The following is from an 1853 volume of Burke’s A Visitation of the Seats and Arms of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain, vol 2:
“ERLESTOKE PARK, Wiltshire, about seven miles south-west of Devizes, the property of Mrs. Watson Taylor, by whom it is let on a yearly lease to Lord Broughton de Gyfford. This estate, together with that of Eddington [sic], where formerly stood an old family mansion of the Dukes of Bolton, belonged at one time to Peter Delmé, Esq., and of him it was purchased about the year 1780, by Joshua Smith, Esq., M.P. for Devizes, who so completely altered the whole domain, as scarcely to leave it a single trait of its original character. The fine old trees in the park may be said to be almost the only remains of the bygone period. The pleasure grounds, the plantations, all sprang up under the hand of the energetic proprietor; even a new village started into life, like a second Aladdin’s palace. The old house at Stoke Park, which was built close on the edge of a small stream at the foot of the hill, was pulled down, and a new mansion erected on the brow of a steep knoll, or eminence, partly embosomed in noble forest trees, and partly open to distant prospects. The building, composed of a fine white free-stone, was begun in 1786, and finished in five years. Together with the offices, it extends from east to west three hundred and fifty-six feet in front, in the centre of which is a Doric colonnade, opening into a very handsome hall, forty feet in length, and two-and-thirty feet in breadth. It is ornamented with a screen of six fluted Corinthian columns, and communicates with the drawing-room, dining-room, library, and other apartments. The first of these is thirty feet by twenty-four, its length being apparently enlarged, from the effect produced by two mirrors, placed at the opposite ends of the apartment.
The dining-room, to the east, communicates with the library, which faces the north, the former being thirty-six feet by twenty-four, while the latter is forty feet long, and twenty-six feet wide. West of this is the breakfast-room, which, with a large dressing-room, constitutes the ground suite of apartments.
In this noble mansion lived the family of the Smiths, in a manner worthy of its splendour; but they have now all descended to the grave, or are scattered and dispersed. In 1820, the executors of the late Simon Taylor, Esq., bought the manor and estate of Erle Stoke, with those of Edington and Coulston, for two hundred and fifty thousand pounds. They were settled upon Mrs. Watson Taylor, as sole heiress of her uncle, on the death of her only brother, Sir Simon B. Taylor (who died unmarried in the year 1815), the whole, with other landed property, being entailed on the heirs male and female in succession, of George Watson Taylor, Esq., M.P., and his wife, the above lady. Many large additions have been made to these extensive domains.
The present park and pleasure grounds consist of about six hundred acres, distinguished by a great variety of surface, with bold eminences, narrow, winding valleys, and wood and water in abundance. About a mile to the south of the House is the northern boundary of Salisbury Plain, presenting a lofty ridge, that extends in an undulating and irregular line, from west to east, for the distance of several miles. Towards the north this plain slopes rapidly, abounding in deep romantic dells, that are mostly covered with a thin turf; but on the Erle Stoke estate, it is clothed with thick and extensive plantations of firs, beech, larch, and other indigenous timber. From one of these hollows rises an abundant spring of fine water, that meanders through a secluded pleasure ground, and in places expands into small lakes, having in its passage over the ridges of rock formed several beautiful cascades. Upon reaching the park, the accumulated waters swell into a broad and noble sheet, that from the north and west sides of the House presents a most pleasing feature in the landscape.
The approach and entrance to the mansion were formerly on the south; but on that side, a few years ago, a flower garden was laid out, and enclosed from the park by a light, high, wire fence; a new road was also made, and an entrance portico erected, on the north side of the House. Other improvements have been effected, the only change for the worse being the dispersion of the excellent collection of pictures made by Mr. Watson Taylor, some of which present very choice specimens of ancient and modern art.”
What a fascinating find! It’s so easy to imagine young Augusta, when she lived here, getting her letter from Charles Smith which caused such “agitation” in early diary entries in 1798. Sadly, Erle Stoke/Erlestoke burned — as little now exists of Joshua’s house as he left when building his home.
Would LOVE to hear from anyone with further information — or illustrations — of Erle Stoke Park!