- Maiden Erlegh lake © Rubert Dubair
- Maiden Erlegh grounds c. 1930s-50s Reproduced by permission of the Berkshire Record Office (Ref: D/EX1914/6/23)
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown advised William Mathew Burt on improvements to his estate at Maiden Early.
In around 1778 Capability Brown visited the estate at Maiden Early (also spelt Erlegh or Erleigh), near Reading, the property of former MP William Mathew Burt. Brown is known to have ordered a survey and produced a plan for his client. Perhaps as a result of his advice, the ponds at the estate were later remodelled into a serpentine lake, and peripheral tree belts were added.
Plan and survey
Brown’s account book shows that he billed William Burt £31 and 10 shillings (almost £48,000 in 2015) “For my troubles Journey and Plan”. There was a further cost of £6 and 6 shillings (£9,600 in 2015) for the survey and travelling expenses of Cornelius Griffin (see online). As the entry for Maiden Erlegh (as Brown spelt it) follows the one for Basildon Park, it has been suggested that this undated account entry was made in 1778, when we know he visited Basildon Park nearby.
There is some doubt over whether payment was made, as Brown didn’t go on to cross through his entry and write ‘paid’. This may have been due to a dispute or to his client's death soon after. William Burt, who had been the MP for Marlow from 1761 to 1768, was appointed governor of the Leeward Islands in 1776, and died there in January 1781.
When Brown visited Maiden Early the estate was fields, woodland and three large ponds, as shown on John Rocque’s map of 1761. Though Brown’s plan has not survived, the Ordnance Survey 1st Edition, 1871-77 does show some major changes, perhaps suggesting that his ideas were carried out. Most notable is the sinuous lake in the south of the estate, which has been created from the three ponds.
What was farmland and woodland looks more like parkland on the later map. There are belts of trees around the boundaries of the estate and a clump of trees to the east of the house.
Maiden Early today
Businessman Solomon Joel bought Maiden Early in the early 20th century and made lavish improvements to the house and garden. He added an Italian winter garden and a ‘Pompeian’ style swimming pool, with colonnades and frescos.
The house was pulled down in 1960 and the estate is now covered by housing developments. Maiden Early lake is still there, and its shape appears to be the same as it was in the late 19th century.
Information courtesy of Ben Viljoen, Berkshire Gardens Trust: www.berks-gardens-trust.org.uk/
Capabilty Brown's account book, page 111: www.rhs.org.uk/education-learning/libraries-at-rhs/collections/library-online/capability-brown-account-book
Royal Berkshire History: www.berkshirehistory.com/castles/maiden_erlegh_house.html