preservation Trust, Stowe School and World Monuments Fund Britain , a panel of experts convened to discuss the evidence for the original decorative scheme upon which the ceilings restoration depended. The paint was stripped in order to repair and replace the cracked and failed plasterwork over which an entire oak trussed-roof had just been rebuilt to replace a leaking and sagging 20th-century mono-pitch.
Analysis of over 600 samples of the paint and gilt finishes was undertaken and records revealed that 15,000 gold leaves were used in the original scheme. This was replicated by Cliveden Conservation Workshops who, over seven months, used 23.5 carat extra thick transfer gold leaf.
Stowe House is not only a building of huge scale and grandeur but also one of Britains most spectacular cultural landmarks, the result of a long and glorious era of artistic patronage on the part of the Temple-Grenville family who became the Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos. The building was begun by Sir Richard Temple in 1676, his family having been sheep farmers under Elizabeth I. Over the next century, Viscount Cobham and then his nephew Earl Temple rebuilt it into the great classical show house and landscape which still amazes visitors today. As an early public tourist attraction, it was the first English site to be explained by a guide book and Stowe became a Grand Tour in itself. Numerous famous architects worked there including Sir John Vanbrugh, William Kent, James Gibbs, Robert Adam, Thomas Pitt and Sir John Soane, making Stowe one of the most important houses and estates in the country.
Stowe House Preservation Trust was established in 1997 with the principal aim of restoring and preserving Stowe House for the benefit of the nation and the public, and the School as its tenant. Together with the School, the National Trust and in partnership with the WMF and other supporters, SHPT seeks to complete the restoration of Stowe as an historic masterpiece for the nation and to maintain it for future generations.
World Monuments Fund was set up as a private organisation in 1965 by a group of enthusiasts aware of the dangers that the worlds architectural inheritance faced from neglect, the passage of time, war and natural disasters. Its aim was to help rescue and preserve endangered sites around the world. WMF Britain helps as an affiliate and works with local partners and communities to identify and save important heritage through innovative programmes of field conservation, advocacy, grant-making and public education. Stowe House is their most exciting challenge and a unique opportunity to preserve a work of international architectural significance.