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Capability Brown

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown is often considered England’s greatest landscape designer, but his work on churches is little known.

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. 

Brown’s style derived from the practical principles of comfort and elegance. This effortless coherence is taken for granted today. Bill Bryson, best-selling travel author wrote ‘Brown created landscapes that were in a sense ‘more English’ than the countryside they replaced’.

He even had a hand in a few churches and designed them according to the same principles that served him so well in landscaping. We’ve created a list of the churches that Brown is believed to have contributed to, as well as those with a more personal connection to the man.


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. 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.


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.


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.


Church in a sublime landscape

St Catherine's Chapel and Milton Abbey are embraced by a breathtaking 500 acre landscape designed by Capability Brown, began in 1763 and continued up to his 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. The route is enriched with features such as the Sham Chapel folly. Everywhere there are glimpses and vistas opening up to the Abbey as the route is travelled.


A garden and a wedding

Brown started at Stowe as under gardener, then rose through the ranks. He sculpted the large Grecian Valley with views out to parkland and monumentally large temples, whilst naturalising the shapes of the Octagon and Eleven Acre Lakes. Stowe was also Brown’s home for 10 years and he married at Stowe Parish Church. Lord Cobham’s patronage allowed him to travel across the country, advising landowners. Following Cobham’s death, Brown struck out as a consultant, making Stowe only place of employment.


A Capability conundrum

There is good reason to believe that Capability Brown designed 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. Research suggests that the builder may have been Thomas Lumby (who worked at Lincoln Cathedral), who is known to have worked with Brown.


Remodelling a spire

It is thought that the church was remodelled by 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 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.


Ordering for a banquet

In the 1770s, after 200 years as ruins, the remains of former abbey buildings and the valley in which they lay underwent a transformation. The 4th Earl of Scarborough contracted Brown to bring order to the valley by remodelling it to contemporary tastes. Brown engineered a lake and islands, substituted a river for the medieval water channels, contrived a waterfall, and composed irregular tree groupings. He also levelled the ruins irregular walls to provide a uniform grassed foreground for a banqueting lodge.


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. 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.


The last resting place

This beautiful medieval church is the resting place of Capability Brown and the decorated chancel houses the Brown memorial with a touching eulogy. Brown bought Fenstanton Manor in 1767 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.


Remembered in style

On 29th May 2018 a memorial to Lancelot Capability Brown was unveiled at Westminster Abbey. A beautiful lead cistern fountain was installed in the centre of the main cloister. It was designed by Ptolemy Dean assisted by Alan Titchmarsh and made by Brian Turner.