The Bowood Cascade

The Bowood Cascade

John Dalrymple: `The rapidity and noise of the rivers should be increased by artificial bulwarks and impediments .. and the falls of water should, by the interposition of rocks, or of new streams brought over them, be made to look more like cataracts than cascades…

The cascade at Ugbrooke

The cascade at Ugbrooke

The Bowood Cascade

The Bowood Cascade, several times rebuilt

The following are a handful of descriptions of cascades built in the natural style in the second half of the 18th century and in places attributed to the quiddity of the quondam quirkster Capability Brown. The lesson to draw from these accounts is that the natural cascade, usually assumed to have come after him, to be picturesque in origin and hostile to Brown in sentiment, is actually nothing of the kind. The lesson to draw from these accounts is that the natural cascade, usually assumed to post-date Brown, to be picturesque in origin and hostile to Brown in sentiment, is actually nothing of the kind. It is true that Blenheim, Bowood, Scampston and Harewood have all been reworked since Brown’s time, but I wonder how significant the changes wrought by Charles Hamilton at Bowood actually were, and to what degree he was felt to have improved it simply because he was a gentleman who knew his Claude Lorrain.



Thomas Whately: `The main river … makes a gentle bend then continues for a considerable length in one wide direct reach, and, just as it disappears, throws itself down a high cascade, which is the present termination. On one of the banks of this reach is the garden; the steeps are there diversified with thickets and with glades; but the covert prevails, and the top is crowned with lofty trees.

The Rev. William Gilpin: `In about a mile’s walking we came to ye head, or mole, wh supports all this weight of water. In itself it is a beautiful object, forming a very natural cascade: and the scenery abt it, wh is woody, shews ye water dashing through it to great advantage…. ye most beautiful, & easy artificial cascade I ever saw. –‘



Joseph Heely: `A large circuitous sheet of water, extends itself over an ample body of ground, in the midst of thousand natural charms, that description, I fear, will give you but a very faint idea of. The eye commonly fixes first on the object that is the greatest novelty, or the most apparently striking [view from Boathouse]. In this gay, accomplished scene, perhaps that object is a cascade, well broken, fierce, and picturesque; tumbling down several distinct falls, and under a rude, grotesque arch of rock, emptying itself into a part of the pool, worn into a sort of creek by the violence of the torrent. I think I never saw so fine an effect from light and shade, as is here produced by the gloom of ever-greens and other trees, and the peculiar brightness of the foaming water – nor ever remember to have seen a place better, or more naturally adapted for a cascade than this, rolling down a narrow valley, covered with thicket, and within the bosom of so glorious a wood.

Above this cascade, in the midst of forest drapery, perspectively rises a small dusky antique building, in an elevated position…Leaving this delicate building, you pass through a close plantation of firs and shrubs, very happily concealing for a few paces, not only the pool, but the dam itself; so that you are no where aware of the deformity arising from that method of gaining water – A straight naked dam, whereever it appears, is exceedingly offensive, and sinks the designer into ineffable contempt—it is odious, because nothing in the world is more unnatural; and where places admit not of excavation, a dam to make it in any respect tolerable, must be totally hid by close interwoven bushes and trees; – this is perfectly well observed in regard to its planting; and had the same attention been paid to its form, in giving it a curve, instead of a stiff straight line, no water would have shewn itself more agreeably.

The path, after continuing a while in obscurity, runs along the margin of the lake, open to the landscape, and enters, through a wicket, the lawn, before noticed; which you see to a greater advantage, as well the grove, stretching carelessly from its brow into the grounds below; while the house (a large building, somewhat in the gothic taste) from another point, becomes a very engaging object over the water.

While thus you wind round the side of the pool, another wicket opens to some flowery ground laid out in taste, on the banks of the cascades—and here, amid the perpetual dashing of water, roaring down the rocks, breathing ambrosial scents from the rose, or the more mellifluent woodbine, will you sit upon a bench, within the shrub-mantled dell, your eye fixed upon the cascade, and lulled by its soothing monotony into a busy contemplation – not but the boathouse, on a casual glance, among leafy breaks, will merit your notice, as well as the area of lawn opening over the banks of the cascade.

These banks appear in the finest disorder, steep and well broken; in some places hollow, or perpendicular, worn so, I apprehend, by the force of the water plunging from one fall to another; if not so, and I am wrong in my conjecture, art never appeared more natural, or more amiable- for all the attempts I have hitherto seen, to impede by art, the water from forming these rough banks, and dreary chasms, by confining, or forcing them into any other shape, have never been attended with any very pleasing effect; –  believe me,  all the efforts of skill, favoured by the most flowery imagination, cannot throw them into figures near so consistent as those naturally formed by the incessant eddying, and working, of the water.

While I mused within these bowers….I could not help wishing the heads of the banks were more closely bushed, particularly on the opposite side, as it would encourage an opacous cast, which I cannot but think is now wanting, and what is indisputably a necessary accompaniment; places that are meant to be sequestered, and gloomy, never can be rendered too much so; nor ought any point to be visible, but what favours the character; the very dashing of the water only, sufficiently convinces me, that whatever taste may add about it, should be analogous, such as a close united shade, uncouth rudeness, scars of rock, ivy twisted trees, and cavernous banks.

Thus a little higher, between the different plunges of the cascades, you will find every thing, by a proper attention, conformable, natural, and expressive; instanced particularly in a single plank only, thrown across the stream – this, though I believe but little noticed, is one of those graceful objects that make themselves great from their simplicity, and even meanness.

Nothing can be more engaging than the walk from the seat, to the outside of this romantic spot – the impetuous torrent of one cascade rushing down a chain near your foot – another seen at a distance though the trees, pouring over rocks its whitened foam; and as you stand on my favourite plank, looking down the sloping channel edged with laurels, the boat-house, over the broad lake, will hold you long in admiration….turning to the cascade behind you, and then to its troubled waters below…nothing was ever better formed to create surprise, and pleasure; but at the same time one cannot help being affected with a sort of terror, standing in the very midst of an incessant roar of water, and seeing it break with such resistless fury- I declare I considered myself as a victim devoted to its rage, and expected every moment, upon some sudden burst, to be washed, without any kind of ceremony, down the torrent, into the dreary hollow below.’




Anon: `By the path, striking across this lawn, we again enter the shrubbery, and as we approach its termination, our ears are saluted with the hoarse clamours of a water-fall. The opening from the shrubbery discloses to us a beautiful verdant slope, which stretches behind the Mansion to the edge of the water, and we discover, with peculiar advantage, a magnificent CASCADE, that falls with considerable force into the large winding stream beneath. The head of the fall is deeply shaded; some full grown trees rising before the centre of this foaming sheet of water, gives the appearance of two separate Cascades, and the effect of the dashing surge, glistening through the extending branches, is inconceivably majestic and picturesque.

Upon this spot from whence the fall and lake is beheld to so much advantage, Marquees are frequently erected for rural entertainments, and certainly no situation could be conceived more appropriate or captivating.’

William Marshall: `IMMEDIATELY below this Reach, an irregular bason, or lakelet is formed with the passing stream. This bason is open, on one side, to the windows; but is judiciously backed by planting; and produces a beautiful effect as seen from the house. …

This effect, however, is, in our opinions much injured, by a noisy cascade, which is formed between these two waters, under the windows of the library. A pebbled stream, shaded by Alders, or other Aquatics, would, we think, have been more in character with the site.’


There are further examples at Harewood, Scampston, and Ugbrooke.