Although the modern parish of Stowe is almost entirely dominated by the eighteenth century landscape gardens and associated garden features, there have been several surveys undertaken by the National Trust and others that have revealed traces of an earlier landscape. There is no evidence of prehistoric activity but Roman features have been identified in survey and excavation. A watching brief during groundwork near the Conduit House, one of the eighteenth century garden buildings, recovered much Roman pottery and tile. Excavation afterwards revealed a Roman building and geophysical survey suggested the presence of a Roman kiln. A Roman pit containing tile and another kiln were found when digging a pit for rubbish in the grounds of Stowe School and Roman pottery, kiln furniture and ash were found nearby in the sports field. A Roman ditch, road and many artefacts such as pottery, tile, dressed stone and animal bone were found in a watching brief for a pipeline trench near Oxford Avenue. The eighteenth century Queen’s Temple houses one of the mosaics from Foscott Roman villa.
Much more of the medieval landscape is preserved in the later landscaping. Several villages, Boycott, Dadford, Lamport and Stowe, were depopulated to make way for the gardens. The earthworks of these villages have been preserved in the gardens as there has been no ploughing since their desertion and they can be seen on aerial photographs. The earthworks of the deserted village of Lamport can be seen in the field east of the Palladian Bridge. There are also historical records of the depopulation, given that it happened in the eighteenth century. Several hollow-ways criss-cross the gardens, from Stowe to what was Lamport, between Dadford and Boycott and from Buckingham to Towcester, beside which is a pollarded oak that is at least 500 years old and was a waymarker tree. The Heyway is also a Saxon to medieval trackway. Ridge-and-furrow can also be seen in aerial photographs associated with the villages and preserved under grassland, such as that seen to the south-west of the Gothic Temple associated with field boundaries. An earthwork enclosure north of New Inn Farm is respected by the ridge-and-furrow and therefore may date to the medieval period too. Trial trenching north of the Octagon Lake uncovered wall footings of a medieval to post-medieval house. There are also historical records of some features, such as a mill recorded in Stowe Park from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century or the thirteenth century record of a mill at Boycott and there are records that Lamport was made up of two manors, and Dadford was also a separate medieval manor. Two roads are mentioned in a thirteenth century document and the existence of a deer park is noted in both the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. Some lynchets on the edge of the deer park date to the medieval period, where this was the limit of agriculture.
Stowe church is the oldest standing building in the parish, dating to the fourteenth century, though with some alterations in the eighteenth century. Stowe School is housed in Stowe House, which was originally built in the late seventeenth century and had many improvements made during the eighteenth century by the most famous and talented architects and interior designers of the time, people like John Vanbrugh, James Gibbs, William Kent and Robert Adam. Many of the statues and garden temples were designed by Gibbs, Kent and Vanbrugh who also had a hand in the landscaping, as did Charles Bridgeman and Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. The garden and park comprises lakes with artificial islands, tree avenues and vistas towards and away from monuments. Some of the garden features are only known from historical records as they were replaced as the garden developed. The ha-ha is the earliest in England. It was constructed in 1719 and was later infilled in parts and modified. An early eighteenth century garden wall and gateway to the Grecian Valley was revealed in geophysical survey and excavation within the ha-ha. The house was owned by the Temples (later Viscounts Cobham and Earls Temple), and was inherited by a nephew, George Grenville, Marquis of Buckingham (later Dukes), in 1779. The house was converted into a school in 1923 and the gardens were made over to the National Trust in 1967.There are several phases of work in the gardens, an early eighteenth century one that was remodelled in the mid to late eighteenth century and then later eighteenth century and early nineteenth century phases. Work in the garden slowed in the mid nineteenth century when the family went through some difficult times.
More mundane activities were undertaken in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, it seems. A nineteenth century field system has been identified west of Home Farm and an early twentieth century one south of Boycott Pavilion. Boycott was the site of a nineteenth century brick and limekiln and a smithy. The Course is a mound that may have been constructed in order to hide the brickworks from the house. It was re-used as a training course for the Bucks Yeomanry in the late nineteenth century, who also re-used the Bourbon Tower as a mock fort and had their own rifle range. The banks of various former roads have been identified in field survey, the nineteenth century replacements for the medieval hollow-ways. The deer park’s nineteenth century fence still survives in places, but sometimes the boundary is merely an earthen bank. Home Farm is a nineteenth century model farm and incorporated a sawmill in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The millpond needed its own reservoir, which was built in the eighteenth century. A nineteenth century gasometer is now the site of Stowe School swimming pool.
There are some eighteenth and nineteenth century quarries in Culley’s Park, and at West Boycott Pavilion. Twentieth century maps record a number of gravel pits in the deer park that do not appear on earlier maps. They may have been the source of some of the gravel for Silverstone airfield before World War II. There are also World War II practice trenches on the north front of Stowe house and an air-raid shelter in the Elysian Fields.