Stowe House


Location   Kilkhampton
Year demolished   1739  
Reason   Insufficient wealth / end of family line  
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The Restoration of the Monarchy meant rewards for those who had helped the King's return. These rewards provided the means and opportunity for construction on a lavish scale - as was the case with Stowe House.

Since the fourteenth century, the powerful West Country Granville family had had their seat in the parish of Kilkhampton. Being fervent Royalists, at the outbreak of the English Civil War, Sir Bevil Granville had immediately sided with the Monarchy. He was a very succesful commander until his death in the Battle of Lansdowne in 1643. Fighting with him, and despite his being only 13-years old, his son John followed in his father's footsteps into battle. He was wounded at the Battle of Newbury in 1644 and accompanied the King during his retreat to Jersey in 1646. Made Governor of Scilly soon afterwards he served there until he rejoined the Royal Court in France in 1653 but shortly afterwards made his way back to Cornwall to agitate for the Royalist cause. In 1659 he opened negotiations with General Monk (the leader of Cromwell's army) which led to the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660.

A grateful King rewarded John Granville by creating him the first Earl of Bath in recognition of the services of both himself and his father. The new Earl of Bath set about replacing the medieval family seat (which he subsequently demolished) by building a new house which matched his new status.

The new Stowe House was regarded as one of the finest and noblest houses in the west of England. Built c.1675, the brick house with stone dressings was eleven bays wide by seven deep and rising three storeys with the attic floor lit by dormer windows. The house featured a hipped roof, a central cupola, walled gardens decorated with fountains and statues, a deer park and formal plantings of trees. No images are known to exist of the house but other houses built at a similar time and featuring similar elements include Coleshill House and Lindridge, though Belton House is considered the best surviving comparison. Inside, the rooms were decorated with rich gilded panelling, elaborately decorated plaster ceilings, extensive wood carvings and furnished with the best furniture from the finest craftsmen of the age.

However this glorious house was not to last. The first Earl of Bath died in 1701 and his son, Charles, now the second Earl of Bath, tragically managed to shoot himself by accident whilst in the carriage travelling down to his father's funeral. This left Charles' son, William Henry, aged seven, as the third Earl of Bath. However, tragedy was again to strike as William Henry died in 1711 aged just 17 without an heir. The estate was then split between Charles' sisters with the last member of the family to live there being a cousin, George Granville, Lord Lansdowne, who died in 1735.

A demolition sale was held at Stowe House in 1739. The entire house, except for the service quarters, was dismantled and sold by auction. It must have been quite an event as owners of large houses from across Devon and Cornwall flocked to the sale. How many houses in those two counties must now bear their own small testament to the taste and high standards of the first Earl of Bath? Notable examples include carved woodwork in the Grenville Room at Prideaux Place near Padstow and the magnificent carved staircase which is now at Cross House near Little Torrington. However, significant portions of the interior of Stowe are in a much more public place. Entire rooms, overmantel paintings and many other items were bought construct the new Guildhall in South Molton in 1740, where they can still be seen today.

All the remains at Stowe is a faint outline of the house, the Steward's House (now a farmhouse), the tennis court and some unexpectedly fine farm buildings built using the unsold materials from the demolition sale.