The Earls of Shaftesbury and their families have been associated with Wimborne and Dorset since 1460. Their main residence is St Giles House, near Wimborne.
The construction of St Giles House began in 1651. It was commissioned by Sir Anthony Ashley-Cooper, later to become 1st Earl of Shaftesbury. The manor house is built on top of the ruins of the previous estate home. This large house and surrounding grounds include 400 acres along with a seven-acre lake. In the grounds is a 1,000-yards-long avenue of trees. In addition, the family owns Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland, the largest lake in the British Isles. The estate covers over 5,500 acres in Dorset Wiltshire and Somerset.
The Grade I listed house stands in a vast park through which the River Allen flows. This feeds a seven-acre lake as it winds its way towards the small parish village of Wimborne St Giles. The 17th-century house is a low, quadrangular building. The influence of the architect Inigo Jones is clear in the Renaissance north and east fronts with their Classical façades.
The 7th Earl and Victorian social reform
The 7th Earl of Shaftesbury was the famous Victorian Social Reformer. He is commemorated in Piccadilly Circus by the statue of Eros.
The 7th Earl pushed through sweeping reforms during the 19th century. He wanted to help the poor, oppressed, and downtrodden in society, and fought for the abolition of slavery. For example, by limiting working hours in factories, stopping children working in mines and up chimney’s and helping provide education through the Ragged Schools. He was driven by a strong religious conviction that it was the responsibility of every individual to help those less fortunate than themselves.
The statue of Eros in the sunken garden at St Giles House was cast from the same mould as the original in Piccadilly Circus.
Each year, St Giles House hosts a popular chilli festival.