The Repton Gazette and Brown Advisor

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

105: Did Brown change?

The estimable Mr W, currently employed as the hermit on the Wardour estate, asks me to forgive him for unburdening himself on me. He saw glimpses of Capability Brown’s ‘absolutely astonishing’  yet relatively little known, nay ‘anonymous’, proposal to address the asymmetries of Belvoir Castle on the television and wonders if a collection of photographs of his plans has been made, for comparative purposes.

He goes on to speculate that to judge from the peep that TV afforded, Brown’s style may have softened and moved towards an increase in irregularity towards the end of his life. Thence he progresses to wonder whether either Brown’s critics or the general development of taste led him to change his style, and concludes that there has been a tendency amongst commentators to treat Brown as though he only ever had one style.

Finally he asks for my thoughts on these questions.

These are sage points, and one expects no less from a hermit, whose days are given over the contemplation of profound issues.

Two answers however will help him. First – and it is a great sadness and a curious omission on the part of Historic England – no collection of high-resolution images of his plans have ever been made, though this is an essential preliminary to understanding his work. Second, his style undoubtedly did evolve, and there is very little in common between an early work like Wotton and late ones like Moccas Court or Milton Abbey. However, as he showed in his design for Laeken, he could always go back to an earlier style. It is rather the case then, that as his career developed his range broadened and his versatility increased.

Mr W assures me, incidentally, that he watches the television with the sound off, and regards this as compliant with his anchoritic vows.

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2 Comments

  1. I apologize if I have missed an answer to my question elsewhere, but if anyone can answer my question, I would be grateful.

    ‘Capability’ was known by different spellings. Lancelot was ‘Brown’ without an ‘e’.
    Also, by ‘Browne’ with an ‘e’.
    Is anything known in more detail about when or why this changed?
    And there seems to be few examples of his signature.
    Any insight on this is appreciated, and hopefully of interest to others.
    Andy Durbridge

    • Quite right, Brown sometimes signed himself with an ‘e’ on the end, but I haven’t noted when this happened or whether, for example, the ‘e’ arrived at a certain point on his social rise (not, somehow, a heroic alteration). Also I always spell his Christian name ‘Lancelot’, but the usual 18th century spelling is ‘Launcelot’ – again I haven’t recorded these variants. On the other hand, I have found the spelling of ‘Capability’ consistent.

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By John Phibbs