Sunday 10 April 2011

Stanway House and the High Fountain

The canal and High Fountain at Stanway House
The grounds of Stanway House were open today for the National Gardens Scheme and we spent a very enjoyable afternoon there. Stanway House, home of the Earl of Wemyss and March, is one of the great houses of the Cotswolds, built in classically honey-coloured limestone mostly during the period 1590-1630, with a charming gatehouse, tithe barn and adjacent church. Later additions have mostly been removed - but so were some of the earlier parts. The guidebook's 'History of Stanway' pages start with the notable sentence: "Stanway's first known owners were two Mercian noblemen Odo and Dodo, who in 715 AD founded the monastery of St Mary the Virgin at Tewkesbury.... and endowed it with Stanway manor." It remained in the hands of Tewkesbury Abbey until its dissolution in 1539, by which time the Tracy family were its tenants. They acquired the freehold in 1590 and it has not been sold since, a Tracy daughter having married into the Wemyss family in 1771.

The south front of Stanway House, c. 1630.
The Tracy family can trace descent to Charlemagne and beyond, which leads to some complicated genealogical explanations in the book. How's this for a dose of 11th Century relationships: "Heiliwich's great-grandson Drogo, Count of Amiens and the Vexin married around 1020 the lady Godgifu (Godiva in Latin), sister of Edward the Confessor and daughter of Aethelred the Unready by his wife Emma of Normandy - aunt of Duke Robert the devil and great-aunt of of Duke William the Bastard (latterly the Conqueror)." Anyway, the upshot was that the son of Drogo and Gogdifu, Ralph, acquired land near Stanway in 1042, and conveniently died in 1057, leaving a son too young to fight in 1066, with result that they were one of very few families to retain their land after the Conquest. The Tracy family history winds on for many pages, including a murderer of Thomas à Becket, a posthumously burned heretic, and sundry other characters, until conjoined with the Wemysses, who, not to be outdone, trace ancestry to Macduff, Thane of Fife.

The Pyramid, circular pool
and part of a great cedar.
Among the procession of these ancestors was one John Tracy (1681-1735), under whose direction a magnificent water garden was built on the slope above the house to a design believed to be by the great landscaper Charles Bridgeman, whose work the family had admired at Rousham. A 500-foot-long canal was built along the centre of a great terrace above the house: this was fed by the grandest cascade in England, 623' feet long, rising 123' to a pyramidal folly (built in the next generation as a monument to John Tracy). Behind this was a circular pond (still full of clear water) and a further longer, but narrower cascade up the hilside beyond. The grand cascade is now dry, and the canal was filled in during the Victorian period. Happily, however, it was re-excavated in 1998 and is in itself a magnificent feature.

The crowning glory of Stanway is, however, the High Fountain, the world's highest gravity fed fountain, which can shoot its jet to 300' (90 m). Surprisingly, this was only installed in 2004, under the direction of the current Earl. It makes use of the proximity of Stanway to the Cotswold escarpment, which provides a fall of 580' to the canal from a header tank to which water is pumped overnight. The jet starts, falters a moment, then soars to its full height, before a curtain of water descends on anyone careless enough to be in its way. It can be seen for miles around - I have seen it from a distance before, but close-up it is amazingly beautiful and impressive, and very well worth going to see.
High Fountain from the house,
with the grand cascade and Pyramid behind it.

A magnificent Cedar of Lebanon
and the circular pool
 Horticulturally the garden is not particularly interesting - in fact, gardening does not seem to be a priority, but there are some magnificent mature trees (though not enough young ones coming on to replace them), and there is supposed to be numerological significance to some of the groves in the park and wider landscape.

The grounds of Stanway House are next open for the National Gardens Scheme on 5 June, but the house and grounds are open on Tuesdays and Thursdays in June, July and August. For details see their website.

Mute Swans nesting by the canal.


  1. Thanks for this information. I have been intending to visit Stanway ever since I moved to the Cotswolds. This has given me the nudge I needed.

  2. Lovely. How many times does the fountain play each day?

  3. Twice on Sunday while we were there, so I presume it's twice on open days too.

  4. this is a really lovely house, stanway is certainly worth a visit in person with such stunning pictures. do you have specific times for the fountain? i really wouldn't want to miss it. i am planning a trip to the cotswolds this summer.


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