The Repton Gazette and Brown Advisor

300 Frequently Asked Questions about Capability Brown, and a further 200 about Humphry Repton

40: Brown and turnpiking – is there a connection?

Potholes cause problems wherever they are. This fine boiling pan sprang a leak and is now reduced to a coal-scuttle

Potholes cause problems wherever they are. This fine boiling pan sprang a leak and is now reduced to a coal-scuttle

Mr S. of Droitwich has been in touch again, asking specifically whether any turnpikes might have been newly navigated at places where Capability Brown, the place-maker, was also working .

Well it’s true that Brown’s hey-day precisely coincided with ‘Turnpike Mania’, which lasted from about 1750 to 1772, and during which time something like 300 trusts undertook the management of 10,000 miles of road.

On the other hand Brown would not have had to go many paces outside his landscapes to be stuck in the mud. In the ‘Alpine mountains’ of Sussex Horace Walpole was ‘thrice overturned’ in 1749, he took two and a half hours to go the last twelve miles to Stowe in 1753, the roads were reckoned bad enough in 1755 to make the whole country safe from invasion, and in 1756 the great north road was a rumble north of Burghley, while the Yorkshire countryside around Wentworth Castle was damned with ‘deluges of rain, execrable roads, fractures of my chaise and tumbles of postilions’. Further south Walpole was managing one mile in four hours outside Althorp, and a couple of years later he found the lanes at Ragley impassable. At the same time the Gentleman’s Magazine no less reported that a street in Petworth was ‘two hundred yards long, full of deep holes, and a precipice on one side of the street, without so much as a rail for twenty yards, though exposed to every drunken traveller or stranger on horseback.’ So consistently abusive are these accounts that they must be trusted, and that begs the question, if you were a land-owner would you not be anxious to lay out a private circulation system within your estate so as to avoid the public roads?

Sorry Mr S., so far as I know the spread of turnpikes did not make private roads any less attractive during Brown’s life-time.

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1 Comment

  1. Some of our volunteers, Dick and Christine Cluley discovered that the turnpike that passed between Great Kington (Kineton) and Wellesbourne, was initiated during the period of Brown’s landscaping.
    The Kineton & Wellesbourne Trust (1770 – 1872) was formed of which the Rt.Hon. John Peyto Verney (Lord Willoughby de Broke) was a trustee, he was also the only aristocrat who regularly attended the meetings, showing a keen interest in having the route improved.
    This coincided with Brown’s landscaping of Compton Verney, which began in earnest from 1768, for John Peyto Verney. Dick mentions: “John Rogers of Banbury was ordered to make the road from Gt. Kington to Lord Warwicks land 18inches thick stone by 12 feet wide.”
    Gary Webb, Compton Verney.

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By John Phibbs