Tuesday 12 April 2016

Capability Brown at Compton Verney

Celebrating the genius who moved Earth... and a little bit of Heaven

Compton Verney leads national ‘Capability’ Brown 300 celebrations

Compton Verney
Move over Monty. Take a walk Titchmarsh. 2016 marks the 300th anniversary of the original celebrity gardener (and many say the best) Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown – and Compton Verney is the flagship restoration project of the commemorative events taking place all over Britain.

Brown literally changed the landscape of 18th-century England; designing stunning vistas for the gentry by moving hills, creating rivers and lakes in his quest to shape nature to his remarkable vision.

Thanks to a £2.5 million Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant, the historic Warwickshire art gallery and former country house, Compton Verney will spearhead local and national festival devoted to the man and his achievements.

The money is being used to preserve, conserve and celebrate the contribution ‘Capability’ Brown made to 120 acres of Compton Verney’s Grade II-listed parkland, which includes the restoration of a rare, Brown-designed Grade I-listed Chapel. There will also be a brand new Visitor Welcome Centre to provide materials about the site’s landscape, history and ecology as well as much-needed visitor facilities.

Dr Steven Parissien, Director of Compton Verney says “Compton Verney’s ambitious; HLF supported Park Restoration Project is the most important capital programme taking place during the ‘Capability’ Brown’s tricentennial year of 2016. As a result, Compton Verney will become widely known not just for its astonishing exhibitions and thought-provoking collections but also for its outstanding, inspirational landscape. At Compton Verney from 2016, there will be space for everyone!”

He added “2015 was our most successful season yet at Compton Verney, with 70,000 visitors between March and September – let’s see if we can top that in 2016.”

In 1769, Brown was employed to lay out the grounds in keeping with the new taste for more naturalistic landscapes. He eliminated all trace of the earlier formal gardens, including the canal on the west front and the avenues running east to west. In their stead came grassland and trees, with the planting of cedars and over 2,200 oak and ash saplings. Brown also turned the lakes into a single expanse of water, by removing the dam between the Upper Long Pool and the Middle Pool to make way for his Upper Bridge.

Three years later, and clearly unburdened by sensitivities to the past, he demolished the medieval church of Compton Murdak, to give an uninterrupted view of the lake from the south east of the house. An obelisk now marks the site of the original church and crypt. 

Brown designed and built a new chapel in 1776. Today, it is being painstakingly restored, aided by the HLF grant.

Compton Verney
An essential accessory for any fine country pile was an ice house. The example constructed by Capability at Compton Verney in 1772 allowed the Verney family to delight their guests with refrigerated food, sorbets and ice creams. With electrification came the refrigerator and the ice house simply became a store for unwanted or discarded items such as a bedstead, a cooker and wine bottles. However, visitors will now find the Ice House fully restored, albeit it has also become home to a bat colony.

Compton Verney re-opens following this winter break on 19 March 2016. Highlights of the CB300 activities will include tours of the landscape, with the Brownian elements highlighted, a series of talks about ‘Capability’ by leading academics and Compton Verney’s Head of Landscape and Gardens, Gary Webb. A Brownian trail around the landscape will allow visitors of all ages to explore and discover 300 years of horticultural history.

A weekend focusing on Brown and the Georgian period in which he came to Compton Verney will be brought to life by costumed characters, while activities and demonstrations by rural craftsmen will heighten the visitor experience and understanding of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s life and era.

For more information about these and other exhibitions at Compton Verney follow
@ComptonVerney on Twitter, like the Compton Verney Facebook page or visit


Cheryl Bolen said...

Love this! I've had the good fortune to tour many of his gardens. No one will ever compare.

Catherine Curzon said...

A true legend!

Helena said...

Reading this reminded me of the wonderful play by Tom Stoppard, Arcadia, set partly during the early nineteenth century when those following 'Capability' Brown's example were still setting out landscapes in a similar way. It records the mixed feelings of those whose formal gardens were demolished to make way for the "natural" landscapes.

Catherine Curzon said...

A wonderful play, thank you!