Mrs F has contacted me from Kenilworth to ask whether Capability Brown designed menageries.

This is a subject that I have glanced in my orbit (notes 65, 23, 110), yet not stopped to consider and her assumption is reasonable enough. Since Brown’s landscapes were designed to look natural, would he not have avoided anything as unnatural as an exotic creature in a cage. At this point I feel as though I were on a skateboard heading in one direction, while looking the other way and frantically paddling at the air to retrace my steps. It would be a matter of little moment to list some of the many menageries, aviaries, volaries and pheasantries to be found at Brown’s landscapes (these places were named somewhat indiscriminately) yet the question ‘why?’, implicit in Mrs F’s observation, remains one deserving an answer.

First I challenged my companions to make up a list. Caged animals, we agreed, existed, had existed or were proposed for: Ashburnham, Blenheim, Bowood, Burghley House, Burton Constable, Burton Pynsent, Coombe Abbey, Croome, Enville, Gatton, Ingestre, Kew, Lowther Castle, Melton Constable, Petworth, Richmond, Scampston, Shugborough, Sledmere, Syon House, Stoke Place, Stowe, Stratfieldsaye, Thoresby, Trentham, Wakefield Lodge, Wentworth Castle, Weston, Wimpole, Worksop, Wotton, Wrest, Wycombe Abbey – the list is by no means comprehensive, nor were we be absolutely sure that Brown worked at all these places, but this gives an alphabetical sampling adequate enough to sustain the argument that these were commonplace components of a landscape. Besides the curiosity of the owner-collector, it would be fair to conclude that while they could in no circumstances be described as natural, these menageries might have allowed their owners to imagine themselves in Eden, where the lion lies down with the ostrich.

 

Speaking of ostriches, I recall William Chafin who in his 18th century youth was delighted to find four ‘within a lofty paling’ in front of the Duke of Cumberland’s Grand Lodge at Windsor, and promised himself a return visit, but the following year ‘I was greatly disappointed, for the pales were all removed, and no vestige of the birds remaining.’ I wonder if the enclosure shown on some maps on the far side of the lake at Burton Constable was also put up for a similar short-lived species?

So Mrs F – what price the claim that Brown was primarily devoted to the natural? I would counsel against the attempt to make his style easier to understand by simplifying it. Stereotypes reduce man to a carving knife and woman to knitting by the tea-kettle.