Part 3: the pleasure ground

We left Mrs D. on her way to lunch on Day 2, but she’ll have to be quick, as it’s going to be a big afternoon, and the first thing to do is look at the views north and west from the house. Once again there’s a veritable idiosyncrasy because Capability Brown built an odd little bay window into the dining-room, it’s a carbuncle of an addition, out of kilter with the rest of the building, and it can only have been done for the views to the Temple Greenhouse on one side and the Chinese Bridge on the other. It’s well worth a look, because it gives you such a good idea of the enormous amount of soil that got dropped onto Church Field, between the house and the Temple – three metres deep in places. Next I’d urge her to the north door to try the view out, because this has an exact symmetry: between the ice-house and the green house, and between the church and the pagan deities, holding all four in the balance. A joke? Brown as a humorist? It could be? – and straight in front of the door? We’ll come to that later. We’ll make that Point 15 and then walk out from the house to the south-west corner of the pleasure ground (Point 16), and round to the Grotto (Point 17) and the Dry Arch (Point 18), all of them characteristic of the early Brown (the use of the tunnel and the over-riding importance of geometry).

But Mrs D. should concentrate on the Temple Greenhouse, because from it, perfectly framed between its four columns, you see five distinct follies or statues. It’s an amazing case of building design determined by landscape rather than vice versa, even though Adam was its architect, not Brown.

Croome church over the top of the replanted evergreen shrubbery

Croome church over the top of the replanted evergreen shrubbery

Then, no matter how tired she may be, we must march on, first to the evergreen shrubbery (Point 20) which is in the Pleasure Ground belt directly in front of the house, to ask what Brown really intended to do here, because the design is certainly a mess – if the evergreen shrubbery was full of tall trees it would have completely blocked views out to the northern half of the landscape. Elsewhere, say at Blenheim, he was quite happy to carry a walk through the parkland between two arms of the pleasure ground, so why not here? It is odd, and it’s a one-off in Brown’s work, unless you count the internal belt at Sandbeck – and why evergreens? I don’t know.