On this day in history : 30th August 1716 – The baptism of Lancelot Brown, better known as Capability Brown – the landscape architect who designed over 170 parks, many of which we still enjoy today….

Lancelot (Capability) Brown – Public domain

Brown was born in the village of Kirkdale in Northumberland…. He was the son of a land agent and of a chambermaid, who were employed by Sir William Loraine of Kirkcharle Hall…. At the age of 16, after finishing his education, at a school in the nearby village of Cambo, Brown became an apprentice to the head gardener at Kirkcharle Hall…. Finishing his apprenticeship at 23 he then travelled south, ending up working at Wotton, an estate owned by Sir Richard Grenville….

Then in 1741 he joined the staff of Lord Cobham at Stowe in Buckinghamshire…. Here he worked under William Kent, a founding member of the new English style of landscape gardening…. Brown was responsible for bringing Kent’s designs to life – and as he gained experience and confidence he began to take on work of his own for associates of Lord Cobham…. Even though he was still working for Lord Cobham this was done with his employer’s blessing….and indeed at the age of 26 he was appointed Head Gardener at Stowe and remained so until 1750…. In 1744 he married Bridget Wayet, ‘Biddy’ – the daughter of a landowner – and they were to have seven children (three of whom died in infancy)….

Brown continued to take commissions from his employer’s aristocratic friends and became much in demand – in fact by 1751 he was becoming quite famous…. By the 1760s he was extremely wealthy, earning in today’s equivalent to well over £800K per year…. He had by now gained the name ‘Capability Brown’ – because of his ‘sales pitch’ – which invariably involved him telling his clients that their land had ‘capability for improvement’….

Capability Brown landscape, Bowood Lake

In 1764 Brown was appointed Master Gardener at Hampton Court Palace for King George III…. Then in 1767 he was able to buy his own estate, in the manor of Fenstanton, Huntingdonshire, East Anglia…. It was an estate that comprised of 2,668 acres, with two manor houses and two villages…. In 1770 he was appointed High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire but it was eldest son, Lance, who stepped in to carry out the majority of the duties….

Capability Brown was responsible for the design of around 170 grounds of some of the finest country estate houses of the land…. Blenheim Palace, Warwick Castle, Highclere Castle, Milton Abbey, Belvoir Castle, Petworth House, Longleat, Clandon Park, Broadlands and Syon Park to name but a few…. his influences can be seen at Kew Gardens…. His style – the sweeping landscapes, with clumps of trees and serpentine lakes – replaced the previous formal gardens of aristocratic England…. Not all approved of his work, some accused him of destroying the work of past generations…. His work fell out of favour in the 1800s but a new appreciation arose in the 20th century and we continue to enjoy his legacy at many of the historical homes we visit today – many of which are now owned by the National Trust….

Petworth Park, West Sussex – Photo credit : John Linwood via Flickr

Brown continued to work until his sudden death on the 6th of February 1783….when after an evening out he collapsed on his daughter’s doorstep…. He was buried in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul, the parish church on his estate – Fenstanton….

Image credit : Tedster007 CC BY-SA 4.0

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