Next year is the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, the man credited with creating the classical English landscape
Capability Brown is said to have moved hills, and sometimes even entire villages, to create the serpentine waterways and rolling vistas that have come to epitomise the English countryside ideal. Throughout 2016 his work will be marked with a festival of events, celebrating his life, work and influence.
As the first celebration of Brown’s extensive works, the Capability Brown Festival 2016 brings together a wide range of events and exhibitions across the UK. Working with 19 partner organisations in the largest festival of its kind to date, it is part funded with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and managed by the Landscape Institute.
Brown’s prolific legacy of work ranges from Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey), the well-known estates of Chatsworth, Blenheim and Stowe, to hidden gems such as and Compton Verney. Visitors will be able to see and explore Brown’s legacy landscapes, features and houses, including some that are not usually open to the public. There will be the opportunity to discover more about Brown’s work, how he created his landscapes and the management systems and tools available to him in the 18th century. The results of research projects will be collated and shared through exhibitions, websites, social media and a range of events.
There will be a range of events for all age groups, including schools. Highlights include the opportunity to tour the grounds of Belvoir Castle, where a lost Brown design was rediscovered and implemented. In addition, there are art exhibitions and activities including geocashing treasure hunts, hands-on tours and study days, and even the launch of a Capability Brown beer.
Over 250 sites are attributed to or connected to Brown spread across all English regions, with five in Wales. They range from small private gardens to larger country estates. To find a garden to visit use the website – www.capabilitybrown.org – where you will also find details of numerous events.
Kirkharle in Northumberland is Brown’s birthplace and first workplace. He left at the age of 24 and within two years of leaving was head gardener to Lord Cobham at Stowe in Buckinghamshire. Here a lake has been recently restored according to Brown’s original plan and visitors to the Kirkharle Coffee House will be able to see a collection of displays dedicated to Brown, including Plan of Kirkharle, thought to be the earliest plan of his in existence.
A Capability Brown Festival Weekend is being held at Kirkharle over the August Bank Holiday. Activities include a talk by historian and broadcaster John Grundy, a flower festival and a traditional fete. To find out more about the events see the website, www.kirkharlecourtyard.co.uk.
The Kirkharle Coffee Shop caters for up to 40 people. To book your group’s visit call 01830 540 362 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stowe, near Buckingham, is where Brown learnt his trade. As head gardener from 1741 to 1751, he was able to experiment, making his unique mark on the landscape before moving on to work on other aristocratic estates. He married and had four children while living here.
Brown sculpted the large Grecian Valley with views out to parkland, with monumentally large temples and the Octagon and Eleven Acre Lakes. He created a trick of the eye by using sunken ha-ha walls to keep the livestock out of the main garden while creating views that appeared as one ongoing scene.
Visitors to this National Trust property will be able to learn about Brown’s life and work at Stowe, take guided tours of the garden or explore at their own pace.
Capability Brown’s influence extended to some of Britain’s well-known artists and at Harewood House near Leeds, visitors will be able to enjoy a selection of exhibitions as well as themed guided walks.
The Art of Landscape exhibition (March 25 to November 30) encompasses a series of celebrations and will have works from great masters who painted the vistas at Harewood. Watercolours produced in the late 18th century by artists including Turner will be displayed alongside photos by Victorian photographer Roger Fenton, who captured the ‘Brownian’ views in 1860. Simon Warner’s film North and South will present a contemporary view of the landscape.
It took five years to transform 1,000-acres of parkland from agricultural fields to picturesque landscapes. Visitors will learn about the characteristics of Brownian parkland and what made his work so pioneering. There is a choice of guided walks and a house tour available for groups. For more information see the website www.harewood.org/visit/groups/garden-tours or call 0113 218 1017.
Blenheim Palace, near Oxford, will have a range of activities to honour Brown’s life and work. An exhibition will offer an insight into his 11 years at Blenheim – now a World Heritage Site – through detailed accounts along with photography, drawings, equipment and costumes.
The exhibition (February 13 to May 21) has been created in partnership with The Embroiderers Guild and will feature handmade pieces depicting the parkland along with the work of local contemporary artists. Visitors can also enjoy guided tours of the park, a self-guided trail of discovery looking at views before and after Brown’s work, and a number of talks and other visitor experiences.
At Burton Constable Hall, an Elizabethan mansion in East Yorkshire, Brown created a series of fishponds and lakes separated by a dam-cum-bridge. He also planted trees, installed sunken fences and a ha-ha. A programme of parkland restoration has been in place since 1999. Features including hedges and sunken fences have been restored, along with ‘his’ bridge and there are plants to plant tree clumps next autumn.
An exhibition on Brown and his contributions at Burton Constable and in the East Riding will be staged in the Carriage House exhibition space in the newly restored stable block. Inside the house, visitors will find original Brown plans and drawings.
From April the service courtyard and brewhouse, which were designed by Brown, will be used to stage an exhibition called Country House Brewing. This is being supported by Great Newsome Brewery, who are producing a bottle beer called ‘Incapability Brown Ale’ which will be sold in the gift shop as well as local pubs and restaurants.
An exhibition of sculptures by artist Emma Stothard will be displayed throughout the parkland next summer, starting in May. She will be creating willow and wire animals that would have roamed the Burton Constable parkland during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Hampton Court Palace
Brown was appointed by George III at Hampton Court Palace in 1764 and he moved to Wilderness House, located within the walls of the palace. Amongst his many achievements was the planting of the Black Hamburg vine in 1768, which continues to flourish and is the world’s largest and most famous grape vine.
From April 28 to September 4, 2016, an exhibition The Empress And The Gardener will showcase 60 watercolour paintings of the estate by John Spyers, Brown’s assistant. Spyers worked as a draughtsman from 1746 to 1783 and prepared the drawings for many of Brown’s park and architectural projects over a period of 20 years. The drawings are the only surviving records of how Hampton Court gardens looked when Brown was in charge.
Groups can pre-book tickets on 0844 482 7770. For further details of events taking place at Historic Royal Palaces visit www.hrp.org.uk.
Visitors will be able to enjoy stunning views that Brown had planned for the Belvoir Estate over 250 years ago but were not put into place until recently. This landscape has newly been created by the Duchess of Rutland using a collection of Brown’s long-lost plans. The latter were thought to have been lost in a fire in 1816 but were found in the estate’s archives two years ago.
To reveal his original vistas, 110-acres of woodland were felled and 83,000 trees have been planted, abandoned pools and lakes restored and a new nine-acre site showcases unusual and rare plants. For The Lost Landscape of Capability Brown, guided walks and events for groups call 01476 871001. For more information visit www.belvoircastle.com.
Brown’s work at Burghley Estate at Stamford in South Lincolnshire was his longest commission and lasted 25 years. The estate is undertaking a major parkland project, part of which will help restore the views Brown created. A free information leaflet will give information and a self-guided walk around the key parts of the park, Brown’s vistas and the famous Lion Bridge.
Burghley House is home to one of only two portraits of Brown, which is on public display in the staterooms, and there will be an exhibition dedicated to the life and work of the gardener, his influence on the parkland and the house.
In addition, Burghley has planned several options for talks and presentations with groups in mind. For groups visiting Burghley House, contact Gemma Rigby, Group Bookings Co-ordinator, on 01780 752451 (ex171) or email email@example.com. For more information visit www.burghley.co.uk.
Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park, near Leamington Spa in Warwickshire, will be staging a yearlong display about its own landscape and other Brownian landscapes in the region. Among the features in the parkland is an ice cream cone-shaped icehouse created by Brown. It has been restored and visitors can step inside.
There’s a new visitor centre, a recreation of Brown’s original Georgian pathways and the opportunity to see the progress on the restoration of the chapel Brown built. For details of group activities and discounts see the website, www.comptonverney.org.uk.
Born in 1716 at Kirkhale, Northumberland, Lancelot Brown was the fifth of the six children of William Brown, a yeoman farmer, and Ursula née Hall, who had worked in the big house on the Kirkharle estate. He attended the village school at Cambo, and then worked as a gardener at Kirkharle until 1739.
In 1741 he took up a post in Stowe in Buckinghamshire and in 1744 he married Bridget Wayet. Together they had nine children.
While at Stowe, Brown began working as an independent designer and contractor and in autumn 1751, he and his family moved to Hammersmith, then London’s market garden area. He went on to gain royal appointment after he was made master gardener to King George III at Hampton Court and Richmond Lodge, and gardener at St James’s Palace.
Brown set out to ensure that a landscape should provide for every need of the great house while at the same time having an elegant look. The nickname of ‘Capability’ is thought to have come from his describing landscapes as having “great capabilities”.
There is a great deal of variety in his styles, however he did favour the use of a sunken fence or ‘ha-ha’ which confuses the eye into believing that different pieces of parkland, though managed and stocked quite differently, are one. His also liked to create expansive lakes.
Brown offered a number of different services to his clients. For a fee he could provide a survey and plans for buildings and landscape, leaving his client to execute his proposal. More frequently he provided a foreman to oversee the work, which would be carried out by labour recruited from the estate. Alternatively, he could oversee and refine the work himself, visiting a certain number of days each year.
Brown also practiced architecture, and during the 1750s contributed to several country houses.