Building record 0420802029 - DIDO'S CAVE, Home Park, Stowe Landscape Gardens


Eighteenth century garden seat remodelled as a grotto in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Protected Status/Designation

  • Listed Building (I) 1212154: DIDOS CAVE
  • SHINE: Stowe medieval to post medieval landscape garden, medieval deserted villages of Lamport & Boycott, shrunken village of Daford, also moats, manors and fishponds, ridge and furrow earthworks & cropmarks, and areas of ancient semi natural woodland


Type and Period (2)

  • GROTTO (19th Century - 1800 AD to 1899 AD)
  • (Former Type) GARDEN SEAT (Built about 1719-1724, 18th Century - 1700 AD to 1799 AD)


Grade I. Small stone building possibly 1727 by Gibbs. Front partly clad in rubble stone. Semi-circular arch in centre with heavy keyblock. Interior originally painted. Altered late C18 and renamed 'The Marchioness of Buckingham's Seat' (B14).
Like the grotto at Stowe, the original early-eighteenth century classical-style building was altered in the late eighteenth century, by pinning tufa and misshapen rocks to the exterior, to make it look more picturesque (B50).
The National Trust carried out a survey to record and assess the archaeological potential of the building between July 1997 and February 1998. Historical references to structure suggest that it was erected as part of Vanburgh's theme of a 'garden of love'. The eight yew trees that form a frame to the building were probably originally planted as part of the triangular amphitheatre. The amphitheatre was removed in 1770 and the cave gradually became incorporated into the woodland surrounding the Museum Garden. It was cut off from the museum/menagerie between 1827 and 1843, and backed by a grove of trees to become part of the home park. During the 19th century the area fell into decline and the managed setting abandoned. The cave was probably built to a design by John Vanburgh between 1719-1724 with the actual construction overseen by Gibb. The cave is first mentioned in a poem in 1731 by Gilbert West. Internal murals were painted by Francesco Sleter and depict Dido, the Queen of Carthage, and her lover Aeneas surrounded by cupids holding a torch to signify marriage. In 1774 the building was rededicated to Vanburgh and an inscription added to the freize. The appearence of the building was signficantly altered in the 1790s-1800s when it was remodelled by the Marchioness of Buckingham as a grotto. The exterior pediment was removed, two flanking walls were added and a facing of tufa added in a naturalistic flow into the interior enhanced with shells and fossils. Large stone blocks were placed outside to form seats. In 1812, the bulding was re-dedicated to the Marchioness with the addition of a plaque. The antique Roman column from the 1790-1800 remodelling was removed from the interior in 1843 (B18).
An investigation into three mounds of shells found to the NW of Dido's cave in 1999 suggests that these may not be excess materials left over from the conversion of Dido's Cave into a grotto but rather leftover materials from the creation of paths and the car park for the school's golf couse. These were once surfaced with of crushed shell from a cockle processing factory (B19).
During the restoration of the building, drainage trenching gave the opportunity to examine the former alignment of paths to the front of the building. The 18th century path, composed of yellow gravel, once curved to prolong the view of the interior of the building. The remains of a brick hardstanding was also noted. The bricks, manufactured by 'Thistle' and dry bedded by sand, formerly housed a group of 20th century garden sheds (B20).
The National Trust Survey of Stowe undertaken in 1989 describes the cave as 'a rectangular building with added flanking walls and a small semi-circular arched opening inside and ouside decorated with lumps of tuffa'. The original paintings of the loves of Dido and Aenas are still visible under the tuffa. A niche has been cut into the wall in the SE corner and the scars of seating are also visible on the walls. It was noted that the projecitng vousiors had been cut back before the tuffa was added (B21).
Included in English Heritage's Buildings at Risk Register. In 1999 described as priority F: 'Repair scheme in progress' (B37).

Sources (8)

  • ---SBC17422 Aerial Photograph: 04/09/76. BCM A2/11/20-22. SP\674376. Yes.
  • <14>SBC3681 Bibliographic reference: DoE. 1983. List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. p33.
  • <18>SBC19559 Unpublished document: Oliver Jessop and Gary Marshall (National Trust). 1999. Dido's Cave: Report on the Archaeological Investigation of Dido's Cave.
  • <19>SBC19557 Unpublished document: Oliver Jessop (National Trust). 1999. Shell Middens: Report on the Archaeological Investigations of Three Shell Middens NE of Dido's Cave.
  • <20>SBC19542 Unpublished document: Oliver Jessop (National Trust). 2001. Dido's Cave: Report of the Archaeological Watching Brief Over Trenches 340 and 341.
  • <21>SBC19992 Unpublished document: Angus Wainwright. 1989. The National Trust Archaeological Survey: Stowe. pp26.
  • <37>SBC19679 Bibliographic reference: English Heritage. 1999. English Heritage Register of Buildings at Risk 1999. p54.
  • <50>SBC20535 Bibliographic reference: Hazelle Jackson. 2001. Shell Houses and Grottoes. pp31,37.


Grid reference SP 67406 37190 (point) (Exact)
Civil Parish STOWE, Aylesbury Vale, Buckinghamshire

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (1)

Related Events/Activities (4)

  • Event - Intervention: Archaeological investigations into three shell middens NE of Dido's Cave (EBC16214)
  • Event - Intervention: Archaeological investigations of Dido's Cave as part of the programme of restoration and repair (EBC16212)
  • Event - Survey: Site visit (EBC13583)
  • Event - Intervention: Watching brief over trenches dug close to Dido's Cave, Stove (EBC16241)

Record last edited

Aug 25 2009 11:44AM

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