Stowe Grotto and Dido's Cave

Stowe House
New Inn Farm
United Kingdom
MK18 5EQ
Telephone: 01280 817156

Sequencing pictures right
1. Stowe House.
2. The Grotto interior with Venus and pools.
3. The view down the Serpentine River.
4. The grotto from the gardens.
5. Standing at the cave entrance over the cascade.
At Stowe you can discover an 18th century grotto and cave set in a Grade I World Heritage Site. The grotto was designed by William Kent in the 1730s with a neo-classical appearance. It was later restyled in the eighteenth century with tufa and rockwork to give a rustic, subterranean look, as was the fashion at that time.

Sir Richard Temple began building a mansion on a new site in 1677. This now forms the core of the current House. Completed in the early 1680s, it had a formal terraced garden with straight walks to the south and a walled kitchen garden close by. The house was lavishly rebuilt in the eighteenth century and the gardens were developed in collaboration with Sir John Vanbrugh and Charles Bridgeman. From 1741 Lancelot Brown was employed as head gardener and clerk of works. Stowe is, as a result, a particularly high quality example of early eighteenth century garden design.

The grotto in the mid 18th century at the head of the Serpentine River, before being redesigned in the rustic style.
Sauntering around the 200 plus hectares site one is continuously confronted with glimpses of intriguing landscape ornamentation ranging from a Palladian Bridge to a variety of temples, lakes, statues, cascades and of course the house itself. This all came about when Viscount Cobham returned from active service on the Continent and embarked on a program of creating a classical landscape. The inspiration for this came from an article in The Tatler of January 1710. In it diarist Joseph Addison describes an allegorical dream in which virtue, honour and vanity are represented by buildings set in woodland.

Lord Cobham, whose family name was Temple coincidentally, took liberty and tyranny as the two key themes reflecting his views on contemporary politics. As a result temples abound throughout the estate. In the 1730s he hired William Kent, the landscape artist to design the grotto at the head of the Serpentine River. In it a statue of Venus overlooks water flowing in to a basin and then into the river in the manner of early Roman grottoes. The finished grotto was then used as a banqueting house for light refreshment and entertainments. Within a few years the Grotto was flanked just to the south on both sides by small rotundas, one decorated with shells and the other with pebbles. Unfortunately these are now no longer there. Today the grotto is open to visitors to inspect but still needs some restoration work to the interior of the roof where rocks have become dislodged and fallen.
Picture above left - Venus the centrepiece of the grotto. A nearby stone tablet says:

Goddess of the silver wave,
To thy thick embower'd cave,
To arched walks, and twilight groves,
And shadows brown, which Sylvan loves
When the sun begins to fling
His flaring beams, me, Goddess, bring.

Picture below - Dido's Cave.
The grotto however is not the only heavenly cave at Stowe. Dido's Cave or Temple is also an early eighteenth century creation. Originally to the classical style it was remodelled with tufa and rockwork in the late eighteenth century to give it a picturesque appearance.

Stowe House is managed by Stowe House Preservation Trust and is now a private school of some repute. The gardens are in the care of the National Trust who restored the grotto in 2010-11.

Email: stowe@nationaltrust.org.uk (click here to send an email)

Website: Click Here





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Open set times only


Access all Year, Access by Road, Access on Foot, Conducted Tours of Locality, Disabled Access, Entry Fee, Grotto with extensive rock gardens, Grottoes - more than one, Part of a larger tourism attraction, Restaurant/Food, Retail Souvenir Shop, Toilets, Tourism Information, Weddings venue


Country town/village, National Trust Property, Park or Garden


England - Central


+A created provenance that links it to ancient mythology or legend, +Dark and mysterious chambers and cave like spaces, +External rock structures, either real or simulated, +Internal stonework that is natural, recycled or simulated to give a subterranean decor, +Sacred spring or integral water feature, +Stunning setting and location, +Viewing points from within to an intriguing landscape outside, GRADED SEVEN

(C)Copyright The Spas Research Fellowship. To contact the SRF, email: srf@thespas.co.uk or mail to: Tower House, Tower Road, Tadworth, Surrey. KT20 5QY. UK