Dr S of Surrey asks what we should make of Thomas Whately (1726 –1772).

Whately was a tax inspector who advised on the grounds at Windsor and also worked on Nonsuch Palace. The poet William Mason was ‘much affected by the news of Mr Whatley’s death’. They had known each other for over 20 years. Whately described five of landscapes of the gardener Capability Brown in his book Observations on Modern Gardening, illustrated by descriptions interspersing them with accounts of gardens made by the owners. Although the book was not published until 1770, his exemplary accounts describe best places that had been made in the 1750s. Perhaps this entitles us to conclude that he largely wrote the work in the 1750s, when he was keeping company with William Mason (one gathers from Mason’s correspondence that he hadn’t seen him much in the intervening period), and that he published it at the end of his life when tidying up papers that might otherwise have been destroyed – people do do such things.

Whately’s favourite, amongst the gardens where Brown worked? – it would appear to have been Stowe.