‘I can imagine no better way to spend a summer’s day,’ wrote the novelist Compton Mackenzie in 1951, ‘than wandering through the rhododendrons beside those bespelled lakes, exploring the grotto and the temple and the sun, and stepping from room to room in Stourhead House.’ By the time Mackenzie wrote those words, Stourhead belonged to the National Trust. But for more than 300 years previously, the estate had been the Wiltshire home of the Hoare family. For most of that time it welcomed visitors who came to stroll in the artfully sculpted gardens; to inspect the classical follies built by Henry Hoare ‘the Magnificent’; and – in an age before public galleries – to admire the house filled with paintings by Rembrandt, Poussin, Titian and Gainsborough.
There is a clear link between banking and land management; both are a farsighted form of husbandry requiring imaginative planning on the part of custodians. Both involve organic growth of (natural or fiscal) assets, which must then be shaped and directed by a human intelligence. Both demand an understanding of the wider landscape – which parts of it can be altered and improved, and which are immutable. And both, if they are to flourish, have to build in ways that guard against unpredictable shifts in the weather (in the short term) or in the climate (over the longer term).
For Hoare’s, the comparison is not fanciful; the bank has been involved in organising the financial aspects of customers’ lands and estates for almost as long as it has existed. Henry the Magnificent, grandson of the founder, brought the same creative attitude to his lifelong programme of planting and building as he did to the running of the business. When he spoke of ‘the fruits of industry’ or the ‘foundations laid by the hand of prudence and supported by perseverance in well-doing and constant watchfulness,’ he surely had in mind the grand horticultural work he did in Wiltshire as well as his day-to-day duties in Fleet Street.
Henry’s priorities still inform the bank’s approach to the stewardship of farms and estates. Relationship managers understand the responsibilities of landowners and heirs, and are aware of the opportunities that come with responsibility. They have an eye for where to grow, where to build and where to prune back. In the modern world, Henry’s ‘constant watchfulness’ translates to regular visits to landowning customers, as the only real way to gain a total grasp of customers’ needs. Everything that Henry Hoare and his descendants achieved – at Stourhead and later at Luscombe in Devon – was the result of intense collaboration with others: architects, landscapers, artists and agriculturalists. Our specialists, too, know that good fiscal organisation of estates means working with others, such as our customers’ agents and advisers.
Rural land ownership, perhaps more than any other aspect of the bank’s activity, means playing a long game, encompassing not just the next generation but the generation after that, and beyond. It involves what the conscientious, forward-looking Henry the Magnificent liked to call ‘attention to business’ – which he said was ‘that great care and concern … the first and last of all our thoughts’.