Capability Brown's Grand Plan for Weston Park

A Document that Changed a Landscape & Brought Biodiversity in its Wake

By Weston Park

Motorists who pass Weston Park on the A5 only see a long stone wall. Walls are rarely built to encourage access - this one was for keeping deer in. What lies behind appears to be nature at its most perfect but, in fact, it is a highly contrived eighteenth century creation.

The land around Weston Park (1650/1660) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Weston Park in the 1650s

Before Capability Brown's time, the landscape at Weston Park was a combination of ornamental formal gardens and farmland surrounding the old house. The village of Weston-under-Lizard came close to the mansion, with the village lane being to the north of the house

A Formal Garden (Framed)The J. Paul Getty Museum

Johannes Janson, A Formal Garden in the 1760s

This painting, although showing a Dutch scene, depicts the sort of formal garden that might have existed before Capability Brown's landscaping

Weston Park as it appeared on John Rocque's Actual Survey of the County of Salop (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

A detail from John Rocque's 1752 Survey of Salop

Here the house is show next to the Church of St Andrew with avenues radiating south and east. This was the landscape that Capability Brown would have found when he was invited to design the new park and pleasure grounds in the 1760s

Top Euro (Bri-E) London Palaces Hampton CourtLIFE Photo Collection

Hampton Court Palace

Grand royal palaces, like Hampton Court, Surrey, had landscapes with great avenues extending the influence of the main building across the countryside and this provided the influence - albeit recreated on a much more modest scale - for places like Weston Park in the 17th century

The south front of Castle Bromwich Hall, Warwickshire (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Castle Bromwich Hall, Warwickshire

Before inheriting Weston Park, the Bridgeman family - Capability Brown's patrons - had lived at Castle Bromwich Hall near Birmingham. Here they had an elaborate formal garden which, remarkably, has survived the changes of fashion and is now cared for and opened to the public

The music room at Castle Bromwich (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens

The garden at Castle Bromwich contains numerous geometrically placed compartments of the type that might have existed at Weston Park before Capability Brown's work

Early twentieth century plan of the Garden at Castle Bromwich Hall (1900/1940) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Castle Bromwich Hall Garden

This plan of the garden at Castle Bromwich shows the geometry that has little regard to the actual terrain on which the gardens have been created. Humanity has made its rigid and very obvious mark!

Esher Place, Surrey (1737) by John RocqueGarden Museum

A Change in Taste

As the eighteenth century progressed, tastes changed and informal landscapes became more fashionable

Esher Place, Surrey

As this plan by William Kent shows, the grounds at Esher Place, which Kent worked on, came to include informal, curving paths

View from the Portico of the House to the Park at Stowe, Buckinghamshire (ca. 1739) by Jacques RigaudThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Stowe, Buckinghamshire

William Kent had also worked at Stowe, shown here, but after Capability Brown became head gardener in 1741 he presided over a greater naturalisation of the landscape

Stowe Park, Buckinghamshire (2016-07-06) by Damian Grady, Historic EnglandHistoric England

Stowe, Buckinghamshire

Stowe now combines some elements of formal planting although the overall look of the landscape is of one that appears to be wholly natural, with gentle curves and apparently incidental planting

Creating a vast landscape garden of the type that Capability Brown produced did not happen by accident. It is highly planned and the Weston Park Capability Brown map is so vitally important as a historical document since it is the key to the inception of this important garden  that we see today.

Capability Brown's Map of Weston Park (1765/1765) by Lancelot BrownWeston Park

Capability Brown's Plan of Weston Park - Size Matters

The first thing that impresses about the plan is its size - it measures over two metres long by one metre high

Capability Brown's Eye for Detail

The reason that the map is so very large is because of the detail that it contains - it shows all that he wanted to do, including the types of tree that he wanted to plant and whether they should be deciduous or coniferous

East-right section of Capability Brown's map of Weston Park (1765/1765) by Lancelot BrownWeston Park

The Past and the Future

Creating a map this big and with this detail meant that Brown could show how he wanted to make the changes. Look carefully and you'll see dots on the map. These are the locations of former trees that he intended felling. Here we can see the location of old avenues

West-left section of Capability Brown's map of Weston Park (1765/1765) by Lancelot BrownWeston Park

Curvaceous Boundaries

Look at the complex series of curves shown on the map here, at the north west corner of the park. Capability Brown is not only creating lines of beauty but also responding to the terrain of the park at that point, where the ground undulates

West-right section of Capability Brown's map of Weston Park (1765/1765) by Lancelot Capability BrownWeston Park

Practicality Brown

Capability Brown was focused on what mattered within the family's vision but this also meant that he had to take an interest in creating a service infrastructure. Here he shows the 'Back Road to the House' - effectively a service drive

The plan was, essentially, a working or discussion document, since Capability Brown was working for clients whose views also mattered. They were, after all, paying for the pleasure grounds that emerged!

The south side of Temple Pool at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

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

The Weston Park Patrons

Sir Henry Bridgeman had inherited Weston Park from his mother's family and already owned large estates at Bolton in Lancashire, in north Shropshire, and at Castle Bromwich in Warwickshire. He was immensely sociable, interested in music and theatre and had Francophile tastes

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

The Weston Park Patrons

Elizabeth Simpson, Lady Bridgeman, had been brought up at Stoke Hall, a country house neighbouring Chatsworth in Derbyshire and her family were friends with the Dukes of Devonshire who had already employed Capability Brown from the 1750s.

Looking east across Temple Pool at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Temple Wood - One of the Two Pleasure Grounds

Certain elements of what exists at Weston Park do not appear on the Brown map, such as Temple Pool and also the Roman Bridge designed by James Paine and these were clearly after-thoughts

East-right section of Capability Brown's map of Weston Park (1765/1765) by Lancelot BrownWeston Park

The map does, however, show many elements that were brought into being...

The genesis of the Temple

Marked on the map as 'Menagerie & Dairy' is the site of what we know today as the Temple of Diana. We can see it clearly drawn as a rectangle, with two dots below, suggesting a colonnade or loggia

The Menagerie (c. 1690) by Melchior d' HondecoeterRijksmuseum

Tweets before Twitter

In the eighteenth century, a menagerie tended to be an enclosure of exotic non-native birds. Having such a collection placed the owner in the vanguard of fashion

Lady Bridgeman was one of many noble women of her time who had collections of birds and this interest is reflected in the depiction of birds in fine and decorative art at the time

'Three Long-horned Cattle at Kenwood' (1797) by Julius Caesar IbbetsonHistoric England

Playing the Dairy Maid

Dairies, too, were important status symbols for ladies of taste. They showed an awareness of domestic science and cleanliness - and also provided an excellent excuse to purchase fashionable wares from makers like Wedgwood

The Temple of Diana at Weston Park from the south east (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The Temple of Diana

The suggestion of 'Menagerie & Dairy' led to the creation of an exceptional building in the form of the Temple of Diana. The architect James Paine - who had previously worked with Brown at Chatsworth and elsewhere and who designed other structures for the Bridgemans at Weston Park - produced a small masterpiece with the resultant building.

The ceiling of the Orangery at the Temple of Diana, Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

It is, in many ways, a multi-purpose garden building, combining dairy, menagerie viewing room, music room, orangery, staff accommodation and even a bedroom.

James Paine's intended south elevation of the Temple of Diana (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

James Paine's South Elevation of the Temple of Diana

In execution the statues and urns do not appear to have been added to the building

James Paine's sectional design for the Temple of Diana (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

As this section shows, the Temple was always intended to have grand interiors

James Paine's design for the north front of the Temple of Diana (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

James Paine's design for the north elevation of the Temple

The Temple of Diana at Weston Park seen from the north (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The north elevation of the Temple as it appears today

The Temple of Diana at Weston Park seen from above (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The Temple seen from the south, looking over Temple Wood

Temple of Diana (2021-01-01) by Weston ParkWeston Park

The Temple of Diana's interior today

The building has now become a holiday let at the centre of the Capability Brown landscape

A map of Park at Weston Park (2017) by Staffordshire Archives/ Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Aside from the architecturally impressive elements, Brown's plan also includes the areas of practicality and sustainability. Prime amongst these is the vast walled garden, which makes its first appearance on the plan

Georgian Gardeners with Watering Cans (1807) by William Henry PyneGarden Museum

Technical Knowledge

Capability Brown had trained as a practical gardener when he was a young man living in Northumberland. Some people never forgot this - including his architectural rival Sir William Chambers, who dismissed Brown as 'a peasant risen from the melon bed'!

This early experience, though, meant that Brown knew exactly how a kitchen garden should be planned for maximum efficiency and productivity

Capability Brown's Map of Weston Park (1765/1765) by Lancelot BrownWeston Park

The Walled Kitchen Garden

At Weston Park, Brown's walled garden is in the perfect place. It occupies the northern section of land between the house and the busy Watling Street road. 

West-right section of Capability Brown's map of Weston Park (1765/1765) by Lancelot Capability BrownWeston Park

The Garden comprises two high-walled compartments; the most northerly is marked as 'Kitchen Garden', whilst the lower section is 'Melon Ground & for Stoves'. This latter, the more sheltered part of the garden, was for more tender plants

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

Stoves on the north wall of the southern section

To enable the tender plants i the lower garden to prosper, stoves - to heat the wall - were built

The plan evidently proved to be a great success, since its recommendations - with further improvements that were probably made in liaison with the clients, the Bridgemans - were enacted upon.

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

The resultant landscape, although fashioned by humanity, provides a habitat for a wide variety of wildlife which now calls Weston Park its home. The biodiversity is further broadened by the wide range of wood beetles that the veteran trees support and this is something that the Weston Park Foundation, the owners of Weston Park, are keen to share with others.

Fallow deer at Weston Park (2019/2019) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The biodiversity is further broadened by the wide range of wood beetles that the veteran trees support and this is something that the Weston Park Foundation, the owners of Weston Park, are keen to share with others.

Our public programme events and learning sessions with schools enable the vital sharing of this remarkable asset as a learning resource.

Although Capability Brown's map was created two hundred and fifty years ago its own value in understanding the landscape remains as important as ever. As the Weston Park Foundation progresses with its important work in conserving this internationally important garden the plan is a vital guide to the charity's work.

View west from Knoll Tower (2019/2019) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Although Capability Brown's map was created two hundred and fifty years ago its own value in understanding the landscape remains as important as ever.

As the Weston Park Foundation progresses with its important work in conserving this internationally important garden the plan is a vital guide to the charity's work.

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