Harry’s Story tells how the First World War changed the future for Stourhead

Sir Henry, Harry and Lady Hoare

Sir Henry, Harry and Lady Hoare

Harry Hoare was a young man born to inherit his family’s country estate and trained to manage it, but his privilege brought with it the responsibility that the estate should be used so others could enjoy the beauty as well. The place was Stourhead but the time, just before the First World War, was to cause the shattering of the plans and dreams of the Hoare family.

Harry’s Story is now being told across Stourhead by the National Trust to show how war affected the lives of the Hoare family and many others who lived and worked on the estate. But the story also shows how Harry’s mother Alda, opened up the house and estate for soldiers recuperating from their injuries at a military hospital nearby.

From 15 March, Stourhead House will be open seven days a week with Harry’s Story and glimpses into life 100 years ago newly woven into the experience for visitors throughout the estate, starting in reception and also in the restaurant and shop.

The new look at Stourhead during the Edwardian period will allow visitors to follow the stories of Harry and both his parents, Sir Henry and Alda.

‘It is a gentle change to the way we tell the story of Stourhead,’ explained Emily Blanshard, Stourhead’s House manager.

‘A lot is told first hand with extracts from Alda’s diaries at different parts of the journey, objects which are part of the story will be highlighted and around the garden there will be oak posts with Harry’s seal highlighting features which link to the story. Those might be his favourite tree or perhaps the Gothic Cottage which Alda loved.

‘There is a story here of dreadful loss which so many suffered during the First World War, but we’ve also told the story of a family, their love of this place and their love of the family. They shared their love of Stourhead and that is something we have tried to continue to do.’

The story will also tell of others from Stourton and Mere who served during the war – and how the loss of many of the men was mourned on the estate. The Mere parish magazine recorded that in the first year of the war, 121 local men joined up – 16 were killed in that first 12 months.

Harry Hoare fought with the Dorset Yeomanry in France, Gallipoli and Palestine and rose to the rank of Captain.  In Gallipoli in early 1916, he contracted pneumonia and para-typhoid in a snowstorm and was sent home to Stourhead to recuperate, later rejoining his regiment.  In November 1917, he was leading an attack at Mughair Ridge in Palestine when he was fatally wounded and died on 19 December 1917 in hospital in Egypt, aged 29. His parents finally received the news by telegram on Christmas eve.

The Mere parish magazine recorded his death along with that of Trooper Norman Harding, both from wounds after the Palestine campaign. They were both noted to be ‘only sons, and only children.’

While Harry was serving overseas, his parents supported the war effort at home by requisitioning war horses for the military and supporting troops at the hospital in Mere.

Alda Hoare with soldiers at Mere Hospital

Alda Hoare with soldiers at Mere Hospital

Harry’s parents, Sir Henry and Alda, Lady Hoare, had inherited Stourhead in 1895 in a run down state with the house closed and garden overgrown. Their restoration of Stourhead to its days of grandeur were nearly halted by a fire in 1902 which destroyed the central part of the house but the workers dragged belongings out onto the lawn to save them. The Hoare’s started again and rebuilt the damaged part of the house. By 1911 Harry had become agent and was running the estate.

‘It was his destiny,’ explained Emily Blanshard, Stourhead’s House Manager.

‘His life was planned for him to take over the running of the estate and his eventual marriage. But in 1914 he joined the Dorset Yeomanry, despite childhood illness and, as for many at the time, it was a decision that would change the future of the family.’

When the Red Cross opened a hospital in Mere for injured soldiers in October 1914, Alda provided entertainments for the troops.

Visitors to Stourhead today will discover they are following in the footsteps of those soldiers who were offered boating and fishing on the lake, walks around the gardens and tea parties, billiards and piano recitals in the house by Alda who opened the estate for them. One Sergeant-Major told Alda that he had ‘never had a finer tea in my life.’

After Harry’s death Sir Henry and Lady Hoare had to decide the future of Stourhead. They still owned Wavendon in Buckinghamshire and debated whether to leave Stourhead and its unfulfilled dreams and return to Wavendon.

The family stayed and dedicated the 20s and 30s to opening up Stourhead to the public. In 1946 Sir Henry gave Stourhead to the National Trust – a year before he and Alda died. The Trust has continued his work to maintain Stourhead and its gardens – and by keeping it open today.

More information is available on www.nationaltrust.org.uk/stourhead

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