In 1717 Henry Hoare I, the son of Sir Richard Hoare founder of the family bank, purchased the manor of Stourton.
Three years earlier it had passed from the hands of the Catholic Stourton family who had lived there 700 years.
Henry Hoare I immediately demolished the existing house and employed Colen Campbell to build its replacement.
Campbell was a leader of the fashionable neo-classical revival and Stourhead, as Hoare named his new home, was one of the first Palladian houses to be built in England.
The square main block has a pedimented portico to the east, rising to the height of the building. It is flanked by pavilions added in the 1790s to house a library and picture gallery.
The rather severe lines of the facade are softened by three lead statues above the portico and the two flights of stairs rising to the entrance. Their end pillars support stone basins surmounted by the Hoare eagle.
The contents of the house are a rich collection of heirlooms and items reflecting the interests of the Hoare family over several generations.
The furniture includes good examples from Georgian to Regency but the work of Thomas Chippendale the younger from 1795 to 1820 is outstanding. The work he produced for the library and picture gallery is celebrated.
There are also pieces brought to Stourhead in the 19th century from Wavedon, the Hoare's family house in Buckinghamshire.
Henry Hoare II embellished his father's new house with paintings, sculpture and 'objets d'art'. This collection was greatly extended by his nephew Sir Richard Colt Hoare who inherited the house in 1785. Colt Hoare was a distinguished scholar, eminent antiquary and county historian.
He amassed a magnificent library in one of his purpose built extensions. This green and white library is one of the finest surviving Regency rooms in England.
The best of his grandfather's art collection together with his own acquisitions of works by Italian and British contemporaries were housed in the other pavilion. However, many of the best paintings were sold in the 19th century.
In 1902 the original decoration of the house was destroyed by a fire that gutted the central block.
Doran Webb, a local architect and the more prestigious Sir Aston Webb who replaced him, produced an almost faithful reconstruction of Campbell's original work for Henry Hugh Arthur Hoare, the 6th Baronet. The Regency pavilions either side survived the fire virtually intact.
As he had no direct heir the 6th Baronet decided to give Stourhead to the National Trust shortly before his death in 1947.
Although Stourhead is a fine house it is overshadowed by its beautiful garden.
Set in a steep-sided combe which falls away to the west, Stourhead is pre-eminent among English landscape gardens. Horace Walpole described it in 1762 as, 'one of the most picturesque scenes in the world'.
The garden is primarily the creation of Henry Hoare II, although later members of the family, in particular Sir Richard Holt Hoare, enriched the garden by adding to the range of shrubs and trees.
The garden was Henry Hoare II's absorbing interest for 40 years from 1741.
The design is a direct expression of the classical tastes of the 18th century and the reaction against the formal landscapes of the preceding century.
The garden was designed to be approached by a shady walk from the house. The path suddenly emerges on the edge of the combe providing a wonderful view of shining water through the trees.
Contrived vistas, marked by classical temples, change according to the viewpoint along the path. In the spring there is a carpet of daffodils, in the summer rhododendrons colour the upper slopes and in the autumn Japanese maples bring a flash of fire to the woods.
The architect Henry Flitcroft, who designed the classical eyecatchers, was the only professional employed in the creation of the garden. His circular Temple of Apollo sits high up on a knoll overlooking the island-studded lake and his Pantheon crowns a rounded slope above the water.
Across the valley steps lead down to a dripping grotto where sombre rock pools are adorned with sculpture.
Close by is the Gothic cottage added by Sir Richard Colt Hoare in 1806. The estate village on the edge of the valley stretches down to the Palladian bridge over an arm of the lake.
The medieval parish church opposite is full of monuments to the Stourtons and Hoares. Beyond the church and dominating the view over the lake to the Pantheon is a slender medieval cross acquired by Henry Hoare II in the 1760s from the City of Bristol.
In 1791 Sir Richard Colt Hoare began the arboretum, mainly with deciduous trees from North America, and began the collection of rhododendrons. The present planting, however, dates mainly from the late 19th and 20th centuries.
Ornamental conifers were added by the Victorians and the late Sir Henry Hoare planted many new varieties of rhododendrons.