Published by the Yorkshire Gardens Trust, Noble Prospects: Capability Brown & the Yorkshire Landscape tells the story of Brown’s work in Yorkshire, from his first known consultation at Harewood in 1758 to new projects at Stapleton and Byram just a few months before he died in 1783.
- Byram Hall, Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (YAS Mackenzie Papers 184.108.40.206)
One of the final projects of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown was his 1782 design for the park at Byram, owned by Sir John Ramsden.
Byram Park, near Ferrybridge, West Yorkshire, was a flat site of around 150 hectares (373 acres), bordering the Great North Road. Capability Brown’s plan has not survived, but his scheme involved removing formal terraces and a forecourt and the creation of wooded pleasure grounds and a winding beech avenue to the house.
In July 1782 surveyor John Spyers took measurements of the estate in advance of Brown’s visit in October. By December Brown had sent a 'General Plan for the Alterations'.
Enlarging the park
Sir John had inherited the estate in 1769, at the age of 13. He made a Grand Tour of Europe in the mid-1770s and then set out to remodel his estate. Family records are few, but it is known that Sir John had plans to enlarge the park in 1779 and was in dispute with the Reverend John Law over the ownership of a field.
Work appears to have started soon after Brown’s visit. By August 1783, Sir John’s brother-in-law William Weddell gave a progress report, saying Byram was “much done, and much undone, & in such a profusion […] of Improvements, that they throw them around by shovels full at ye door”.
In 1792 diarist The Honourable John Byng (1743-1813) described riding in the pleasure grounds at Byram, saying the estate was a “verdant, well-wooded place, with a goodish house, and an extent of made water”.
"Return to nature"
The estate was split up and sold in the 1920s, with speculators looking to exploit a seam of coal under the land. Following years of decay and neglect, the estate was sold again in the 1940s and it is now run as a farm. The Brownian landscape has been lost over the years during felling and replanting, but there is still a sheltering belt of trees around the park boundary.
In 1943 Sir John Ramsden, 6th Baronet, wrote disapprovingly of Brown’s "return to nature" ideas on landscaping. He was happy that his father had restored the formal elements of the garden, undoing Brown's 18th-century improvements.
Information courtesy of the Yorkshire Gardens Trust and the New Arcadian Press.
For an extended and fully annotated account please see: Karen Lynch, ‘Capability Brown in Yorkshire’, in Dr Patrick Eyres (Ed), Yorkshire Capabilities: New Arcadian Journal 75/76, 2016 www.newarcadianpress.co.uk
For a lavishly illustrated account of Brown in Yorkshire please see: Karen Lynch, Noble Prospects: Capability Brown & the Yorkshire Landscape, Harrogate: Mercer Art Gallery & Yorkshire Gardens Trust, 2016 www.yorkshiregardenstrust.org.uk