Blue Plaque for Capability Brown at Hampton Court Palace
Lancelot ‘Capability‘ Brown, is to be commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque at Wilderness House, Hampton Court Palace, his home from 1764 – when he was appointed Chief Gardener at the palace – until his death in 1783. The plaque will be unveiled by Terry Gough, the present Head Gardener, on Wednesday 9th November at 11am.
Capability Brown was the leading landscape gardener of his age and his legacy can be seen today in many parks and gardens across the country. He is credited with designing over 120 landscapes and demonstrated a flair for creating idyllic, pastoral scenes that complemented some of England’s grandest country houses. Although Brown’s work was criticised after his death, both for laying waste to the formal gardens of his predecessors and for suppressing nature’s wildness, his designs have come to epitomise the well-ordered English landscape. As one obituarist wrote of him, ‘so closely did he copy nature that his works will be mistaken’.
Born in 1716 in the small Northumbrian village of Kirkharle, Brown began working for the local landowner Sir William Lorraine, In 1741 he was employed by Lord Cobham at Stowe, Buckinghamshire, then one of the most famous gardens in England, where he worked under William Kent, who had started the trend away from formal garden design to a more natural approach. Brown’s own taste led him to develop his trademark style of sweeping, open landscapes of sloping lawns and ornamental stretches of water, with trees and livestock as decoration.
On Lord Cobham’s death in 1751, Brown moved from Stowe to Hammersmith in London, where he established himself as an independent landscape architect and worked tirelessly on a vast number of commissions, which included Petworth House, West Sussex, Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, and Chatsworth House, Derbyshire. He became the most fashionable designer in the country and by the 1760s was known as ’Capability‘, because when surveying a property he spoke often of its “capabilities”.
In 1764 Brown was appointed by George III as Chief Gardener at Hampton Court Palace and moved to Wilderness House. The house – which dates from c. 1700 and is listed Grade II – lies within the walls of Hampton Court Palace and was the official home of the Palace’s head gardeners until 1881; other occupants include Charles Bridgeman. It is said Brown refused to sweep away William III’s formal layout “out of respect to himself and his profession” but he stopped cutting the topiary and was accused of neglecting the gardens. Perhaps his most lasting achievement during his time at Hampton Court Palace was planting a Black Hamburg vine in 1768, which continues to flourish as the Great Vine and is the world’s largest and most famous grape vine.
Brown’s work at Hampton Court did not stop him taking on other commissions, which included remodelling the gardens at Richmond Palace for the King, assisting Garrick with his temple to Shakespeare at his villa nearby and working on a ten-year project at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, where he created his most celebrated landscape. In 1772 he took into partnership the architect Henry Holland, who became his son-in-law the following year. In 1783 at the age of 67, Brown collapsed outside Holland’s home in Mayfair after returning from dinner with a former client Lord Coventry, and died.
Dr Susan Skedd, Head of the Blue Plaques Team at English Heritage, said: “Capability Brown was one of the most prolific and influential landscape gardeners of all time. From Blenheim to Chatsworth, he left his mark on some of the country’s most wonderful landscapes and revolutionised the way we look at and engage with gardens.”
Terry Gough, Head Gardener at Historic Royal Palaces, and Brown’s successor said: “Capability Brown was arguably the greatest gardener that this country has ever produced and his style influenced and revolutionised landscape gardening right across Europe. The land was his canvas and it is a great privilege to know that I follow in this great master’s footsteps caring for the very landscapes that he helped create.”
Notes for editors
For further press information please contact Ellen Harrison at English Heritage (020 7973 3252 / firstname.lastname@example.org)
Historic Royal Palaces is the independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace. We help everyone explore the story of how monarchs and people have shaped society, in some of the greatest palaces ever built.
We receive no funding from the Government or the Crown, so we depend on the support of our visitors, members, donors, volunteers and sponsors. These palaces are owned by The Queen on behalf of the nation, and we manage them for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Tickets are available online at http://www.hrp.org.uk/ or phone 0844 482 7799. Registered charity number 1068852
COMPARABLE FIGURES – The landscape gardener Charles Bridgeman (d. 1738) has been commemorated at 54 Broadwick Street, Soho, which was his home from 1723 until his death. The twentieth-century landscape architect Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe (1900-1996) has been honoured with a plaque at 19 Grove Terrace, Hampstead, where he lived from 1936 to 1984.
HISTORY OF LONDON’S BLUE PLAQUES SCHEME – The London-wide blue plaques scheme has been running for 140 years. The idea of erecting 'memorial tablets' was first proposed by William Ewart MP in the House of Commons in 1863. It had an immediate impact on the public imagination, and in 1866 the (Royal) Society of Arts founded an official plaques scheme. The Society erected its first plaque – to poet, Lord Byron – in 1867. The blue plaques scheme was subsequently administered by the London County Council (1901-65) and by the Greater London Council (1965-86), before being taken on by English Heritage in 1986.
COMMEMORATIVE PLAQUES IN LONDON AND ACROSS THE COUNTRY – There are many plaque schemes which operate alongside and are complementary to English Heritage’s own, both in London and across the country. Some of these plaques are blue, though most are of a different form to English Heritage plaques. In addition, the schemes generally operate to different criteria from those of English Heritage – allowing, for instance, the commemoration of ‘sites’ of buildings. Between 1999 and 2005, English Heritage piloted a national scheme, erecting a total of 34 plaques in Liverpool & Merseyside, Birmingham, Portsmouth and Southampton. Since 2007, however, it has turned to the active provision of guidance and advice to the many existing plaque schemes across England, and also assists those who would like to set up schemes or put up plaques on a more limited basis. For more information, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/plaquesguidance.