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Local Heroes – Capability Brown

Local Heroes – Capability Brown

Lancelot Brown, better known as ‘Capability’ Brown, is Britain’s most famous landscape designer – and he started his stellar career at nearby Stowe House.

Born in Kirkhale in Northumberland in 1716, Brown’s big break came through Lord Cobham at Stowe.

The gardens at Stowe were already famous when Brown reached started working there in 1741 and it was here that he experimented with the style that would become synonymous with him.

Stowe Gardens has fabulous views, lakes and temples all joined up with winding paths and a timeless landscape. In the 18th century, it rivalled many of the royal gardens and was loved by all who visited, including Catherine the Great of Russia, who copied many aspects at her own gardens near St Petersburg.

Stowe was Brown’s first major work. He started his career as an under gardener under William Kent and rose to the rank of head gardener by the age of 26. As head gardener he was responsible for developing the Grecian Valley.

The years at Stowe were good to Brown. He married Bridget (‘Biddy’) Wayet, the daughter of a respectable Lincolnshire family, at Stowe church in November 1744. The couple had nine children, four of whom were baptised in the church where they married.

After ten years, Brown wanted more scope and Lord Cobham helped him to start his own business, lending him £150 (about £17,500 in today’s money) to get started. Leaving Stowe in 1751, he soon started work for a range of aristocrats and politicians connected to Lord Cobham and his friend William Pitt, including George Grenville at Wotton, Lord Egremont at Petworth.

Lord Cobham continued to promote Brown to his noble friends, including, the 9th Duke of Marlborough, Charles Spencer-Churchill, with whom Lord Cobham was great friends. Brown later worked at Blenheim Palace with over 2,000 acres of landscaped parkland. The formal gardens commissioned by the Duke included a secret garden, majestic water terraces, a fragrant rose garden and the grand cascade and lake.

Brown was nicknamed ‘Capability’, because of his habit of describing the great ‘capabilities’ of his clients’ landscapes, but this nickname only came after he left Stowe. He was always known as Lancelot there.

His style was simple, uncluttered and restrained. The landscapes he designed and planted comprised sweeping pasture bordered with tree clumps, perimeter shelter belts and screens of trees. The landscape was designed to encourage eighteenth century leisure pursuits including hunting, shooting and carriage-riding.

Brown rose through the ranks of Georgian society through a combination of professional talent and excellent connections to become King George III’s royal gardener in 1764; complete with the grace-and-favour Wilderness House at Hampton Court.

Stowe House and Gardens are 10 miles from Stony Stratford and are well worth a visit. Booking accommodation in Milton Keynes couldn’t be easier. Visit our contacts page to check availability and make your reservation.

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