|"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
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
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.
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.
Sadly, 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.
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 English Heritage List Description for the Convent is
|Location : STOURTON WITH
GASPER, SALISBURY, WILTSHIRE
IoE number : 321271
Date listed : 06 JAN 1966
Date of last amendment : 06 JAN 1966
STOURTON WITH GASPER
|ST 73 SE
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).