- Cliveden from the Thames, attributed to William Tonkins (1730-92) at Cliveden © National Trust Images
- View across the parterre garden 1912, unknown photographer © National Trust Images
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown may have given advice to the owners of Cliveden during the 1770s, at a time when the gardens were being remodelled to create a more natural look.
During the late 1770s Capability Brown is thought to have advised the 4th Earl of Inchiquin and his wife Anne, Countess of Orkney, the owners of Cliveden and the neighbouring estate of Taplow Court, on the border between Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. Work was then being done to naturalise the formal gardens at Cliveden, which lies 2 kilometres north of Taplow village. The estate had been laid out in the early 18th century when the 1st Earl of Orkney was owner. Brown may have given advice about removing trees, as a survey of 1818 shows that many of the avenues had been removed by then, as well as trees around the Great Parterre.
There is an entry in Brown’s account book for “Mr O’Bryen Esq Taplow”, a reference to William O’Brien, the 4th Earl of Inchiquin, who owned Taplow and Cliveden. O'Brien was closely related to the Earl of Egremont and probably became acquainted with Brown because he had worked for Egremont at Petworth and Shortgrove.
Brown was paid £100 (£152,300 in 2015) on 7 February 1778 for "Mr Spyers' time and Expences taking plans of Taplow &c.". He also received a promissory note for a similar sum a year later. Some have read the "&c." in his account book entry as meaning that Brown worked at Cliveden as well as Taplow, but there are no further details to confirm this.
A letter written by O'Bryen before he inherited his title in 1777, suggests that Brown had already been working for him for a good while before these payments.
If Brown was at Cliveden in the 1770s he would have found that changes were being made to update the formal style created by landscaper Charles Bridgeman (1690-1738, Wikipedia), who worked there for the 1st Earl of Orkney. Bridgeman’s work is thought to have included the Yew Walk, Ilex Grove and amphitheatre.
Cliveden House was built around 1666 as a ‘summer palace’ for George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. The house is sited on cliffs high above the River Thames, which runs along the western boundary of the estate, now covering around 85 hectares, mainly of woodland.
The centrepiece of the existing garden was the Great Parterre – a layout of ornamental beds and pathways with an arcaded terrace and steps along its northern side. This wasn’t altered during the modernisation of the garden, but many of the avenues and trees surrounding it were removed. This may have been under Brown’s influence.
The early 18th-century layout of the park also included pleasure grounds to the north and west, consisting mainly of woodland cut through with rides and paths.
During the 19th century Cliveden had several owners, including the 2nd Duke of Sutherland, who did work in the gardens and pleasure grounds between 1849 and 1861. In 1893 William Waldorf Astor bought Cliveden and added many important features, including the 1618 Villa Borghese balustrade.
In the 20th century the 2nd Viscount Astor and his wife Nancy entertained many famous visitors at Cliveden, including Winston Churchill, US President Franklin D Roosevelt and actor-director Charlie Chaplin. In 1965 The Beatles shot scenes from their second film Help! at Cliveden, while the estate also played a role in the scandal involving Conservative minister John Profumo.
In 1966 the National Trust took over the house and gardens (listed Grade I) from the Astors and they have since carried out extensive restoration work. The house is now a luxury hotel.
Cliveden House: www.clivedenhouse.co.uk/the-house/timeline/
Historic England: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000323
National Trust: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cliveden
Dorothy Stroud, Capability Brown, Faber & Faber, 1975, page 182