‘Capability’ Brown and Charlecote Park

2016 is a special anniversary year for two people we are particularly fond of…

William Shakespeare – who died 400 years ago. Quite a local celeb and, as I am sure you are aware, reputed to be a bit of a law breaker in his youth

But the other chap, a fine Georgian fellow, is Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. He was born in Northumberland 300 years ago. Name sound familiar? Here is a little introduction…

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‘Capability’ Brown played a role in landscaping the park here at Charlecote. His influence can still be seen in the parkland when you visit.

Around 1750 the young Brown was called in to advise on the garden at Packington, some 20 miles away, and it is on the back of a Packington design that he made a rough outline drawing of Charlecote’s house and garden!
Oil painting on canvas, An Bird's Eye View of Charlecote Park, Warwickshire from the West, British (English) School, 1696. An aerial view of the house seen from the west side of the river Avon, showing the formal garden (which was removed by Capability Brown in about 1770), park and surrounding countryside. On the left, at the end of a long bank between two canals running north from the house is an octagonal brick gazebo - used for dining in summer and fishing from in the winter. Parallel with the canals behind are parterres with box trees alternatively clipped into cones and balls. In the foreground are two smaller parterres between the west front and steps down to the river. On the right is a walled garden in the angle of the Avon and the Dene. Tree-lined avenues stretch to the horizon in the east and west and diagonally across the park to St Leonard's Church in the middleground. The figures, sitting on an escarpment, in the immediate foreground, are Colonel George Lucy, owner of Charlecote, on a white stallion and his wife and family with their dogs.

Oil painting on canvas, An Bird’s Eye View of Charlecote Park, Warwickshire from the West, British (English) School, 1696.

The painting above is an aerial view of the house seen from the west side of the river Avon. It shows the formal garden (which was removed by Capability Brown), park and surrounding countryside. On the left, at the end of a long bank between two canals running north from the house is an octagonal brick gazebo – used for dining in summer and fishing from in the winter. Parallel with the canals behind are parterres with box trees alternatively clipped into cones and balls. In the foreground are two smaller parterres between the west front and steps down to the river. On the right is a walled garden in the angle of the Avon and the Dene. Tree-lined avenues stretch to the horizon in the east and west and diagonally across the park to St Leonard’s Church in the middleground. The figures, sitting on an escarpment, in the immediate foreground, are Colonel George Lucy, owner of Charlecote, on a white stallion and his wife and family with their dogs.

It was 1757  when that Mr Brown eventually came to Charlecote. He created a new cascade where the little river Dene met the Avon in the parkland.
cascade
Sept 09 054
Three years after building the cascade George Lucy made the following agreement with Brown.
  • … to widen the River Avon
  • … to sink the fosse (ha-ha) round the meadow, to make a sufficient fence against the deer
  • … to fill up all the ponds on the north front of the house, to alter the slopes and give the whole a natural, easy and corresponding level with the house on every side
Once the unfashionable water garden had been filled in, Brown created a raised lawn and planted it with the cedars of Lebanon which you see today.
© Historic England Reference Number: AA98/04919

© Historic England
Reference Number: AA98/04919

Compared to some of the other gardens Lancelot worked on, Blenheim, Stowe, Kew etc., this was a small project and he didn’t seem to visit very often, leaving his foreman, Mr. Horsborough, to oversee the work on his behalf.
The work cost £525, paid in installments. In April 1761 George Lucy bumped into Mr Brown in Bath: ‘I told him the time was elapsed for a second payment which he said was no matter as he did not want money, but upon my offering him a £100 note he pulled out his pocket book and carried it off with him.’
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He may not be to everybody’s taste, but Lancelot Brown had the ability to bring the countryside into a ‘gentleman’s garden’ and to see what would look right long after he was gone. A skillful man, you must admit. Even Prince Charles thinks so…


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There are lots of events marking this special centenary year, so you have lots of opportunities to find out more about Brown and explore his landscapes! Visit the Capability Brown website for events near you.

Here at Charlecote Park we will have a number of ‘Capability’ Brown walks led by our volunteer team and are exhibiting some wonderful artworks from our local branches of the Embroiderers’ Guild. For more information, please drop us a line or visit our website.

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