Remembering Harry and Alda at Stourhead

misc-stourheadhenryON 27th February 1895, a six year old boy arrived at his new home. Harry Hoare had travelled through frost and snow with his governess to join his parents, Sir Henry and Alda Hoare, at what was now to be the family home, Stourhead in Wiltshire.

It was just six months since Henry Hoare had heard that he had inherited the title, following the death of Sir Henry Ainslie, and with it ownership of the rundown and overgrown estate below the chalk downs of Salisbury Plain, many miles from his home at Wavendon in Buckinghamshire. Henry and Alda arrived at Stourhead on Valentines Day 1895, determined to create a home for themselves and their son, who would sadly be their only child.

For lovers of great gardens, the happy result of this winter move was the restoration and re-creation of one of the world’s finest gardens, Stourhead, and the restoration of the splendid Palladian country house.

Closed up for 10 years before Henry Hoare inherited it, and neglected for years before that, the restoration and the management of the estate was a huge challenge for a young man (Henry was 29 when Sir Henry Ainslie died).

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But he and Alda devoted themselves to the care and repair of the house and the temples and gardens – which were described in the 18th century as “a living work of art where all is grand or simple or a beautiful mixture of both.”

And for just over 50 years, Stourhead was the focus of their lives – you could call it their life’s work.

After the deaths, within six hours of each other, of Sir Henry and Lady Hoare in 1947, the house passed to the National Trust, which has cared for the property, one of its most popular, ever since.

This year – the centenary of the start of the First World War – the National Trust begins a four-year project telling the story of the Hoare family at Stourhead, and the stories of the house, garden, estate and the people who lived and worked there.

There are many strands to the project but this year the focus is on Harry’s Story, through his much-loved but sickly childhood, education and university, his return to help his father run the estate they all loved and his decision to sign up, despite his poor health, to join the Dorset Yeomanry. He fought in several Middle East campaigns, alongside other young men from Stourton and the surrounding area – and tragically died of injuries in Alexandria on 19th December 1917.

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While Harry was fighting for King and country, Henry and Alda made their own contribution to the war effort, entertaining soldiers recuperating at the nearby Red Cross Hospital in Mere.

Local people love Stourhead as much as visitors, and Harry’s Story is an opportunity to revisit the house, as well as the garden, to discover more about the lives of people of all ages, from the lords of the manor to the servants and farm workers, during the early years of the 20th century.

Learn all about it through Harry’s Story Handbook and in special displays and maps. Much of the information has been researched and gathered by National Trust volunteers at Stourhead – it is fascinating reading.

Pictured are one of the elegant drawing rooms at Stourhead, soldiers on the lake, and Henry Hoare with Alda and Harry.