Who's In The house: Stoic splendour

No prefabs or concrete playgrounds here. But how do Stowe School's residents find life among the sweeping landscapes and Palladian architecture?
Stowe, in Buckinghamshire, is an exceptionally romantic place, filled with sweeping lawns, overgrown meadows, tall trees and discreetly hidden follies and temples. It was created in the 18th century by Viscount Cobham who had a vision of a huge landscaped garden with temples, rotundas, columns and monuments within the grounds. From 1733 William Kent was in charge as architect and designer, and in 1741 "Capability" Brown arrived to continue with the plans; changing and expanding the gardens to create the Grecian Valley and the Temple of Concord and Victory.

Tom Stoppard has said that "Stowe ... was naturally much in my mind during the writing of Arcadia", and his play will be staged in the grounds in July.

By 1921 Cobham's descendants could no longer afford to run the estate and put it up for sale. In October 1922 the new governors of Stowe School acquired the buildings, garden and much of the park. The public school opened on 11 May 1923 with just 99 boys, mostly aged 13. In 1977 girls were admitted for the first time into the sixth form and today there are nearly 600 Stoics. The first headmaster was John Roxburgh, an innovative educationalist interested in encouraging each individual's particular talents. This attitude has been carried through to this day, on an increasingly lavish scale. The list of extra-curricular activities is particularly strong on art, design, drama and music. If you are a sporty Stoic you can join the polo team, play golf on Stowe's own course, or run in the grounds. It is like a giant children's playground, in one of the most beautiful settings in England. Perhaps it is wasted on this gang of teenagers, but even they couldn't fail to be moved by the beauty of Stowe.

Who's in your house?

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Head chef Douglas Dallaway

In the State Dining Rooms

Mr Dallaway has been at Stowe for 13 years, having originally thought he'd only stay for one. Affectionately known as "Dougie", he doesn't have one bad word to say about the school. He arrived for his interview from Oxford University, which is a pretty impressive setting, but was knocked out when he came up the drive to Stowe. He enjoys working in a place that he describes as "one big happy family" and says that "the children are great fun, we have some good banter!" The State Dining Room has been in use for generations, and now forms "the hub of the school", with Dougie masterminding the creation of 2,000 meals a day.

Geography master Dr Mike Waldman, In his classroom

Dr Waldman has taught at Stowe for 29 years. "There isn't a gulf between the students and the teachers," he says. "In some places there is this great chasm between them and us, but not here - there never has been." Dr Waldman has definitely made this room his own, with a huge collection of rocks on display. He has donated many of them to the school. The classroom is arranged in a U-shape, encouraging students to participate. He seems to have inspired generations of enthusiasts - old Stoics around the world still send him postcards of volcanoes and caves, saying "Remember this?"

Headmaster Jeremy Nichols

In his study in The Gothic Library

"What we do here would be different if we were elsewhere ... " says the headmaster, "Stowe is a wonderful place and very inspiring." The Gothic Library now functions as his study. It was built in 1804-1805 and is one of only two interiors created by Sir John Soane. Mr Nichols reveals that "This office is the envy of all my colleagues in other schools." It is a large room which he has divided into separate areas, one for hiring and firing, another for committee meetings and also a cosy area with sofas around the fireplace for socialising. Good students are allowed into the library but bad students are rarely allowed through the door, and are kept in the ante-library. n

Stoics Rob McKinnon and Charles Carter

In the Queen's Temple

The 18th-century Queen's Temple is set within the landscaped grounds of Stowe and is used as the music school. Informal concerts are held here every Tuesday, for students, housemasters, house matrons and the headmaster. About 50 or 60 pupils use the building daily for music practice. Charles Carter (on the right in the picture) is a clarinet player in the fifth form. "There are several rooms here which have very good acoustics," he says, "it's nice to get away and out in the grounds." Rob McKinnon, a fourth-form oboe player, adds, "It's a good atmosphere practising here and there's an amazing view."

Stoics Alex Housley, Jamie Elwes, Mark Mackeylewis, Matthew Partridge and Chris Turner

In Alpha dormitory

Alpha dorm is occupied by these five fifth-form students, all studying for their GCSEs. They have been at Stowe for three years, except for new boy Alex, who is only in his first year but already considers himself a "star rugby player". Sharing with adolescent boys is not easy, as Chris Turner describes, "It has been tough at times, but you get used to it. Boarding's a bit of a shock when you start." Their dorm is covered in tie-dye drapes, made by Jamie Elwes in the art block, and large tie-dye bean bags. These have been used to create areas of privacy and also larger areas for socialising in.