The last time I visited Stourhead House was way back in 1976. I remember then dismissing it as a 'bog-standard' stately home. Unlike the gardens, of course, which are truly outstanding, and to which I have returned many times subsequently.
Revisiting the house over thirty years later, have I change my opinion? Not really; it is still a generally unremarkable stately home; apart, that is, from the library.
The core of the house was built around 1717 by Henry Hoare a wealthy banker, and designed in the latest Palladian style by the architect Colin Campbell. It was built near to the site of the original Stourton House and, as a result, it stands apart from the magnificent gardens, which were laid out later by his son from 1725 onwards.
In the 1790s, two wings were added to the house by Richard Colt Hoare the great-grandson of the builder of the house. One of these contains the library which, as the guidebook puts it, "is among the most personal and beautiful rooms that have come down to us from Regency times." It is very easy to imagine this highly intellectual but ultimately lonely man, an antiquarian, scholar and historian, whose life had been touched by many tragedies, sitting here surrounded by his books.
In 1902 the house caught fire, and although most of the contents of the downstairs of the house were rescued, the whole of the central part was gutted. A local architect was employed to oversee the rebuilding and, rather than following the original design, in the West Front, Saloon, and Staircase Hall he incorporated various "improvements" before eventually being sacked when the roof timbers started to sag. Judging by the old prints, it is these changes that give the interior its rather hum-drum appearance.
Outside, on the way to or from the car park, the stable block, granary and kitchen gardens can be visited.
For opening times, ticket prices, etc. please see the National Trust's official web site.