- Watercolour of Ickworth Park c. 1810, showing the Rotunda without its wings, Courtesy Susannah Charlton
Lancelot 'Capability' Brown altered the grounds at Ickworth for the 2nd Earl of Bristol and later drew a design for a new house.
Capability Brown's proposals for the grounds at Ickworth were carried out between 1769 and 1773. Brown's account book (see online) shows that the first payment was billed on 18 July 1769 and a final payment was received in January 1776. The total cost shown in his account book was £581 8 shillings (around £875,000 in 2015). However, little is known about exactly what Brown did in the park as records have been lost. His later design for a new house was not implemented.
Landscaping the park
The Tudor manor house at Ickworth, located near the church and the walled gardens by the canal, had been torn down in 1701 and the family were living in Ickworth Lodge, a farmhouse on the estate. Substantial payments were also made to architect Henry Holland around this time, presumably for work on the Lodge. It is not known whether Brown's landscaping was designed to improve the surroundings of the Lodge or complement the proposed site chosen for the new house, in a commanding position overlooking the main valley in the park.
The park has the smooth rolling grass, clumps of trees and belts of woodland that are typical of Brown's work. Given the level of payments to Brown, it is likely that he supervised the estate staff in implementing his plans rather than his own men doing the work.
Design for an 'Intire New House'
In 1781 Brown supplied 'Plans and Elevations for an Intire New House' at a cost of £105, including the expenses for two journeys. On 1 February 1782 William Hervey, brother of the Earl of Bristol, noted 'Mr Brown came and brought with him a plan for a house'. On the following day he dined at Ickworth with Sir Gerard Vanneck of Heveningham and Mr (later Sir Charles) Kent of nearby Fornham St Genevieve, for whom he produced unrealised designs. Brown's design for Ickworth house was not used.
Ickworth after Brown
The Earl Bishop eventually chose Irish architect brothers Francis and Joseph Sandys, who had settled in nearby Bury St Edmunds in 1793, to build his new house. The massive Italianate rotunda with wings followed designs by Mario Asprucci. Referred to by his wife as a 'stupendous monument of folly', work began on the house in 1795 but stopped when the Earl Bishop died abroad in 1803 and it was nearly twenty years before it was restarted by his son. The family moved into the east wing in 1829, but the west wing remained an empty shell until recently.
In 1956 the widow of the 4th Marquess of Bristol, the Marchioness Theodora, presented Ickworth house and estate to the Treasury in lieu of death duties, and it was passed to the National Trust. The east wing is now a hotel and the west wing has been converted into visitor facilities.
Dorothy Stroud, Capability Brown, Faber & Faber, 1975, page 197
Sarah Rutherford, Capability Brown and his Landscape Gardens, National Trust, 2016, pages 64-65, 81, 99 and 145
Historic England: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000186
Capability Brown's account book at the RHS, page 77: www.rhs.org.uk/education-learning/libraries-at-rhs/collections/library-online/capability-brown-account-book
National Trust Ickworth: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ickworth