- "Wakefield Lodge, Northamptonshire" engraved by F.R.Hay after pictures by J.P.Neale, published in Jones' Views of the Seats1829.
Early in his career, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown enlarged the lake at Wakefield Lodge and created a second lake and cascade for the Duke of Grafton.
In the late 1740s, near the end of his time as head gardener at Stowe, Capability Brown visited the Duke of Grafton’s nearby estate at Wakefield Lodge. Architect William Kent, Brown’s mentor at Stowe, had designed a new house for Wakefield, but he died in 1748 before the project was completed. Brown may have finished work on the building, which had been designed as grand hunting lodge for the duke.
Brown worked in the grounds at Wakefield for seven years, enlarging the lake and adding a smaller one, with a linking cascade. He also planted trees in the park and opened up vistas through the forest.
Brown’s records do not cover this early period of his career. The Grafton accounts for 1750-55 show that he received nine payments, totalling £707 and 10 shillings (about £1.25 million in 2015), for his work on the water features at Wakefield. The estate archive also reveals that Brown was very busy there during this five-year period, giving details of how the project was progressing.
Brown took over work on landscaping the park at Wakefield after William Kent’s death. In August 1749 gardener Robert Greening was busy staking out The Great Pond, which was an enlargement of a medieval fish pond north of the house. This was one of Brown’s first water projects, and he had to build a huge dam of earth and stone to raise the water level by 7.6 metres (25 feet).
In 1754 Brown created the smaller New Pond, to the east of the dam. This second lake was fed by The Great Pond.
Wakefield Lawn and views
Brown’s scheme for Wakefield was intended to be simple, giving views across the lakes from the newly built hunting lodge. Leading down to the water was a huge area of deer park, known as Wakefield Lawn, beyond that was the encircling woodland of Whittlewood Forest.
Brown improved the deer lawn by planting single trees and clumps, and created gaps in the tree belts to reveal distant eye-catchers. He cut a view through Hill Coppice from The Pheasantry to make the church spire at Hanslope into an eye-catcher. Other vistas were opened up towards the villages of Potterspury and Grafton Regis.
The estate records show that trees were being bought and planted in 1749, including beeches and Scots pine. In 1750 Brown, who was still employed at Stowe, brought in more beeches and laurels. He also created The Belt, a woodland ride that gave views of the house and parkland through the belts of trees.
Wakefield Lodge today
Wakefield Lodge was the home of the dukes of Grafton until 1921, when the estate was sold. What remains of the enlarged house, including William Kent’s northern wing, is now listed Grade II*. The house and grounds are not open to the public.
Most of Brown’s planting on Wakefield Lawn has gone, as the area is now farmland.
Northamptonshire Gardens Trust: northamptonshiregardenstrust.org/
Dorothy Stroud, Capability Brown, Faber & Faber, 1984, pages 54-55
Historic England: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1371656 (House)