Basildon Park

Lower Basildon, Reading, West Berkshire RG8 9NR
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Overview

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown advised Sir Francis Sykes on building a new kitchen garden at Basildon Park.

Businessman Sir Francis Sykes called in Brown in 1778 when he was planning a kitchen garden at Basildon Park. This was part of a wider scheme of improvements, as Sir Francis had built a new house and enlarged the park at the estate, 3 kilometres south of Goring and Streatley, Berkshire. The walled kitchen garden was rectangular and had a heating system. It is thought that Brown may also have given advice on planting in the park.

Brown’s accounts

Brown’s account book (see online) shows that he charged Sir Francis Sykes £52 and 10 shillings (about £80,000 in 2015) “For my journey there & for Plans of the Kitchen Garden & Stoves Etc”. The bill was paid on 23 June 1778. The “Etc” may have referred to Brown giving advice on the layout of the park.

Walled garden

Brown designed dozens of walled gardens in different shapes during his long career. Kitchen gardens were a key element of the country house estate, providing food for the family and staff. The one at Basildon Park was quite straightforward – rectangular in shape, surrounded by brick walls and enclosing an area of about 1.4 hectares (3.5 acres).

Brown sited the kitchen garden 274 metres from the house. In the glazed section there were stoves to provide heat, as itemised on Brown’s bill.

The Ordnance Survey 1st Edition, 1877 shows the park 100 years after Brown, including the large kitchen garden, but by then the internal layout would almost certainly have changed.

That map also reveals much of the estate laid out as parkland, with an area of woodland to the west. Brown may have given advice on planting during his visit to the estate, but there is no plan or evidence of this.

Basildon Park today

The Sykes family sold the estate to MP James Morrison in 1838. He carried out further work on the house and built the main garden terrace. Lord Iliffe and his wife bought the estate in 1952 and restored the house and park, which were badly neglected. They gave Basildon Park to the National Trust in 1979, and the house and park are now listed Grade II (Historic England).

Brown’s walled kitchen garden is still standing but is now covered with grass.

Sources

Information courtesy of Ben Viljoen, Berkshire Gardens Trust: www.berks-gardens-trust.org.uk

Historic England: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000581

National Trust: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/basildon-park

Capability Brown's account book, page 112: www.rhs.org.uk/education-learning/libraries-at-rhs/collections/library-online/capability-brown-account-book

Sarah Rutherford, Capability Brown and his Landscape Gardens, National Trust, 2016, page 160