- Charlecote Park viewed from the parterre © Rose Holley
- Postcard of Charlecote house and park, pre 1914 courtesy Warwickshire County Record Office (ref: PH0352/46/25)
- Cascade at Charlecote Park © Rob Farrow
- Postcard of 'A pretty view' of the weir and bridge in the 1920s courtesy of Warwickshire County Record Office (ref: PH0352/46/19)
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown built a cascade between the two rivers at Charlecote and modernised the formal gardens for owner George Lucy.
Around 1750 Capability Brown drew a rough sketch of the estate at Charlecote, 8 kilometres south of Warwick, on the back of a plan he’d made for the nearby estate at Packington. In 1757 Charlecote’s owner, George Lucy, called Brown in to build a cascade south-west of the house where the Wellesbourne Brook met the Avon. Three years later Brown returned to carry out further work under a contract. He widened the River Avon, altered the banks to give them a "natural and easy level", built a ha-ha and filled in the ponds north of the house.
George Lucy paid Brown £525 (£888,000 in 2015) in instalments for his work at Charlecote. Their relationship appears to have been friendly. In April 1761 Lucy met Brown in Bath: “I told him the time was elapsed for a second payment which he said was no matter as he did not want money, but upon my offering him a £100 note he pulled out his pocket book and carried it off with him.”
A widowed lady called Mrs Hayes kept house for the bachelor Lucy, and her household Memorandum Book gives dates for some of Brown's work. On 29 September 1757 she noted that "Mr Brown began to make alterations upon Wellsborn Brook" with a man called Horsbrough overseeing the work. He created a cascade (now listed Grade II) where the Wellesbourne Brook joined the River Avon in the park.
Remodelling the gardens
In 1760 George Lucy drew up a contract with Brown for more work to modernise the water features at Charlecote. The formal water gardens had been laid out in the 1670s and included two brick-lined canals and a gazebo.
Under the first article, Brown was asked to widen the River Avon and smooth out its banks. The reshaped river was planted with trees, including oak and London plane. The third article covered altering the slopes around the house so that all the ground was level, and filling in the ponds at the north side. In place of the water gardens Brown made a raised lawn, planted with cedars of Lebanon.
Ha-ha and trees
Under the second article of the contract Brown was asked to build a brick ha-ha (sunken wall and ditch) “round the meadow, to make a sufficient fence against the deer”.
Brown was also planting trees in the park at Charlecote. A plane tree and other specimen trees stand beside the bridge designed by builder David Hiorns that crosses the river about 430 metres south-east of the house. This bridge is an important feature in the views within the south of the park and from the south-west drive.
In the late 18th century Charlecote was very popular with literary tourists who were visiting Stratford-upon-Avon. A later owner, Mary Elizabeth Lucy, kept diaries of her life at Charlecote up until 1890. She was an enthusiastic gardener who enjoyed laying out flowers in elaborate parterres (flower beds).
Charlecote was given to the National Trust in 1946. The site is in divided ownership and the Fairfax-Lucy family remains involved with the estate.
Brown’s work landscaping the water at Charlecote can still be seen, along with the ha-ha. The park and gardens are listed Grade II*.
Dorothy Stroud, Capability Brown, Faber & Faber, 1975, pages 56-57
Sarah Rutherford, Capability Brown and his Landscapes, pages 111, 114-115 and 127
Historic England: www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001187