- Detail of Brown's plan for the ha-ha and pleasure garden Private collection, Photo © Roger Last 2015
- Brown's plan of Langley 1765 Private collection, photo © Roger Last 2015
- South front of Langley Park, c. mid-1750s, (Private Collection, Photo © Roger Last)
In 1765 Lancelot 'Capability' Brown drew up a plan for developing and expanding the estate to the north of Langley Hall for Sir William Beauchamp-Proctor.
The Langley Park estate is on a long, low hill, with marshes and water-meadow to the south and east where the rivers Yare and Chet meet. The village of Langley is around 16 kilometres (10 miles) south-east of Norwich, Norfolk. Capability Brown’s focus here was on removing the wilderness and formal features immediately north of the house and expanding the park to the north-west. Some parts of his design, including a lake and ha-ha (sunken wall), were not built.
The plan drawn up for Sir William is signed “L.B. 1765” and was done in pen and ink. It covers only the part of the estate to the north of the hall.
Brown wanted to remove the avenue and soften the formal tree planting in the wilderness. New planting would fill in the vistas through these plantings and make them into large, informal clumps of trees.
Pleasure grounds and ha-ha
Brown planned to replace the existing geometric planting, shown left in a painting from the mid-1750s (Private collection, Photo © Roger Last), with informal pleasure grounds, running east-west to the north of the house and wrapping round it to the west and south-west. This area would be separated from the parkland by a curving ha-ha (shown above as E, curving around the house (A), stable yard (B) and kitchen garden (F)).
The pleasure grounds were made up of a lawned area with a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees, according to the plan. These would be planted singly and grouped in clumps. He drew an oval belt of trees around the north and east of the service area to the south-east of the mansion.
On his plan, Brown showed a winding path, probably covered with gravel, running north from the pleasure grounds, across the ha-ha and exiting at the north-east edge of the park, by the parish church. This would give Sir William and his family a private route to the church.
Langley Wood and lake
The major element of Brown’s design was the proposed extension to the north-east of the house, which would bring in the area of Langley Wood. The planting here was to be thinned back to parkland, though in some parts he kept trees to create clumps. The western and eastern ends of the wood were extended with new planting to form a perimeter belt. A typical Brownian feature of an unsurfaced ride was to wind through the blocks of trees.
Another notable feature of the redesigned park would be the new serpentine lake, with both ends hidden by trees. Brown planned a series of rides round this area, with a crossing over an ornamental bridge at the east end of the lake. The trees around the bridge were to be weeping willows.
Most of the planting shown on Brown’s plan of the park was deciduous and most of the freestanding trees were timber trees that had grown in Langley Wood. Brown used conifers in new areas of planting, such as the north-eastern belt, beside the new walk to the church. There were to be more weeping willows around the edges of the lake.
'A perfect paradise'
Sir William died in 1773 and Sir Thomas Beauchamp-Proctor (1756-1827) inherited Langley, putting some of Brown’s plans into action. Mary, his wife, described the park as "a perfect paradise” for walking and riding, which suggests that Brown’s rides and walks had been built.
The 1816 estate map of Langley shows that the removal of Langley Wood and its absorption into the park had been done. Both the trees and underwood had been reduced, while the perimeter belts of trees to the east and west were kept. The long northern boundary of the park was, as intended, left without a belt of trees. In general, the north-west of the park is shown much more densely wooded than the rest because the timber had been kept.
It appears that the ha-ha was never built, as it is not shown on a print of the estate from 1821. Also, the two large clumps proposed to replace the wilderness north of the house do not seem to have been planted.
Nor is it thought that work on Brown’s lake ever started. Work on the lake would have been expensive, and the the extravagance of the First Baronet's failed election campaign, followed by his death soon after, meant that the family couldn't undertake this work and they focussed on the clearing and planting of the park.
Langley Hall today
After the Second World War the estate was split up. The house and grounds were taken over by what is now Langley School, while the rest of the parkland and the lodges were sold.
Although Brown’s design for Langley was never carried out in its entirety, he was successful in terms of forestry and planting. In particular, a huge cedar (9.3 metres wide) and a lime tree (5.3 metres wide) north of the house show his influence. His design can also be seen in the planting at the eastern and western ends of the woodland, areas that have been replanted and extended with ash, conifer and sycamore.
Sally Bate (Editor), Capability Brown in Norfolk, Norfolk Gardens Trust, 2016 www.norfolkgt.org.uk
Historic England: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001008
Parks & Gardens UK: www.parksandgardens.org/places-and-people/site/2010