Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was probably England’s greatest landscape designer. He changed the face of 18th century England, designing country estates and mansions, moving hills and making flowing lakes and serpentine rivers, a magical world of green. He even had a hand in a few churches. Bill Bryson wrote: ‘Brown created landscapes that were in a sense ‘more English’ than the countryside they replaced.’

Birthplace of England’s greatest gardener

Capability Brown was born at Kirkharle and baptised here on 30th August 1716. The fifth of six children, he lived in a house on the Kirkharle Estate, where he also learnt his trade. In 1980 an original Brown plan for the redevelopment of Kirkharle parkland was discovered by the current owners John and Kitty Anderson. In 2010 the plan was put into action and today you can walk around the lake envisaged by Brown and see the landscape he imagined for his childhood home.

St Wilfrid, Kirkharle

A restored masterpiece

The stunning Palladian style chapel at Compton Verney is one of a handful of chapels attributed to Capability Brown. In 1772 the medieval church of Compton Murdak was demolished to open up views from the house. In 1780 Brown completed a new chapel on the slope to the north. The tombs of earlier Verneys were moved, and English heraldic and German Renaissance glass installed, from the old church or collected during the 1770s. Like the estate the chapel suffered years of neglect. Restoration of this magnificent building was completed in 2016, with part funding from the National Churches Trust.

Chapel, Compton Verney

Catching the eye

This exquisite church of warm Bath stone stands on a low hill overlooking the fabulous gardens of Croome Park. The views out to the Malvern Hills on a clear day are spectacular. The original church at Croome was demolished by the 6th Earl of Coventry when he decided to replace his adjacent Jacobean house in the 1750s. He commissioned Capability Brown to design the new house, together with a church, and to landscape the surrounding garden and grounds.

St Mary Magdalene, Croome D'Abitot

Church in a sublime landscape

St Catherine's Chapel and Milton Abbey are embraced and integrated by a breathtaking 500 acre landscape designed by Capability Brown, began in 1763 and continued up to Brown's death in 1783. Three valleys converge, with Milton Abbey at the focal point, encircled by 16 miles of walks, rides, and carriage drives designed to draw the visitor through the space, enriched en route by features such as the folly - called the Sham Chapel - built by Brown and William Chambers. Everywhere there are glimpses and vistas opening up to the Abbey as the route is travelled.

Milton Abbey, Milton Abbas

A garden and a wedding

Starting at Stowe as under-gardener Brown rose through the ranks. He sculpted the large Grecian Valley with views out to his parkland, with monumentally large temples sitting atop the high points whilst naturalising the shapes of the Octagon and Eleven Acre Lakes. Stowe was also Brown’s home for 10 years and witnessed many life events; he married at Stowe Parish Church and started a family. Lord Cobham’s patronage allowed him to travel across the country to wealthy estates, advising landowners and following Cobham’s death, Brown struck out as a consultant, making Stowe his first and only place of employment.

Parish Church, Stowe

A Capability conundrum

There is good reason to believe that Capability Brown was involved in the design/building of this beautiful classical style church. Saxby is the ancestral home of the Earls of Scarbrough and was where they rebuilt a church as their family mausoleum between 1760 and 1780. Brown worked for the 4th Earl on two occasions between 1760 and 1780. Similarly, research suggests that the builder may have been Thomas Lumby (who replaced the Chapter House roof at Lincoln Cathedral), who is known to have worked with Brown.

St Helen, Saxby

Remodelling a spire

It is thought that the church at Hainton was remodelled by Capability Brown in 1763. In particular he added the recessed octagonal spire. Hainton is one of those rare places, a manor that has been in the possession of a single family for much of its recorded the history. The church of St Mary stands in the grounds of the Hall, which was and still is the home of the Heneage family. The chancel and north chapel contain an unparalleled and virtually unbroken sequence of family monuments dating from the 15th century.

St Mary, Hainton

Ordering for a banquet

After 200 years as ruins, the remains of the former abbey buildings and the valley in which they lay underwent a transformation in the 1770s. The 4th Earl of Scarbrough (1725–82) contracted Capability Brown, to bring order to the valley by remodelling it to contemporary tastes. Brown engineered a lake and islands over Roche’s southern buildings, substituted a river for the medieval water channels, contrived a waterfall to cascade from the Laughton Pond, and composed irregular tree groupings in surrounding fields. He also levelled the ruins’ irregular walls to provide a uniform grassed foreground for a banqueting lodge.

Roche Abbey, Maltby

A fire at Fornham

Only the ruinous west tower of the former parish church remains; the rest was accidentally burnt down on 24th June 1782. This tower was consciously retained after the fire to provide a romantic focal point in the landscape laid out in Fornham Park. Capability Brown visited in 1781 and again in 1782 after the fire, and produced schemes for the park and rebuilding the church, but the extent of his contribution is not certain.

St Genevieve, Fornham Park

The last resting place

This beautiful medieval church is the resting place of Capability Brown. The decorated chancel houses the Brown memorial with a touching eulogy: …come from the sylvan scenes his Genius grac’d and off er here your tributary sighs… Brown bought Fenstanton Manor in 1767 (the only land he owned), but it is thought that he didn’t stay in the house much. He died on 6th February 1783, and was buried in the churchyard. The position of the headstone is approximate because the exact site of his burial in 1783 and that of his wife Bridget in 1786 is unknown.

St Peter & St Paul, Fenstanton

Celebrating style

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown changed the face of 18th century England, designing country estates and mansions, moving hills and making flowing lakes and serpentine rivers, a magical world of green. Brown’s style derived from the practical principles of comfort and elegance. This effortless coherence is taken for granted today. 2016 marks the 300th anniversary of his birth. As the first ever celebration works, the festival brings together events, openings and exhibitions. New research and a full listing of sites will help build knowledge and fix Brown at the forefront of modern thinking on design and management of the natural environment.

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