Captain Ken reminds me that he can find nothing to interest him in the careers of Capability Brown’s associates, such as Samuel Lapidge and William Ireland.
He does not deny that however their relationship with the master operated in practice, the quality of the work they produced with him was consistently outstanding. I have suggested in reply that it is just what they did after Brown died that makes their work so interesting, and that sets his genius entirely apart from theirs. Either Cobham Hall or Burley-on-the-Hill would make the point for Lapidge, but I have Milton Park in mind (for which Lapidge was paid 140 guineas in 1789). Repton replaced him at all three, but was openly critical of his rival at Milton – indeed wherever one picks up the sound of Repton sucking his teeth like a plumber – ‘Who did this for you? A right cowboy! – What a mess’ one might look for the hand of Lapidge, for it was Repton’s clear intention to replace him as the inheritor both of Brown’s name and reputation and of numbers of his clients, with the endorsement of Henry Holland and the gardening Revs., William Mason and William Gilpin.
First up at Milton Park was the Long Walk: ‘that long screen which shuts out Castor Field, and which is certainly not a pleasing feature, from its presenting not only a strait line at the bottom but the trees being all of the same age the Top outline is also strait. … The trees of this screen are of such a height that we can hardly expect in the life of man to break the top outline by any young trees, except they are planted very near the eye … and if the plantation be open the browsing line will make a disagreeable parallel with the flat surface of the ground…’ This criticism is entirely justified. The Long Walk is a poor piece of design – the area of parkland within it remains far too large for this plantation to provide any sense of enclosure.
Next the Peterborough Approach: ‘where there is very beautifully uneven ground in a park otherwise inclined to be flat, the temptation to avail ourselves of it by carrying the approach thro’ it seems almost irresistible; such has been the inducement for the present approach from Peterborough to Milton. Had this been the approach from London or the general road for strangers, it would have been more allowable; but the inhabitants of Peterborough are so well acquainted with the exact situation of the house, that no degree of artifice can justify the present line to them, and even strangers must discover that it is very far from the nearest line.’ Repton’s criticism is understandable, yet one can see that the Lapidge approach was trying to bring visitors across to the view south past the Ferry House, and then along the London Approach from the south, with its view of the Orangery, and up to the house past the new lake.
Repton did not let up there, for approaches were a pet subject of his, and he offered two further criticisms: ‘Altho’ the graceful bendings of a road are very desirable when the shape of the ground justifies the curvature; yet a crooked road across a plain is always unpleasing. I must therefore advise the taking away all use[less] bends in the principle [sic] approach and making one easy line … . In forming a road there are two things to be considered, the shape, and the breadth; if the shape of a road be too high and round, it will not only be unpleasant for use, but it will give the place a boggy appearance by conveying the idea that such convexity is necessary.
Repton introduces here the idea of a road as an object of beauty, which condemns Lapidge’s approach as it ran north from Greenchair Plantation because it had to many curves in it, and it had too high a barrel – that is, too ‘high and round’ a camber. Lapidge was guilty of making over-winding roads elsewhere (for example in his plan for Burley-on-the-Hill). However one outcome of building roads with a high barrel is that – paradoxically – it becomes less possible to see the surface because on flat ground it is lifted above our eyes. So at Milton, the approach from the west is invisible in views from the front of the house. The same high barrel – and the same effect – is to be found with the drives at Dinefwr.
His third attack was on Lapidge’s Thorpe Waterings: ‘When I assert that small pieces of water are incongruous with Park scenery, I only mean to say that water should not be made a leading feature in the Landscape unless it is of such magnitude as to deserve the distinction, or its boundaries so well concealed as to deceive in its extent…’
The ground around the Thorpe Waterings has few pollards and consists of open water and broad open areas of grass. Repton made only this brief (but critical) reference to the area. However its general character is Brownian.
In short, while Repton’s criticisms might have been designed to destroy his rival’s reputation, he had good reason to attack the Long Walk and the unnecessary curves in the approach. The Long Walk on its own marks Lapidge down as incapable of matching the work of his master, Capability Brown – incapable despite the fact that Lapidge had spent with Brown ‘near Twenty Two years – & mean to follow his Business, & flattery [sic] myself from the great advantages I received from so great a Genius as my late Great Master was, to be able to give more satisfaction than others who cannot know his methods & Ideas so well as myself.’
It follows that Brown’s work was not quite so easy to imitate as Lapidger himself supposed.
Incidentally, anyone seeking to chase down a comprehensive list of places where Lapidge might have worked, or might have continued work after Brown’s death, might consider those where Repton commented adversely on a predecessor:
Attingham (‘I understand it was suggested by persons to add many hundred acres of the land to the east, by removing the hedges of the adjoining fields’ – here the criticism was of Leggatt), Burley-on-the-Hill ( ‘lest this remark should look like an implied Censure on the person by whose advice the wall was removed, I must acknowledge, that till I had witnessd [sic] the Effect of Burley – I might have adopted the same error in compliance with the general prevalency for opening [Lawns?].’), Claybury (‘I always rather wish to accommodate my plans to those which have already been adopted, than fastidiously to point out what might have been better, unless the object is so material as fully to justify the unwelcome criticism.’), Finedon ( ‘I confess had I been sooner consulted and before any trees had been taken down, I might have hesitated in my opinion concerning my partial improvement of the place,’), Harewood, Hewell Grange (‘Whether Hewell was originally formed & planted by this ingenious self taught Landscape Gardener [Brown], or by one of his school; it certainly bears strong marks of his System and Practice,…’), Livermere, Longner (‘This line was (I suppose) adopted in compliance with a mistaken principle of Brown’s followers, that “the road should not go near the boundary,” whatever else it might consist of, to which was added that the boundary should be marked by a belt of plantation.’), Plas Newydd ( ‘I ought perhaps to apologise for the freedom with which I may have occasion to mention some few things that have been done wrong: but had your Lordship had leisure, or the persons you employed had still to direct the improvements, there wd have been no necessity to ask my opinion, & therefore I venture to deliver it without fear of giving offence.’), Stoke Park (‘There is no part of my profession so unpleasant, as that which requires the undoing works already begun,’), and Stubbers.