Royal Mail recently launched a Special Stamps issue to mark the 300th anniversary of the birth of Capability Brown. Design agency Silk Pearce discusses the Capability Brown project.
In 1757, following his succession in 1751, the third Viscount Weymouth commissioned Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to lay out a park and remove the remaining formal elements of the gardens at Longleat.
Brown worked at Longleat between 1757 and 1762 and completely transformed the park. Longleat had boasted a famous Baroque garden designed by George London in the 1680s and modified in the rococo style in the 1730s.
Brown swept these away to make room for something more natural. He established rolling lawns, dotted with clumps of trees and a chain of carefully placed lakes and created the ‘Great Ha-ha’, a new walled kitchen garden and the Pleasure Walk. Brown planted this arboretum to the south west of the house with ‘trees and shrubs of curious sorts’. Although very few veteran trees survive from Brown’s planting, the most recent replanting, commissioned by the 6th Marquess in the spirit of Brown’s original project, and the winding Pleasure Walk still offers perfectly timed glimpses of Longleat House and the lakes just as Brown intended.
The third Viscount became the first Marquess of Bath in 1789, by which time his passion for forestry had seen an average of 50,000 trees planted annually on the moorland and common. In 1790 he began to create a large new boating lake, known as Shear Water, beyond the new plantations.
The first Marquess died in 1796, to be succeeded by his son, the second Marquess who carried on his father's work on the landscape, commissioning Humphry Repton (1752-1818) to prepare a Red Book in 1803-04. He made alterations to the water beside the house, designed a gothic boathouse for Shear Water, and collaborated with Jeffry Wyatville (1766-1840) who designed the new stables and the Orangery in the gardens.
Brown’s work at Longleat has not gone untouched but the estate remains largely as he planned it.