In the 1760s Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown worked for Lucy Knightley at Fawsley, damming one of the lakes and carrying out new planting in the park.
There is no plan of Capability Brown’s work at Fawsley, but his accounts show that he was working for Lucy Knightley from the mid-1760s. The estate, just under 5 kilometres (3 miles) south of Daventry, Northamptonshire, had been in the Knightley family since 1416 and had been enlarged several times. Changes marked on a map from 1741 show new areas of shrubbery around the dams for the three main lakes and a winding route running north-east to south-west across the park. It’s thought that Brown also cleared trees within the park, adding specimen trees and new clumps.
Visits to Fawsley
Diarist Horace Walpole noted that Brown was at Fawsley in 1763. Years later, Brown’s own letters refer to a night spent at the estate in December 1775, which was in line with his habit of staying with former clients during his travels. Brown’s account book shows that he was paid £700 (almost £1.2 million in 2015) in 1765-66 by Lucy Knightley (a man). There was a second contract in 1767-68 for £550 (£938,400 in 2015).
Brown is likely to have drawn up plans for Fawsley, but these have been lost. A map of 1741, before his time at the estate, is useful in showing how the park and gardens were developed. It’s not clear whether the changes it shows – including to the extent of the land – were suggestions or a record made after the work was done.
The dam and 'new road'
In July 1763 Horace Walpole referred to “the ground Brown is laying out and making a large piece of water”. By that time there were already three major lakes at Fawsley – Horse Pond, Big Waters and The Canal – to the north, south and east of the house. The map evidence suggests that Brown was broadening part of The Canal, rather than forming a new piece of water.
A comparison between the 1741 estate map and the 1885 Ordnance Survey First Edition shows a new dam built across the “great piece of water”, crossed by the Knightley Way footpath. This is thought to be Brown’s work.
The 1885 map also shows a winding new route across the park from north-east to south-west, something that was pencilled onto the 1741 estate map as “new road”. The road included views of the ruined Dower House in the park and appears to have replaced a formal double avenue of trees.
Brown is thought to have made suggestions for new areas of planting around the dams for the three main lakes. Shrubberies were drawn in dark green on the 1741 map. The later map records how trees have been cleared in the park and replaced by more natural clumps and open grassland, as well as individual specimens. Brown may also have planted Houseground clump in a field to the west of the park.
Fawsley Hall today
The Knightley family kept the Fawsley estate until the 1930s. It remains in private ownership and is run as a hotel and spa. The house is listed Grade I and the park is listed Grade II*.
Northamptonshire Gardens Trust: northamptonshiregardenstrust.org/
Dorothy Stroud, Capability Brown, Faber & Faber, 1984, page 177
Historic England: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001033