A Brown belt. I'm afraid our photographer may have misunderstood

A Brown belt. I’m afraid our photographer may have misunderstood

Mrs L from Stanstead asks what that amazing artist and avatar Capability Brown would have called a belt. Well, it’s a good question, for he used language to continue the art of landscape by other means. He called his work ‘alteration’ rather than ‘improvement’ – perhaps because he did not want to suggest that he could improve on nature, preferring to be thought capable only of making small alterations to it. If he made any piece of water that was remotely serpentine and linear in form, then it would be called a ‘New River’, to encourage the illusion that it was indeed a river. Any new piece of grassland, like Grimsthorpe’s, might be called ‘New Park’, to give the impression of deer park, even if no deer went near it.

So far as I know he never called himself ‘Capability’, but the word itself is a long way short of ‘genius’ ‘magician’ or ‘wizard’ – though that is what his contemporaries thought of him.

But, to answer your question, and borrowing Elizabeth Hall’s transcription of the minutes of his visits to Burton Constable, he called belts ‘screeds’. Heaven knows why – Repton and Price definitely knew them as belts, and were both critical, so when Repton found himself recommending a linear planting around the perimeter of a park, he fell back on calling it a ‘skreen’, not so very different from a ‘screed’ after all.