Linking Capability Brown’s five landscapes in Kent are his accounts; those in the Lindley Library and those with Drummond’s Bank. Kent Gardens Trust have pieced together a story for each of the sites.
- Valence, formerly known as Hill Park, engraved by J P Neale, courtesy of The British Library
- Middle Lake, Valence courtesy of Jacs Taylor-Smith, 2015
In the 1770s Lancelot 'Capability' Brown and architect Henry Holland transformed the landscape and house at Valence for the Earl of Hillsborough.
The Earl of Hillsborough bought Valence, near Westerham, Kent, in 1771 and began developing the estate and remodelling the house. Capability Brown was working at the estate from 1772 to 1775, delegating work on the house and outbuildings to architect Henry Holland (1745-1806,Wikipedia). Brown’s major achievement at Valence, previously known as Hill Park, was the creation of Middle Lake and its island, and the replanting and opening up of the parkland in a more naturalistic style, typical of his work.
Under the contract between the earl and Brown, a series of payments totalling £1,200 (almost £1.9 million in 2015) was made between 1772 and 1775. Brown appears to have made a note in his accounts that £50 was unpaid, but there are no other details about the contract. Such a large sum suggests major work was done but these figures don’t give the full picture.
Comparing the Andrews, Dury and Herbert county map of 1769 (see online) with the estate map of 1799 and Ordnance Survey of 1798-99 gives some idea of Brown’s work at Valence. A large serpentine lake (at least 0.5 hectares) was created within that 30-year period. Known as Middle Lake, this lies in a narrow valley and has an island. The fishponds to the north are shown to have been remodelled.
The creation of Middle Lake was a major engineering job for Brown and his men. At this point in his career he had plenty of experience of earth-moving and dam building. Brown would have had to line the porous beds of the lake with clay to ensure that it could hold water. This water came from a natural spring via the 13th-century Cutmill Pond. The large island on the lake may have been built to stop water from “disappearing down a swallow hole”.
In keeping with his usual style, Brown probably also reshaped the ground in the area of the lake, creating a gentle slope and a broad level path.
Landscaping and planting
Comparing the maps also shows that major work had been done to create more naturalistic landscaping, characteristic of Brown’s style. In 1769 Valence still had formal avenues leading from the house, as well as ponds and winding streams, outbuildings and walled kitchen gardens.
After Brown there are large areas of parkland studded with trees. One avenue is shown to have been replaced with a driveway from the north of the park that ends with a grand sweep in front of the house. The lime avenue to the north-west has been extended, to form another circuit around the park, taking in the existing waterfall and pond.
Brown used clumps of trees to form to form a backdrop to the house to the south-east and south-west. He opened up the parkland to the north-east and created a serpentine belt of trees to screen off the kitchen gardens.
He also thinned out the woodland to the south-east, opening up views, vistas and access to other parts of the parkland.
In his later career Brown relied on his daughter Bridget's husband, architect Henry Holland, who was also his business partner to carry out work on houses, outbuildings and bridges. Holland’s price books from 1767-72 show that he was employing tradesmen to work on Brown’s commissions.
At Valence they improved both the inside and outside of the mansion, carving cornices, friezes and chimney pieces. It is thought that part of Brown’s contract included remodelling the façade of the mansion in a Palladian style, casting doubt on the general belief that he did not favour classical references at that point in his career.
Brown and Holland’s work at Valence may have continued after 1775. In 1777 the earl commissioned a model dairy for his wife. A mid-18th century sketch shows this circular building with a domed roof at the eastern end of the lime avenue. The finished building appears to resemble a drawing in Holland’s sketchbook from July 1777.
Valence after Brown
By the middle of the 19th century more formal gardens were being created at Valence, as was then the fashion. A Victorian Gothic-style mansion was built at the end of the 19th century to replace the Palladian-style house.
In 1949 Kent County Council bought the house, which later became a school, along with 20 hectares (50 acres) of land. The rest of the park and Valence Wood are in private ownership.
Elements of Brown’s parkland, with boundary belts of trees can still be seen, despite the numerous changes of ownership. Notably, there have been recent repairs and restoration work to Brown’s serpentine lake.
Beverley Howarth and Paul Howarth, 'Valence: A Landscape transformed', Capability Brown in Kent, Kent Gardens Trust, 2016 www.kentgardenstrust.org.uk
Andrews, Dury and Herbert map: www.oldmapsonline.org/en/Kent
Capability Brown's account book, page 85: www.rhs.org.uk/education-learning/libraries-at-rhs/collections/library-online/capability-brown-account-book
NOTE: Please note that the modern equivalents of prices given on the Capability Brown website use the equivalant labour cost shown on www.measuringworth.com, rather than the real price (calculated on the increase in inflation), and therefore differ from the figures in the original research by Kent Gardens Trust. This is based on the research by Roderick Floud published in RHS Occasional Papers 14.