Finding Lancelot 'Capability' Brown

30.01.2017 | category: General
Image: a view from atop Old Wardour Castle over the landscape to the 18th century house by Poppy Coles

As a teenager lucky enough to be home educated, my freedom to learn in my own way has led me on many a journey pursuing my love of history, which in turn resulted in my discovery of the Capability Brown Festival. The Festival took me on a great historical foray, in a challenge to visit as many places with a Brown connection as possible throughout the year, each of which I hoped would bring me that bit closer to discovering who Brown really was.

With a list of places to visit at the ready, and a newly acquired knowledge of Brown's life, I began my challenge with a wander around Ashridge Park, designed by Brown between 1759 and 1768. By the end of the year, I had added eight more to my list, the journey to which took me across several counties, and to vastly differing locations, each with its own unique atmosphere. There were the open parklands of Charlecote Park, Burghley, Berrington Hall, and Wimpole, dotted with perfectly located trees and lakes; then the more private and welcoming estate gardens and parklands of Woodchester, Weston Park, and Wardour Castle, along with a trip to the unusual Broadway Tower. Some of these landscapes were already well-known to me, while others were a completely new experience.

Visiting numerous locations proved to me just how varied Brown's work really was. Each constructed on greatly different terrains, ranging from hillside locations to riverside floodplains, Brown skilfully planned his landscape gardens to seamlessly work these features into his finished masterpieces. I think this is the aspect of his work that I found I most admired - the sheer skill of being able to recognise the 'capabilities' of almost any landscape. He certainly lived up well to his nickname! 

Wardour Castle

Of all the landscapes I visited, it was one of the most obscure of gardens that I feel I favoured most of all. Set amidst the Wiltshire countryside, Wardour Castle was so tranquil and in such a beautiful location; the new 18th century house nestled amongst the hilly surroundings of the landscape. Commanding views over the parkland was the romantic folly of the old castle, wonderfully incorporated into its own pleasure garden. Brown is believed to have designed both the lake and Gothic style Banqueting House, a beautiful example of Brown's rarer architectural skills.

Although some of the places I travelled to only held slight connections to Brown, his influence could still be felt there. If it wasn't his own hand that had worked on perfecting the area's natural beauty, it was one of a number of landscape designers inspired by him, most notably Humphry Repton. The Capability Brown Festival has shone a new light on landscape gardens for me, and my journey of discovery continues. Since the New Year, I've visited one of his most famous works, Croome Park, for the first time, and I now feel a growing connection to him, this ordinary farmer's son who changed the face of the English garden forever.

You can find detailed accounts of each of my visits as part of my 'Finding 'Capability' Brown Challenge' over on my blog, The History Cupboard: https://thehistorycupboardblog.wordpress.com

About the author: Poppy Coles is the author of The History Cupboard where she shares her love of historical stuff. Being home educated she has been able to follow her interest with a passion and hopes to pursue this fascination into a future career

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