Estates Office. Kimberley Hall, Wymondham, Norwich,
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From 1762 Lancelot 'Capability' Brown carried out major improvements to the park and gardens at Kimberley Hall for two generations of the Wodehouse family.

From 1762 to around 1778 Capability Brown carried out major design schemes at Kimberley Hall for Sir Armine Wodehouse (1714-77) and later for Sir John Wodehouse (1741-1834), his son. The first phase included expanding the park to the east and north-west and remodelling the existing lake. In the second phase, Brown created new pleasure grounds, a greenhouse and new walks and drives. The estate at Kimberley Hall lies about 5 kilometres (3 miles) north-west of Wymondham in Norfolk, south of the Yare Valley, in an area of farmland and woodland.

Plans for the park

Brown drew up two plans for Kimberley, both of which have survived. His accounts at Coutts Bank show payments totalling £2,900 (more than £4.4 million in 2015) made in 1763-66, 1771, 1773, and in 1777-78. Brown also charged for three journeys to the estate made in 1782.

Brown’s 1762 plan for Sir Armine showed the park expanded to bring in an old medieval deer park to the west of the River Tiffey and areas of meadow and woodland. In the north-west the new boundary would stretch as far as the Watton to Norwich Road and would be planted with a narrow wooded belt.

Lake and islands

Brown’s major changes were to the existing lake at Kimberley. It was well positioned near the house but had straight sides that he planned to make more naturalistic. He designed a wooded promontory extending into the lake, with two 'embayments' (bays) on either side. The water would flow out via a cascade or dam from the western bay. There would also be two small islands. Below the cascade, the River Tiffey would be made straighter and wider, forming a feature known as a 'long water' in the 18th century.

The redesigned lake was part of a network of walks around the park, which included a winding gravel path from the house, via the kitchen garden.

He also planned a 'Dairy and Tea Room' in the park to the west of the house, but there is no evidence that this was built.

It is not clear how much of Brown’s first scheme for Kimberley Hall was carried out. Surveys from 1777 and 1778 show changes to the lake but at that stage it still shown as having two straight edges. Two islands had been added, to the south and east.

The 1778 survey also shows a new gravel path, which ran along the side of the kitchen garden and crossed the river by a footbridge. Much planting and thinning of trees had also been done in the area between the house and the lake. A group of conifers on the lawn sloping down to the lake are probably Brown’s work. It is thought that he also smoothed the contours of the lawn and improved the drainage, as there are still several barrel drains here.

The second plan

In 1778 Brown produced his Intended Plan of the Alterations at Kimberley the Seat of Sir John Wodehouse, as Sir Armine’s heir wanted further improvements. This document, probably drawn by surveyor John Spyers, is both a plan and an oblique view of proposed changes to the area around the hall, the kitchen garden and the lake.

In this plan, the straight sides of the lake were to be remodelled to simplify the outline, and two more islands would be added. The larger island connected to the western and southern banks by footbridges. On Brown’s design there is wood south of the lake, crossed by winding walks and drives. Another footbridge, across the cascade, would lead into the park. One of these may have been a wooden bridge in the 'Chinese' style.

The new pleasure grounds to the east and south-east of the hall were separated from the parkland by a ha-ha (sunken fence) extending from the house to the lake. The planned walk to the lake was routed to the south, passing near the kitchen garden, which Brown screened off with a long belt of trees.

Brown is thought to have planted limes, London plane and sweet chestnut in the area of the pleasure grounds between the east wing of the hall and the kitchen garden.

Greenhouse and kitchen garden

A major feature of the second plan was the greenhouse, facing the pleasure grounds and next to the drying ground. Unlike Brown’s usual style of stone or brick buildings, this one had a brick wall at the back, with a wooden and glass structure at the front. It is likely that he also added the flues in the back wall that would have been used to heat the greenhouse.

In the existing kitchen garden, which covered around 1.2 hectares (3 acres), Brown planned to add his 'Intended Cross Wall', a heated wall for growing peaches, figs, cherries and other tender fruit.

An estate map surveyed in 1827 shows that much of this second plan was carried out, including the greenhouse, cross-wall and changes to the outline of the lake.

Kimberley today

Kimberley Hall was damaged during the army occupation of the Second World War. The estate was sold by the 4th Earl of Kimberley in 1958 and split up. The hall and parkland are now listed Grade II* (Historic England).

Much of Brown’s work at the estate can still be seen today. There are views from the Hall across the lawns to the lake, though the lake is smaller due to the effect of silting. The 'hot wall' in the kitchen garden and rear wall of Brown’s greenhouse can be seen, and part of the route through the pleasure grounds to the lake can still be followed.


Sally Bate (Editor), Capability Brown in Norfolk, Norfolk Gardens Trust, 2016

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