The Watch or Gothic Cottage at Stourhead

Watch Cottage at Stourhead


The Gothic Cottage, also known as Watch Cottage, was built by Henry Hoare, the owner of Stourhead, in around 1785. The Gothic seat and porch were added by Richard Colt Hoare in 1806 to follow the fashion of making everything ‘Gothick’.

Tamara and I walked around the lake, clockwise, and this is the view we saw as we approached, with the building sheltered by trees.

Then as we rounded to the front of the building we saw in all its tiny glory. Inside there is just a window seat, two rustic chairs, a large open fireplace, and the feeling that life would have been tough for anyone who lived there.

Wstch cottage at Stourhead

So the question is whether anyone did live there.

According to Derek Voller, who photographed the building six years ago and deposited his photo with Geograph, “the 1841 census states that it was lived in by two servants, and in 1851 by two elderly females described as almswomen.”

I don’t know the exact term ‘almswomen’ but almshouses is a term used today. They are houses built out of charity for poor people. So almswomen must be poor people dependent on the charity of others.

It may be uncharitable of me, but it gives me the terrible feeling that they were given the charity to fill a function similar to modern day trophy wives. That is, to reflect back on the ‘owner’. In this case, to be a reflection of the generosity of the donor. But look at the opulence around the cottage.

On the bright side, whoever lived there had a wonderful view of the lake, and wood to collect from the grounds to build up the fire in the winters. And if there are beech trees on the grounds, then to collect beech mast for soup and cakes. And wild flowers for their roots to add to the soup.

And a view of Mr Hoare walking past with his honoured guests on their way to the Pantheon where he would serve lunch.

Tamara commented, as we started our walk around the lake, that it was a crime that one man owned so much land.

Well, that was then, and now the gardens are owned by the National Trust, a charity for the preservation of land and buildings for everyone. With over five million members paying an annual fee, and non-members paying on entry, the 500+ properties under the Trust’s wing are preserved for everyone to have access to and to enjoy.

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