Capability Brown 300

Portrait of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown c.1770-1775.
© Cosway, Richard (1742-1821)/ Private Collection/ Bridgeman Images

2016 sees the three hundredth anniversary of the birth of Capability Brown (CB300).

He was baptised on 30 August 1716 at Kirkharle, Northumberland, the son of a yeoman farmer and a former servant at Kirkharle Hall. After school at Cambo, he started work as a gardener, leaving Kirkharle in 1739. In 1741 he reached Stowe, where he became engaged in relaxing the formal gardens there.

The proposals to have a national celebration of Brown’s birth, life and legacy have been developed over several years and involve many organisations. Heritage Lottery fund awarded a grant to help promote the celebrations.

The purpose of the festival is to widen understanding of the work of Brown in particular, and also of historic landscapes in general. The organisers hope to open up as many of the 250 or so sites which are attributed to or connected with Brown, some of which are currently inaccessible and to develop exhibitions, walks, tours and activities to celebrate his landscapes. The aim is to engage groups who do not normally experience landscape, by putting on a range of appealing activities.

Warwickshire’s pivotal role

Warwickshire played a pivotal role in the development of Brown’s landscaping business. While still at Stowe, he was “lent” by his employer, Lord Cobham, to the Earl of Denbigh at Newnham Paddox between 1746-7, returning 1753-68, when he was also responsible for rebuilding the house. He was possibly also there in 1770. The fifth and sixth Earls for whom this work was done were evidently pleased  to have employed him over such a long time and are quite likely to have recommended him in their circle.

Then follow the much quoted interventions of Sanderson Miller. Brown had started working at Warwick in September 1749, a few months before the beginning of Miller’s first surviving diary, but it is quite evident that Miller liked to engage in lengthy conversations with Brown, and was also on visiting terms with Francis Greville, Lord Brooke. The likelihood is that it was Miller who had recommended Brown to Greville, and that the recommendations then cascaded down through his wide range of contacts. Warwick was Brown’s first private commission, a fact which Croome likes to forget!

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