Capability Brown & Landscape Design

The Background to the Creation of a landscape park and pleasure grounds at Weston Park

By Weston Park

Shade around the edges of Temple Pool at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Lancelot Capability Brown

Lancelot Brown - or 'Capability' as he was nicknamed from his interest in the capabilities of the sites that he worked on - was born in 1716 in Northumberland. Trained as a practical gardener, he became the go-to adviser for the creation of naturalistic landscapes all over Britain, working at over 170 great estates before his death in 1783.

 What makes his work so remarkable, why was he so popular, and why is the landscape at Weston Park on the Shropshire/ Staffordshire border so exceptional?

Sir Peter Lely - Portrait of Elizabeth Mytton, Lady Wilbraham (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Lady Wilbraham

When the present house at Weston Park was built for Lady Wilbraham and her husband Sir Thomas in the 1670s the mansion, like other fashionable country houses in Britain was surrounded by elaborate formal gardens.

John Michael Wright - Portrait of Grace Wilbraham, Countess of Dysart (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Grace Wilbraham

Before Capability Brown's time, gardens around country houses in Britain were, like those in France and Holland, of a formal kind. Elaborate geometrical borders - or parterres - were accompanied by straight-edged pools and enclosures created from clipped hedging. 

Avenues radiated from houses into the landscape. Glimpses of these formal gardens can be seen in paintings, such as the portrait of Lady Wilbraham's daughter, Grace, Countess of Dysart, which hangs in the collection at Weston Park.

The Greenhouse at Castle Bromwich Hall, Warwickshire (2017/2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The Bridgeman family's former home at Castle Bromwich, to the east of Birmingham, still retains is formal layout, with walled and hedged enclosures, regular paths and attractive garden buildings. Now preserved by an independent trust it is worth a visit to see a pre-Capability Brown garden 

Claude Gellée, called Lorrain - A Classical Landscape (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

In the middle years of the eighteenth century, owners of British country houses were inspired by their classical educations and by the Grand Tours that young men of means would undertake. Involving travel to Italy, the Grand Tourists returned to Britain with collections of art and a love of the classical world as depicted by artists such as Claude Lorraine

At Weston Park, Sir Henry Bridgeman and his wife, Elizabeth, Lady Bridgeman, had friends who were also interested in creating an Arcadian landscape in the British countryside. Lady Bridgeman's family home in Derbyshire was adjacent to Chatsworth and the Bridgemans were friends with the 5th Duke of Devonshire and his Duchess, the celebrated Georgiana. 

 Brown had worked on the park for the Duke's predecessor from the 1750s with the architect James Paine adding a new bridge over the River Derwent.

Top Euro Bri I Derbyshire ChatsworthLIFE Photo Collection

Chatsworth seen across the Rover Derwent, with James Paine's bridge in the foreground. This classic view of the house was contrived as a result of Capability Brown's work.

Daniel Gardner Portrait of Sir Henry Bridgeman 5th Bt and later 1st Baron Bradford (1760/1790) by Daniel GardnerWeston Park

Sir Henry & Lady Bridgeman

Sir Henry and Lady Bridgeman had inherited Weston Park from Sir Henry's mother's family, the Newport Earls of Bradford. The house and grounds, by the 1760s were very old fashioned, with formal avenues and paths around it.

Daniel Gardner Portrait of Elizabeth Simpson, Lady Bridgeman (1760/1790) by Daniel GardnerWeston Park

Although passionate about the classical landscapes as shown by Claude Lorrain, the Bridgemans - like all of Brown's patrons - needed wealth to achieve their gardening ideals at Weston Park

Iro Foundry Coal BrookdaleLIFE Photo Collection

The Bridgeman family wealth for Weston Park came from the industrial revolution - the family had coal mines in Lancashire and Staffordshire, and also limestone quarries at Llanymynech in North Shropshire in which they took a great interest. 

Snow Causes Continuing Travel Disruption (2010-12-22) by Christopher FurlongGetty Images

Sir Henry's agent, Henry Bowman - who had previously worked for the Dukes of Devonshire - was involved in the creation of turnpike roads and canals whilst Sir Henry subscribed £50 for the building of the world's first Iron Bridge located in Shropshire

The Roman Bridge at Weston Park seen from the west bank of Temple Pool (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Capability Brown's landscapes required wealth for the large scale labour that was required. Huge quantities of earth were moved to contour the landscape, achieving the gentle curves that were so admired and to create paths and big new water features including lakes.

Weston Park's Temple Pool was created after Brown's involvement but it perfectly demonstrates the skill of the landscape gardener and the vast amounts of human labour required to fashion the pleasure grounds created in the eighteenth century

William Hogarth, Gulielmus Hogarth, a print (1749/1749)British Museum

This portrait of the painter William Hogarth includes the artist's palette with the 'line of beauty'. The gentle segmental curve - exemplified in painting and sculpture - was perceived by theorists like the writer Edmund Burke as being at the source of perfect beauty. 

For Capability Brown, it informed the creation of his landscapes and can be seen in the contouring of the ground and the form of his lakes.

Croome Court, Croome D'abitot, Worcestershire (2015-01-02) by Damian Grady, English HeritageHistoric England

The line of beauty is shown to great effect in this aerial view of Croome Court in Worcestershire, where the drives, plantations and the form of the water, all have curved form. Capability Brown created the landscape over twenty years from 1751 for the 6th Earl of Coventry. Lord Coventry was a friend of Weston Park's Sir Henry Bridgeman

The Tapestry Room at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Fashion Leading the Way...

We might think that fashion is a modern phenomena, but copying those that we admire went on in the eighteenth century too. Just as landowners followed each other in employing Capability Brown and his followers, so they did likewise within their houses

The Tapestry Room at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Major eighteenth century makers, just like Capability Brown, were all patronised by many of Brown's patrons. Thomas Chippendale furniture, Matthew Boulton silver, and Wedgwood ceramics were all must-have brands.

The Tapestry Room at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

 Only the very fortunate, though, could afford French Gobelins tapestries like these, but Brown' employers at Croome and Weston both had sets. This is the Weston Park tapestry room which still contains its tapestries. Croome's set are now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

Looking west along the Shrewsbury Walk ha-ha (2019/2019) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The ha-ha can be seen here, its sunken form allowing uninterrupted views across from pleasure ground and into the park and beyond.

Brown's landscapes are cleverly controlled. At Weston Park, his work in the 1760s involved not only the creation of the two pleasure grounds, with their walks for the family, but also the digging and building of the deep ha-has - sunken fences - which kept the deer and other livestock away from the tender plants and in the parkland that they were intended to inhabit.

The upper walled garden at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Just one corner of the vast two-part walled garden that Capability Brown included on his plan for Weston Park. 

In addition to creating visions of beauty for the family and their guests to enjoy, Capability Brown was also designing a working landscape and his Weston Park work is no exception. The park was intended for stock for meat and produce, whilst north of the house his plan included a south-facing walled garden.

Stoves on the north side of the central wall in the walled garden at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

This was intended to provide sheltered conditions for vegetables and fruit. Even pineapples were grown within these English gardens in the fickle English climate in the eighteenth century!

These small buildings contained furnaces to raise the temperatures of the walled garden walls so that non-native produce could be grown at Weston Park.

Stebbing Shaw: View of Weston Park (1770/1790) by Stebbing ShawWeston Park

The ideal landscape - Weston Park in the 1790s, just thirty years after Brown's work. The house stands on the left whilst on the right can be seen James Paine's Temple of Diana.

Autumn colour at Temple Pool (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Capability Brown's work at Weston Park is extremely well preserved and the Weston Park Foundation works to a thirty year management plan to continue to conserve this remarkable property. 

Today - over two hundred years after Capability Brown's death - the park landscape remains a place of beauty and stands testament to the vision of a remarkable landscape gardener.

Weston Park House, Park & Gardens (2021-01-20) by Weston ParkWeston Park

The extent of Brown's work, comprising pleasure grounds east and west of the mansion, walled gardens to the north and the great bowl of parkland to the south can be appreciated from this fly-over video.

Credits: Story

Text Written and Images Selected by Gareth Williams 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps