At the annual bean-feast of the Brown Advisor, we eat crisps only and only drink ginger beer and liquorice water. Thus we toast our youth as we turn to sober discussion of the topics of the day.
On our last such occasion I took for my text an observation made by Mrs S of Grantham to the company assembled about her that she had noticed the over-drawing on the 1689 plan of Wotton Underwood. By ‘over-drawing’ she meant that someone had taken the seventeenth century estate plan and drawn onto it the lake – which is generally attributed to Capability Brown’s boisterous work of 100 years later.
One might hesitate to ascribe a single line of ink to any individual’s hand, but the fact is that this over-drawing is to be found on plan after plan at places where Brown has worked. Even the colour washes are replicated on the intricate over-drawing of the 1741 estate plan for Fawsley, then there are the plans for Scampston, over-drawn with different versions of the landscape that was taking shape at the time, the undated plan for Wimpole which has been overdrawn at several times and in several hands, one of which has the look of Brown – that was the point to which I wished to draw the attention of my friends: not that all these over-drawing are Brown’s but that they do come up often enough at places where he worked, and that we should not expect Brown necessarily to have produced a plan or even used a surveyor at every job. If he could scribble something onto an old plan then he might have been perfectly happy to settle for that.
And how much extra work that could take! I draw towards me, in my mind, the plan of Clandon made by John Willock for George Onslow, later the 1st Earl, immediately before Brown began, in 1776. First some luckless fellow, perhaps Willock himself, had to extend it to the north, east and west, sticking extra sheets of paper on to it so as to include Temple Court Farm and the other land that the Earl hoped to engross. Then Brown himself took it still further west to the Guildford Road so as to find room for his principal approach. At first, as it seems to me, he had it in mind to cut round the park boundary that Willock had drawn, but then he left off that labour and instead chose to wipe or scrape the old survey off the plan where he wanted to change or extend it. Would it not have been simpler to redraw the whole thing?
Yet might I have been happy to conclude that all such over-drawings and extensions were indicative of Brown’s hand. However the Bar denied me that freedom, on grounds of whimsy and poor logic, and I consoled myself with cocoa and marshmallows til Captain Ken had put by his pipe and called for his bicycle clips.