Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Academic Day 3: Stowe House Library and Gardens

I was told that this tour would show me "how the other people live" to which I then was submerged in the world of a roughly $60,000 per year boarding school on the site of a palatial estate. In further research, I was told that there is a study looking at the expansive gardens elaborate stone features as being lain out in Freemasonic symbolism. This was my first experience in 30 years to get into the fresh country air of Britain and it was worth the wait...gorgeous, healthy and refreshing.
The Georgian-style structure is concave. The central doors look straight through the relatively narrow building and out the other side, way over the manicured lawns and onto a stone marker.
Exquisite stone and plaster work adorn the interior, including mural paintings on walls and ceilings, including astrological symbols on the entry hall ceiling and a Order of the Garder symbol on one of the former resident's guest bedroom ceiling! We were given tea and cookies and found a seat in their school's library main room, replete with ancient texts along the mezzanine level, secret doors that match the surrounding mahogany bookshelves, huge mirrors, white marble fireplace mantlepieces, guilded plaster ceiling, wide-plank floors, but a mysterious lack of computers! This was explained that computers had been temporarily moved in order to have table space for the graduation party for the new graduates. The restored plaster ceiling details were painted with a 'warming' 23.5 carat gold that cost 20,000 British Pounds. Before the restoration, webbed netting had to be strung above to catch falling debris, to give an indication that the ceiling was in danger of total collapse. During that period, paint scrape analysis was used to find out the historic color scheme.
Touring the ornate former family home inspired feelings of the vast social and economic gap through time between the rich and the poor. The ironic thing is that that the Temple-Grenville Family had struggled financially through most of the time it was in their family...the idea of "keeping up with the Jones'" is nothing new! Carol Miller, School Librarian gave us a brief synopsis of her educational background and how she got to Stowe House School, while Anna McEvoy, House Custodian & Research Manager, gave us an in-depth history of the library room and its refurbishment. Ms. McEvoy, an archaeologist by trade, also gave us the walking tour of the main house's interior, along with a bit about the gardens and exterior history and restoration work.
According to Ms. McEvoy, 1921 was the end of an era for Stowe House, in that the family that had maintained the property since the 1680's had to sell their 400 room house and estate. The property laid vacant for a time and was on the verge of being torn down for scrap, but a real estate developer bought the property, sold the majority of the contents (making a profit over his initial investment) and then sold the estate seperately. In May 1923, the Stowe School began operations as a "public school" (costing money to attend) for boys. At this time, the grounds were still overgrown, so the many huge monuments and temples were hidden within the foliage...Ms. McEvoy asked us to imagine the wonderment of boys exploring the grounds and what adventures must have taken place! The family library was established in the 1790s, yet only a few original books remain. Many of the library's books had been sold off to the British Library and others had been spread across the world...currently, the Huntington Archive in California has family archives that are largely uncatalogued! Now, the school's acceptance of public funds makes public tours essential. The library is staffed six days a week, though it is still open that seventh day of the week for student convenience. Ms.' Miller and McEvoy have risen to the challenge of taking the library and information science component of Stowe House School into the 21st Century, despite that from the mid-1960's until 1983, there had not been a librarian to maintain, organize and disseminate information to this institution's young scholars.
Stowe House Estate Gardens - Temple of British Worthies While recently exploring a 20th Century Masonic cemetery plot, it dawned on me that, even with meager funding, symbolic and intentional placements in the landscape are easily attained, simple, commonplace and powerful (especially to those who recognize, and therefore intentionally harmonize with the multi-dimentional metaphor. I doubt it, not one iota, that the Freemasons with estates to play with, would have, and still do, organize specific shapes, constructs, and/or plantings to create a grand sense of their traditions and beliefs...similar to how houses of worship may be designed to represent a sense of "Heaven on Earth". Now, think about this: in libraries/archives, items are stored in a order that makes them accessable to someone searching it out...what if the library/archive was spread over acres of land and the items placed within the borders, displayed through words or symbolism, each tell their own story, yet their proximity from other items give the whole tapestry a greater significance of wisdom being transmitted.
Stowe House Estate Gardens - Gothic Temple
Stowe House Estate Gardens - Enter the Grove of Saxon Dieties
Stowe House Estate Gardens - Each of the deities stand on a block with their names etched in Saxon Runes.
Stowe House Estate Gardens - The largest and most ancient Yew that I've ever gotten the privilege to experience...I've never seen them get past hedge size!
Stowe House Estate Gardens - The Queen's Temple
Stowe House Estate Gardens - The Grotto's exterior
Stowe House Estate Gardens - The Grotto's interior

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