Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and Designed Landscapes in Essex

24th May 2016.  St Mark’s College Audley End, Essex

A CB300 Festival event celebrating the life and work of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716-1783), jointly organised by the LIEE and Essex Place Services the day brought together seven speakers who addressed the Essex aspects of Brown’s work.

Dr Twigs Way highlighted the opportune timing for Brown: Loudon, Wise, Vanbrugh, Switzer and Langley had all died as Brown developed his career: a talented landscape engineer creating robust landscapes, highly skilled at working for clients on the opposite side of the political divide. 167 sites have conclusive evidence of Brown’s involvement by letters, plans and accounts but for many sites there is a paucity of documentary evidence.

Dr Michael Leach, co-author of Essex Garden’s Trust’s Lancelot Brown and his Essex clients, agreed about the dearth of information.  He shared his detailed research on Essex places where Brown worked including Audley End, Belhaus, Coopersale House, Copped Hall, Hallingbury, Navestock (best survived), Shortgrove and Thorndon Park.

Magnus Alexander, Historic England, outlined the highly technical archaeological surveys carried out at Audley End to try to determine exactly what could be attributed to Brown in the three years of his involvement- very little, more about the house size reduction.

Dr Sarah Rutherford, author of Capability Brown, And His Landscape Gardens, talked about her work preparing a Conservation Management Plan for the National Trust at Hallingbury where Brown created a detached Pleasure Ground in the heart of the medieval Hatfield Forest.  This includes a very special Shell House enclosed by woodland, a large lake and conifer planting along the forest rides.

Simon Cranmer, Operations Manager for the National Trust, discussed Hatfield forest- an Ancient Woodland habitat and SSSI which attracts increasing visitor numbers bringing huge pressure on the Brown landscape and deterioration of the forest habitats.  Plans have been made to acquire extra land to draw visitors away from the Brown landscape and to discourage winter visitors to help reduce erosion.

Kate Harwood of the Herts Gardens Trust described the Brown landscape of Panshanger where old permissions for minerals extraction are still having consequences for the Trust to try to resolve. The Trust’s involvement in a variety of historic landscapes has led to some very positive collaborations and outcomes.

Fiona Wells gave us the ecologist’s view from Thorndon Park where she is working with the Woodland Trust to restore elements of the landscape that Brown retained in the Old Park.  – a framework can be created that brings extensive biodiversity enhancement to the park.

The day finished with a walk across to Audley End Park led by Magnus Alexander to have us in awe of the sheer size of the original building and the beauty of at least one feature that can be attributed to Brown – the canalised river Cam reworked as a serpentine river.

Report by Dr Liz Lake: Chair of the conference. Ed. Liz Adams 2016

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