Archive for the ‘Brown, Lancelot ‘Capability’’ Category

Brown was here

October 28, 2011

Newton House, Dinefwr Park, as seen from the newly reopened Brown Walk. ©National Trust

The team on the Dinefwr Park estate, Carmarthenshire, has just opened up one of the historic park walks originally created by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. The walk was officially reopened by Lord Dynevor on 22 October, the first day of the National Trust’s Walking Festival.

Newton House in its Brownian landscape. ©NTPL/David Noton

There had been guided tours along the walk before, but National Trust warden Wyn Davies has made it more accessible to the public, marking the route clearly and commissioning tree surgeons to remove potentially unsafe branches.

Dinefwr Park in an 1822 print after J.P. Neale, showing the maturing of Brown's planting scheme.

Capability Brown was invited to Dinefwr by George Rice, whose marriage to heiress Cecil Talbot enabled him to make improvements to the estate.

Evidence of recent replanting work at Dinefwr Park. ©NTPL/David Noton

Brown first visited Dinefwr in 1775 and continued to advise on the park until 1783. He generally worked as what we would now call a ‘consultant’, assessing the ‘capabilities’ of a landscape, advising the owner and recommending local contractors capable of carrying out the work.

The east front of Newton House, with its deliberately designed backdrop of trees. ©NTPL/John Hammond

A record of ‘Mr Brown’s Directions’, dated May 1776, has recently been rediscovered in Lord Dynevor’s archive. The walk, which is just over a mile in length, was designed as a circular route around Newton House, with carefully composed planting and framed views.

Previous posts about Dinefwr Park and its owners can be seen here.

Tracing Capability

May 11, 2011

The Boycott Pavilions at Stowe. Lancelot Brown lived in the westernmost of these in the 1740s with his wife and burgeoning family. ©The National Trust

Garden writer Jane Brown has just published a new biography of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, entitled The Omnipotent Magician. Brown, of course, was responsible more than anyone else for the creation of the ‘English landscape’ style of garden. The biography is thorough and attempts to trace and disentangle Brown’s life and astonishing career, from his youth in rural Northumberland, his training as a gardener and surveyor, his move south and the gradual building up of a network of patrons.

View down the Grecian Valley at Stowe, created by Brown between 1747 and 1749, from the Temple of Concord and Victory. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

The secret to Brown’s success seems to have been a combination of sound technical and management skills with a talent to see how a given landscape could be made into a three-dimensional landscape painting à la Claude or Poussin.  This is where his nickname ‘Capability’ originates – he was supposedly in the habit of telling propspective patrons that their grounds had ‘great capabilities’. However, as Jane Brown has found, there is no evidence that this slightly derogatory monniker was used during his lifetime.

Lord Cobham's Pillar, constructed under Brown's supervision between 1747 and 1749. ©The National Trust

The gardens at Stowe, Buckinghamshire, played an important role in Brown’s early career. He was Head Gardener there from 1741 to 1750, which allowed him to develop his skills in a setting that already contained a number of astonishing garden features. Brown married Bridget Wayet at the church of St Mary’s at Stowe in 1744 and they lived in one of the two Boycott Pavilions.

View from the Temple of Concord and Victory towards Lord Cobham's Pillar. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

Brown was in charge of creating the Grecian Valley, which required huge earthworks and the replanting of mature trees. It is the first example of the kind of landscape garden for which he would become famous. He also supervised the building of Lord Cobham’s pillar, possibly after a design by James Gibbs, which he had to modify because ‘the Wind has a very great effect on Buildings that stand on so small a Base.’


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