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.
- Harewood House from the South by J. M. W. Turner 1797 Reproduced by courtesy of the Harewood House Trust
- Harewood House from the south, photo © Simon Warner
- Harewood House from the South West by J. M. W. Turner 1797 Reproduced by courtesy of the Harewood House Trust
In the 1770s Lancelot 'Capability' Brown landscaped the parkland at Harewood House and designed the famous Y-shaped lake there for Edwin Lascelles.
Lascelles (later Baron Harewood) inherited the estate near Leeds, West Yorkshire in 1753 and had ambitious plans for both the house and gardens. Capability Brown was one of several notable gardeners and architects who worked there from the 1750s onwards. An early guidebook credits both him and surveyor Thomas White (1739-1811) for laying out the gardens and pleasure grounds. Brown’s major contributions were the lake, cascades and carriage drives.
Capability Brown’s first recorded visit to Harewood was in early 1758, when the estate was still known as Gawthorpe. He was paid £21 (equivalent to £37,000 in 2015) in December of that year for his 'Two General Plans for the House' (which were not accepted) and a design for improvements to the 350-hectare (865-acre) estate.
He may have been involved at an even earlier date, as by the summer of 1757 work had begun to dam the Stank Beck, below the site of the new house. There is also a reference to an 'intended lake'.
A survey was commissioned in April 1758 and work began on building the ornamental or 'model' farms that are a feature of Brown’s work in Yorkshire. These would be sited just outside the boundary of the park to act as eye-catchers when looking from the house or the approach roads.
The parkland to the north and south of the house was laid out during the 1760s and 1770s. A number of surveyors worked at Harewood, including White, who had previously been Brown’s foreman and was now employed there in his own right, and Richard Woods. Letters show that this led to disagreements, with three different plans put forward for the ha-ha (sunken wall).
The lake and drives
In 1771 the Duchess of Northumberland described the pleasure ground at Harewood as “very agreeable, was originally a flat but is now scooped into Hill and dale in a very pretty manner”. It is not clear whether the credit for this should go to White or to Brown.
By 1772 Brown was back at Harewood drawing up his 'Plan for the intended Water & the Grounds adjoining'. Progress was slow and the first payment from Lascelles was noted in Brown’s account book in the autumn of 1774 (see on RHS website). Only by 1779 was the lake nearing completion and a 'large Pleasure Boat' was ordered from London.
In August 1774, Brown’s foreman Anthony Sparrow billed Lascelles direct for “3 days attending Mr Brown, measuring and shewing the particulars of the water levels etc”. His tasks included surveying, staking out proposals and drawing rough plans.
The drive from the hamlet of Weardley was built, with the new Lady Bridge crossing the Stank Beck, past the Menagerie to the Home Farm. It is thought that Brown also advised on the drive from Lofthouse Lodge, which was under construction in 1774. Architect John Carr (1723-1807, Wikipedia) designed the bridges, entrance gates and outlying buildings. It not clear whether Brown was involved in these elements, as they had already been completed by the summer of 1771.
Features dating from the Brown period include the cascades on the Eccup Beck and the Rustic Bridge. There was a new drive to show off the kitchen garden, which dated from the 1740s but had now been extended and moved to a promontory in the lake.
New ridings were cut through the plantations in the southern area of the park. A Temple of Venus was to be placed on the edge of the woodland as an eye-catcher. The scheme ensured that the whole estate could be admired from a network of rides and drives.
The new house
Work was also going on north of the mansion, to move 'earth by the house' and pull down the medieval Gawthorpe Hall because the new Harewood Hall, by architects John Carr (1723-1807, Wikipedia) and Robert Adam (1728-92, Wikipedia), was ready. Men were also needed to dig the ha-ha that Brown had requested. In March 1773 Lascelles wrote to his steward Popplewell, regarding a visit from Brown: “I hope the Hill goes on & will be sufficiently advanced for Mr Brown’s further orders.”
Lascelles and Brown met in London in May 1781 to settle the final account for the work, which had continued throughout the 1770s.
Harewood after Brown
Harewood is still owned by the Lascelles family, and the house (listed Grade I by Historic England) and gardens are open to the public. The key elements of Brown’s landscape – lake, cascade and drives – can still be seen.
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
Capability Brown's account book, page 97: www.rhs.org.uk/education-learning/libraries-at-rhs/collections/library-online/capability-brown-account-book
Historic England list entry: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001218
Parks & Gardens UK: www.parksandgardens.org/places-and-people/site/1624/