Stourhead has a fascinating history. Only 10 miles from Frome and across the Somerset / Wiltshire border, the family home of the famous Hoare banking family, is not only a marvellous house, but is surrounded by wonderful gardens, farmland and ancient woods that make up the 1,072-hectare (2,650-acre) estate.
The house and land came into the hands of the Hoare family in 1717, when Henry Hoare I bought it for the family home, far away from the hustle and bustle of London, where his father, Sir Richard Hoare had founded a bank in Fleet Street. The bank had been so prosperous that he had been knighted by Queen Anne and became Lord Mayor of London.
“Henry the Magnificent”, or Henry Hoare II, was responsible for the enchanting gardens and he no doubt got a helping hand from his friend Capability Brown, who, in 1764 was appointed to the position of Master Gardener at Hampton Court Palace in Surrey. In a country that celebrates the art of gardening, Stourhead is the most admired example of an 18th-century English landscaped garden.
The house is full of family heirlooms and items that reflect the different personalities of the many generations of the Hoare family.
The Hoares are even more interesting than their house:
- In 1676 the Hoare family founded the Hoare’s Bank, which today has the oldest purpose built banking hall in Britain
- In 1798 and 1810, some of the first recorded excavations of Stonehenge were done by Richard Colt Hoare and his archaeology companion William Cunnington
- Richard Hoare was elected Lord Mayor of London (three Hoare’s have held the position of Lord Mayor of London) in 1712 and during the Jacobite Rebellion, he mobilised the local guard to defend London from Bonnie Prince Charlie, if he were to reach the City
- 1763 the Hoare Bank issued the first printed cheque
- Due to the bank’s location, temporary balconies were erected for the staff and customers to watch Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee procession
- Customer ledgers were written by hand until 1962
- Lord Byron (poet) and Jane Austen (author) were customers of the bank
Today the bank is still in the Hoare family and run by 10th and 11th generation, they have three West End branches, 350 staff, a balance sheet of almost £2billion and apparently a partner or member of the family has to stay in the bank overnight (but who knows if this is true).
Henry Hugh Arthur Hoare was completely devoted his beloved Stourhead. He was devastated when his son died in World War I and feared the house and estate would not preserve the history of his family, and so in 1947 he gave Stourhead to the National Trust for us all to enjoy.