Hornby Castle

Hornby Castle, Hornby, Bedale, DL8 1NQ
< Back to listings


During the 1760s Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown created a series of lakes in the grounds of Hornby Castle, for the 4th Earl of Holderness.

Hornby Castle is on an elevated site in the Vale of Mowbray, near Bedale, North Yorkshire. The earl was an active supporter of Capability Brown’s work, but it was his brother John Brown who was called to the estate in 1763 and 1765. There is no record of what work was carried out.

Ornamental farmhouses

It seems likely that Capability Brown did visit Hornby in around 1765–66, when surveyor George Jackson was drawing up maps of the estate. Brown is thought to be responsible for choosing the position of three ornamental or ‘model’ farmhouses, including Castle Farm, Park House Farm and Street Farm, that were built at this time. The architect was John Carr (1723–1807, Wikipedia; see also Harewood). These farms were eye-catchers in the redesigned landscape of the park and formed part of a carriage ride circuit for visitors to the estate.

There is a reference in two of the earl’s account books to a payment of £100 (around £170,000 in 2015) to Brown in 1768. It is not known what Brown was being paid for, though author Arthur Young (1741–1820) wrote in that year that the house commanded a "most noble prospect of the whole county in front, the environs abounding with capabilities of all kinds".

A series of lakes

Brown’s major contribution to the improvement of the earl’s park appears to have been his planning of a series of ribbon lakes or ponds on a mill stream to the south of Hornby Castle. While the property enjoyed fine views it had previously lacked a water feature. By 1770 a visitor noted men "busy digging out a canal, in serpentine form, of very great extent".

It is likely that Brown was the creator during the 1770s of the rustic Bowling Green Bridge with five arches (now listed Grade II, Historic England) that connected the castle to the Bowling Green House, though it may have been the work of John Carr. The bridge also acted as a dam, to disguise the change in levels of the water, creating a seamless effect. Work on sculpting and turfing the water feature continued in 1777 and 1778.

It is thought that poet and garden designer the Reverend William Mason (1725–1797), who was chaplain to the earl, was jointly responsible with Brown for the redesigned landscape at Hornby Castle. William Mason designed the gothic summer-house to the west of Bowling Green Pond at Hornby and the pair also worked together at Nuneham Courtenay, Oxfordshire. A visitor admired a ha-ha (sunken wall) to the south and east of the castle in 1779 as being "set out with great taste by Mr Mason the Poet".

Hornby Castle in the 20th century

The estate was broken up in the 1930s to pay off debts and most of the castle was demolished. What remains of the building is now listed Grade I (Historic England). The park is now mostly pasture, but the string of ponds still gives the effect of a winding river, with the Grade II-listed model farms acting as eye-catchers.


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

Historic England list entry: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1420079

Parks & Gardens UK: www.parksandgardens.org/places-and-people/site/1792/