There’s a chance to visit a rarely-open London landscape worked on by Capability Brown this month as part of Open Garden Squares Weekend
Lancelot 'Capability' Brown worked at West Hill (now the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability) for Penelope Pitt, nee Atkins (172/5-1795). She bought what was then farmland in 1759, and commissioned Brown to design the house and estate, incorporating lakes, trees and a farm.
At the time of the commission, Penelope was married to George, the first Baron Rivers. The home of the Pitt family (cousins to the two Prime Ministers, Pitt the Elder and Pitt the Younger) was Stratfield Saye in Hampshire, where work has also been attributed to Brown.
The couple separated in 1771, and in 1786 West Hill was sold. It was later bought by Johann Anthony Rucker, who demolished the existing house to make way for a new mansion, Melrose Hall, which survives at the core of the current hospital building. Rucker’s nephew Daniel commissioned landscape designer Humphry Repton to enlarge Brown’s original landscape
In 1863 Melrose Hall was purchased by the trustees of the newly established charity, The Royal Hospital for Incurables – now the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability.
The grounds are normally closed to ensure the safety and privacy of the patients and residents. The hospital grounds also include an award-winning cloister garden and several patient gardens, and offer views over the north west and south west of London.
Information about the history of West Hill has been contributed by Tony Matthews, a writer and publications editor. His work on Capability Brown was the culmination of several years spent researching projects for the London Parks and Gardens Trust.