Alfred's Tower Logo
The Convent
Aerial Photo
"THE CONVENT IN THE WOOD, 1⅜m. WNW of [Stourhead] house.  A picturesquely irregular thatched stone cottage with three turrets.  (Inside, painted panels with nuns in the clothes of the various orders and stained glass from Glastonbury. Country Life)"  Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England

The ConventThe Convent is a fascinating building hidden in the forest near King Alfred's Tower.  This page has been included because this website has received dozens of questions and enquiries along the lines of: "What is that funny thatched cottage in the woods near Alfred's Tower that looks like Hansel and Gretel's gingerbread house?".The Convent

The Convent was built by Henry Hoare II in around 1765, and is situated on what was the carriage drive between Stourhead House and King Alfred's Tower.   Despite its name, the Convent has never been occupied by a religious order or served any religious purpose, but it did have stained glass windows from Glastonbury Abbey, and its walls have twelve niches which formerly contained painted panels of nuns from various orders.  In one of the windows was small diamond panel with a bluebottle fly encased in it.  The story is that it was made by a priest who was tasked to perform a near miracle to avoid excommunication for some grave sin.  In his Guide to Stourhead George Sweetman suggests that the Convent was built for the convenience of shooting parties, or for the household of the mansion to hold picnics.  It is said that in the past a 'prioress' lived alone there, entertaining male passers-by.  For 200 years the place was occupied by gamekeepers and estate labourers. 

The ConventSadly, despite it being a Grade I listed building, the building was left empty and neglected in the 1960s and 1970s, and it was completely vandalized; the gothic stained glass windows and panels of nuns stolen or destroyed, the floorboards ripped up and burned.

The building was carefully restored as a private dwelling during the 1980s.  This website contacted the firm of London architects who were involved with the restoration, and who kindly provided much information. 

The ConventThe Convent stands near the top of a steep hill surrounded by trees, with southerly views across the valley towards Stourhead.  The walls are made from rough stones laid in a deliberately uneven manner. On the west front there are two towers surmounted by skeletal pyramids with fleur-de-lys finials, and the central chimney is disguised by an enormous obelisk standing on a plinth, surrounded by four smaller ones corbelled out from the central structure.  Owing to its isolation, the Convent has no mains services, and has a water supply from a nearby spring pumped uphill by a water wheel.


"No-one is considered to have explored Stourhead who has not seen what is called 'The Convent'."  George Sweetman, Guide to Stourhead, 1913.

The Convent


The English Heritage List Description for the Convent is reproduced here:

Location : STOURTON WITH GASPER, SALISBURY, WILTSHIRE
IoE number : 321271
Date listed : 06 JAN 1966
Date of last amendment : 06 JAN 1966
 
  STOURTON WITH GASPER STOURHEAD PARK
ST 73 SE    
    (west side)
6/165   The Convent
6.1.66    
GV   I
 

Gothic fantasy cottage. Circa 1765 for Henry Hoare of Stourhead House (q.v.). Rocky limestone with some flint, thatched roof, stone fantasy stacks. Single-storey with attics. Main range has canted bay with three pointed openings facing south, central French windows flanked by windows with Y-tracery and hexagonal leaded glazing, large stone stack to right has central obelisk pinnacle with four smaller pinnacles around base. Lower range to right has central stone porch with pointed opening and planked inner door, pointed window with Y-tracery either side, right gable end has bellcote with pointed arched opening and cross finial. Right return has pointed attic casement, C20 ground floor pointed window to right. Left return has flanking square corner turrets with pierced pyramidal cappings with finials, ground floor has three trefoil-headed leaded windows, attic with trefoil-headed 2-light window, coped verge to gable. Rear range rebuilt 1980s with facades in same rocky style with pointed casements and pointed moulded doorway. Interior: Drawing room has groin vaulted ceiling with-pebble-dashed finish, pointed niches on west wall flanking window. 1980s gothic fireplace. Dining room has flagstone floor and stone corbels to ceiling. Original roof retained. Originally said to have contained painted panels depicting nuns of different orders and stained glass from Glastonbury. Little is known of the origins of this building, but it was presumably built as a picturesque pavilion for carriage and riding excursions from Stourhead House. (K. Woodbridge, The Stourhead Landscape, 1982; N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England, Wiltshire, 1975).


The Convent


We welcome your comments and contributions. Please contact us by e-mail at: Feedback@AlfredsTower.info or use the Feedback form on this site.