Kirkharle

Kirkharle Court, NE19 2PE
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Overview

In 1770 Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown drew up a plan for modernising the park and building a lake at Kirkharle, his birthplace, for Sir William Loraine, the 4th Baronet.

Capability Brown was born and grew up in the village of Kirkharle, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland. From 1732 he worked at the Kirkharle estate, then owned by Sir William Loraine, the 2nd Baronet, learning many skills in gardening, planting and land reclamation. Sir William Loraine, the 4th Baronet, inherited the title in 1755 aged 6 and when he came of age, Brown produced a plan for him to replace the early 18th-century formal gardens with a more naturalistic landscape. His scheme included single trees, tree belts on the north and south-east boundaries, a serpentine lake and a new approach. However his design was only partially implemented – the lake was not made, only a short section of the semi-circular approach was laid out and it is not clear whether his walled garden was built.

Brown’s plan

Capability Brown's map of KirkharleBrown’s plan for Kirkharle probably dates from around 1770, when Sir William was remodelling the house. The plan was found by the estate’s current owner in the 1990s. It was drawn in ink, pencil and brown wash and, following his usual custom, Brown used dotted lines to show features that he wanted to remove – including the site of the old Kirkharle formal gardens and the village. The plan showed individual trees – broadleaves, conifers and Weeping Willows. These elements of his scheme were followed, leading James Losh, a lawyer and commentator of the time, to write that this layout was “neater and laid out with better taste” than the neighbouring Wallington.

The lake

Most important was Brown’s scheme for a serpentine lake to the east of Kirkharle Hall. This was to be made by diverting and widening the Kirkharle Burn and would also have meant draining an area of low-lying land.

Kirkharle today

In 1836 the Loraine family sold Kirkharle and the house was pulled down. In the early 21st century plans have been made to restore the Grade II-listed park and to create the landscape of Brown’s vision, including his lake. Using Brown’s plan as a guide, hundreds of new trees have been planted. It was not possible to create the lake as one piece of water because the A696 road cuts across the bottom of the park. So there are two serpentine lakes, the east slightly lower than the west, joined by a  cascade – a favourite Brown feature – to make these two lakes appear as a single sheet of water. The cascade began to run on 30th August 2016 on the 300th anniversary of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown's baptism at St Wilfrid's Church at Kirkharle in 1716,

Sources

Information courtesy of Nick Owen

Historic England: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001049

Northumbria Gardens Trust: www.northumbriagardenstrust.com/