Let’s peek inside Stoke Park, 1798

August 28, 2013 at 9:57 pm (estates, history, people, places, research) (, , , , )

Why does Erle Stoke Park intrigue me? Perhaps because it no longer exists.

Joshua Smith‘s children were already born when his family (in a letter, delightfully referred to as “Mama and her saucy girls“!) moved to this country estate. So to find a description about the interior, c1801, is such a great thrill!


Slowly, this building arises from the ashes, especially as the Royal Society of British Architects (RIBA) has several “elevations,” drawn for Joshua Smith. My favorite is the “Perspective View of the Hall“. And with that “view” in mind, we’ll enter the house with the writer of The Beauties of Wiltshire. Let’s run to catch up with the couple walking the path to the front door.

“The old house at Stoke Park, which was built close on the edge of a small stream at the foot of the hill, was taken down, and a new one erected on an eminence. This is built of fine white free-stone, and was completed from the designs of George Stewart, Esq. …. [It] is a monument of praise to the talents of its architect. It was begun in 1786, and finished in five years. The house and offices extend from east to west three hundred and fifty-six feet in front; in the centre of which is a Doric colonnade, which opens into a very handsome hall, forty feet in length by thirty-two feet in breadth. It is ornamented with a screen of six fluted Corinthian columns, and communicates to the drawing-room, dining-room, library, &c.”

I have indeed come across several book (for sale) which — from their bookplates — once graced the library at Erlestoke Park, Wiltshire. Although I can’t find a picture of Joshua’s bookplate, there does exist this description:

“a book-late of Joshua Smith, Stokepark, quartered as follows:–

1. A saltire, &c. as given.
2. A ship at sea, closed-reefed.
3. Azure, a panther (?), sejant.
4. Or, a crescent. Motto: “Marte et ingenio.”

Compare that description to this hatchment:


“The first of these apartments is thirty feet by twenty-four, and is ornamented with several pictures, copied from the most celebrated masters. Two large mirrors in this apartment, being placed directly opposite to each other, present a kind of optical delusion to the spectator who stands in the centre.”

LOVE the idea of an “optical delusion“!

“The dining-room to the east, is thirty-six feet by twenty-four, which communicates with the library facing the north. This elegant and interesting apartment is forty feet in length by twenty-six feet in width, and contains an invaluable assemblage of choice books, the chief part of which are in the most handsome bindings.”

And yes, all the Erle Stoke girls – Maria, Eliza, Augusta, Emma – LOVED books.

“West of this is the breakfast-room, measuring twenty-six feet by twenty-four. This apartment is ornamented with a large landscape by Loutherbourg, whose bold, spirited, and grand compositions, cannot fail to arrest the attention of every admirer of the picturesque, and the sublime in painting.”


view Loutherbourg works at BBC “Your Paintings”

“These, and a dressing-room, twenty-four feet by sixteen, constitute the ground suite of apartments, all of which are sixteen feet in height.

The first floor contains several bed-chambers and dressing-rooms, to which the access is through a gallery, remarkable for the singularity and beauty of its architecture; over this are many good rooms in the attic, and the offices are proportionably numerous and well distributed.”

So, while we’re upstairs, among the “bed-chambers,” let’s grab a good book and snuggle for a nice night’s rest. It’s been a long day…

* * *

blog posts on related subjects

Part I: Erle Stoke Park, 1798

Erle Stoke Park: The Well-to-do Party!

Erlestoke – home of the “energetic” Joshua Smith

1795 – ‘I fear much we shall be invaded’

Sarah Smith – wife of Joshua Smith, of Erle Stoke Park, Wilts

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Erle Stoke Park, 1798

August 21, 2013 at 9:49 pm (books, estates, history, places, research) (, , , )

“I was very sorry not to go to Stoke the first Year of my Marriage.”
Mamma Smith, 1798 diary

The Wiltshire Council’s online copy of The Beauties of Wiltshire, Vol. 2, by John Britton. 1801 (also available at Books.google) includes a fabulous description of the house at Stoke Park, as well as this etching which dates from the period of 1798!

stoke park

“The view accompanying this description, was taken in 1798 from the opposite side of the road, where this sandy broken bank makes a good and bold fore-ground.”

The book puts the estate “about seven miles south-west” of the town Devizes (Joshua Smith’s constituency). “The turnpike road from Devizes to Westbury, passes within a hundred yards of the front of the house; but being hollowed out of the sand to a considerable depth, it is not to be seen from the windows; nor is it in the least incommodious to the appearance or effect of the lawn.”

“The house, the pleasure-grounds, with extensive plantations, and an ornamental village, have all sprung into existence, and acquired beauty and utility, under the present proprietor {Joshua Smith}.” To stay in the gardens for a while, we are transported back in time (and place) in order to imagine that “The north front commands a view, not only of its own grounds and plantations, but also a beautiful expanse of country, in which the village of Seend forms a pleasing and conspicuous feature. …The sides and summit of this hill have been thickly planted with wood…”

“The park abounds with many fine large elm trees, and is enriched with a sheet of water. This rises under the ridge of Salisbury Plain… After forming seven different cascades in its progress, it is collected into a lake of considerable dimensions.”

Mrs Norman wrote about “Papa making water” (which, at first, I thought meant something totally different…) in a letter to Mamma Smith the following year (November 1799), as she passed on to Augusta news of everyone in the house:

Mama [Sarah Smith] is charming well & Walking
Emma [sister of Augusta; my Emma not born till 1801] painting sweetly
Papa: making Water
we all send love….

“In visiting the pleasure-ground, we are conducted over the above hollow-way by an arch that admits waggons, carts, &c. to pass under it  This spot of beautifully decorated ground, abounds with a choice collection of botanical plants, and is pleasingly diversified with a variety of indigenous and exotic trees and shrubs. It is situated in a secluded dingle, through the centre of which runs the murmuring stream.”

The writer moves to the “village of Stoke” – so we will stop here, and let him walk around the “humble cottages”. When he returns, we’ll move inside the manor house, to see where Maria, Eliza, Augusta and Emma once roamed.


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