300th Anniversary of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown

300th Anniversary of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown


2016 marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, a designer who worked on a truly grand scale on some of the most iconic landscape gardens in Britain today. 

Petworth House

To celebrate this milestone, a number of sites will be open to the public, some of which are rarely open to visitors.  In addition there are all sorts of events and exhibitions to enjoy as part of the Capability Brown festival. At Figura, we are lucky enough to have Petworth House and Park right on our doorstep, with other fine examples of Capability Brown landscapes and gardens not far away at Blenheim PalaceKew Gardens and Hampton Court Palace

The landscape at Petworth Park gives every impression of being totally natural but in reality nothing is further from the truth. The Park was transformed in the 1750s and early 1760s by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.  The park was one of Capability Brown's first projects as an independent designer. When he arrived on the scene, there was a rectilinear garden, probably designed by George London (c1688), between the house and the lake. Brown swept this away, transported an estimated 64,000 tons of soil, dammed a stream and made a serpentine lake which became the park's centerpiece. 

Serpentine Lanke at Petworth Park

The leading landscape gardener of his age, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716¬83) changed the face of 18th century England with his style, which has shaped our vision of the quintessential English landscape.

Whether you think of him as having laid waste to the formal gardens that preceded him or champion him for his vision of creating idyllic pastoral scenes of well¬mannered English landscapes, his legacy can be seen in many parks and gardens today.

The Dog of Alcibiades sculpture on Petworth Park's Serpentine lake

This year will provide plenty of opportunities to discover more about this influential designer, with the first ever celebration of Brown’s extensive works, to mark the 300th anniversary of his birth.

“This promises to be a very exciting, nationwide event, with a whole series of events, openings, talks and exhibitions,” says Ceryl Evans, director of the Capability Brown Festival 2016. “There’s lots of Brown landscapes to explore in Surrey, such as Gatton Park, Claremont Landscape Garden in Esher and Clandon Park. To find Brown sites and events near you, visit the Capability Brown website.
A collaboration between a wide range of organisations, including the Landscape Institute, the National Trust, English Heritage, Historic England, Natural England, the National Gardens Scheme, the RHS and Visit Britain, the festival looks set to be something very special.

To further mark the occasion, 2016 has also been designated as the ‘Year of the English Garden’.

Karin is looking forward  to visiting the Hurlingham Club on 21st May with its 42 acres of garden to enjoy, complete with a 2 acre lake and a river walk in the middle of London!   Both Capability Brown & Humphry Repton were involved with the landscaping here.


The Capability Brown Festival 2016 marks the extraordinary life, work and legacy of 18th century landscape gardener Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and  as many people as possible are being encouraged to join in celebrating the 300th anniversary since his birth with a Capabili-Tea.

Tea was introduced to England in the late 1600s. It was very expensive and so only wealthy people could afford to drink it. However, tea became cheaper and more easily available during the Georgian period in the 1700s, and it quickly become the nation’s favourite beverage. Tea was served in cafes, coffee houses and tea rooms, and tea gardens reached the height of their popularity in the mid-18th century. Tea drinking also became a popular pastime at home during this period.

Capabili-Teas are a fun way of commemorating Capability Brown, by giving the great British teatime tradition an 18th century twist, and have been developed by the Festival and Hudson's Historic Houses and Gardens.

A Potted History

Lancelot Brown was born 1760 in Northumberland, the fifth of six children. His father was a yeoman farmer and his mother had worked in the big house on the Kirkharle estate close to where he was born.

After attending the village school, Lancelot began work as a gardener on the estate, before in 1741 he moved to the famous garden of Stowe in Buckinghamshire. Here, he worked as under-gardener to William Kent, who had started the trend for more natu ralistic designs, and later Brown became responsible for both architectural and landscaping works there.

Working with William Kent at Stowe, who was keen to escape the formality of gardens , helped crystalise Brown’s own ideas for open expanses with views and vistas.

During this time, he also married Bridget Wayet with whom he went on to have nine children.

Later, he went on to work as an independent designer, and his rise came at a time when people were looking for a change from inward-looking formal gardens, in the Tudor, Dutch and French traditions, and the Italian look was just coming into the picture.

Brown’s nickname ‘Capability’ came about from his favourite phrase when evaluating a garden, telling clients their gardens had “great capabilities for improvement.” 

By 1751, he was well enough established to be able to move his family to Hammersmith, which was the market garden area of London.

By this stage becoming very successful, Brown was soon sought after by those in the upper echelons of society. In all, he is associated with around 260 landscapes, imbuing them with his grand visions, removing existing gardens and moving the earth if needed, to create his ideal of a romantic, natural scene. He liked to be known as a ‘place maker’ rather than a garden designer. 

He offered various services, ranging from a survey and plans that the client could then execute, providing his own team to oversee the work, or he would oversee and refine the work himself by visiting a number of days each year.

In 1764, while still continuing his own private practice, Brown also became the head gardener at Hampton Court Palace for the young King George III. However, here he had little influence as the formal gardens were historically important and therefore sacrosanct. His legacy is the Black Hamburg grapevine, now the world’s oldest and largest.

Horace Walpole, the playwright son of the Prime Minister Robert Walpole, is quoted as saying of Brown: “We have reached the peak of perfection. We have given the true model of gardening to the world.” So quite an accolade indeed!

Brown continued to work and travel until dying suddenly in 1783, having suffered from an asthma attack.

He is  buried in the small village of Fenstanton in Cambridgeshire, the only place where he actually owned a property.

His obituary read ‘where he is the happiest man he will be least remembered, so closely did he copy nature his works will be mistaken.’

With over 150 of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s landscapes possible to see today, there is a wide choice across the country to put on your must-see list for this year.

Horace Walpole, the playwright son of the Prime Minister Robert Walpole, is quoted as saying of Brown: “We have reached the peak of perfection. We have given the true model of gardening to the world.” 

Karin is looking forward  to visiting the Hurlingham Club on 21st May with its 42 acres of garden to enjoy, complete with a 2 acre lake and a river walk in the middle of London!   Both Capability Brown & Humphry Repton were involved with the landscaping here.

Other places you can see his landscapes are:
• Stowe, Buckinghamshire
• Burghley House, Lincolnshire
• Petworth Park, West Sussex
• Sherborne Castle, Dorset
• Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire
• Croome, Worcestershire
• Longleat House, Wiltshire
• Highclere Castle, Berkshire
• Sheffield Park, East Sussex