Further to Note 8, comes a query from John B., a sailor from Bridport, who wonders how kindly a man was Capability Brown, and how he organised the visits of his surveyor, Jonathan Spyers’s?Good questions both – from the look of Brown’s own accounts, kept at the RHS Lindley Library in London, one would imagine that he was commissioned to go down and take a survey before Brown had ever seen the place. In which case how did he know which parts to map? Was this the decision of the owner? Perhaps it was, and this might account for a number of anomalies, places like Belvoir Castle where it is clear that Brown worked on land outside the area mapped by Spyers to the south and east, while Spyers mapped the Woolsthorpe Clay Fields, outside the boundary of Brown’s landscape, to the west.
Who then decided that Spyers should map the land within William of Wykeham’s mediaeval park boundary at Highclere? Perhaps it was Henry Herbert, Lord Carnarvon, or perhaps Carnarvon and Brown had discussed that as a possible boundary for the survey before Spyers went down. It is such a clear record of the attempt to restore the mediaeval landscape.
Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why we have so little record of Brown’s ridings and long approaches – they were never mapped, only set out on the ground at a later stage. Repton described the process in his red book for Cobham, written less than ten years after Brown’s death: ‘the Drives within the Park, and Ridings in the adjacent Country, will be better marked on the Spot than upon paper; they must of course take the easiest line to those objects which are the most beautiful, the most interesting, or the most curious.’