Forgive me if in this note I resume my happy task of setting out the progress of enlightened thought in pursuit of that snappy salesman, the gardener, Capability Brown, through a consideration of Dr Sarah Rutherford’s new book Capability Brown and his landscape gardens.
Stroud did not question the role of parks as hunting grounds
Norfolk has argued forcefully that parks were made for hunting and shooting in. Dr Rutherford has emphasised the changing technology in gun design and has suggested that parkland sport may have been confined to hare-coursing: the goal of the Brown Advisor for the year’s end is a general agreement that far from being an arena for sylvan slaughter, parks were made as reserves for game, that the only sport to take place in parkland was hare coursing; and that that only took place in areas of parkland specifically set aside for the purpose. Note 126, amongst many others, considers the idea.
Stroud did not look to parks to have any practical purpose
Norfolk has barricaded itself within Stroud’s position, maintaining that parkland was essentially wasted land and their extent was a measure of the wealth of the owner (the more land you can afford to waste, the richer you must be). In particular (but it’s not clear where this prejudice springs from) it is not possible that parks could have been designed to grow grass. Dr R has moved the argument a long way with the description of parks as working farms and a reinvention of the countryside. She has also made the adventurous case that the new turnpike roads of the mid-century led to a great increase in the number of horses kept on an estate: The Brown Advisor looks to see Capability Brown’s country estates as farms, within which parkland provided the largest acreage of grass production, consequently playing a vital role in the well-functioning of the place. He looks to the double ha-has of Brownian design for physical proof of this: where parkland grass was to be harvested every other year, the parkland would have to be broken up with fences, so that grazing could be alternated with mowing. The fences should not be visible, and in order that the change in the look of the grass should remain inconspicuous it followed that sunk fences or ha-has should be built across rather than along the line of sight from the house – thus ringing the parkland, in Mr Honey’s succinct expression, like an onion, rather than segmenting it like an orange. These are the secondary, or double, ha-has that one finds at Blenheim, Eywood, Kirtlington, Sherborne, Wolterton and many other places.
Stroud did not explore the origins of any theoretical under-pinning of Brownian design. However most authorities of the last 200 years have it that Brownian landscape was a response to the increasingly planned nature of post-enclosure England
Norfolk has stayed with this traditional reading; and Dr R has not contributed: The Brown Advisor is happy to concede that there clearly is such a distinction in the design of late landscapes such as Belvoir Castle, rising from the very regular enclosure fields of Redmile. However our ambition for this year must be to show that the traditional argument is fatally flawed and erroneous. It is based on a misreading both of the English countryside and of the relationship between it and parkland.
Stroud assumed that Brownian parkland was a part of the 18th century’s thirst for ‘improvement’
Norfolk has stayed with this reading, without reconciling that with the idea that parks were wasteland. Aware perhaps of the inherent contradictions of the Norfolk school, Dr R has not ventured into this debate: The Brown Advisor is very comfortable with any association between Brownian landscape and improvement – though Brown himself preferred the word ‘alteration’.
Stroud made no claims for Brown as an ecologist
Norfolk has radically emphasised Brown’s contribution to nature conservation. Dr R has stepped away from the Norfolk position: The Brown Advisor would like us to wend our way to the conclusion that Brown knew nothing about the principles of ecology and was entirely uninterested in it.
Stroud assumed that Brown’s landscapes were private places, enclosed by belts.
Norfolk has adopted the Stroud position, however Dr R has questioned it, pointing out that his landscapes venture deep into the countryside that lies beyond the parkland: The Brown Advisor would like to take Sarah Rutherford’s argument still further. Not only are Brown’s landscapes more extensive than his parks, but his belts do not enclose his parks anyway, and furthermore his parkland was the great arena for the central communal endeavours of the estate (such as hay-making and feast days). Note 19, amongst many others, touches on the topic.
Stroud assumed that Brown’s woodland belts were just that – woodland belts
Norfolk has adopted the Stroud position that belts were strips of woodland, with an understorey. Dr R has stayed clear of the discussion: however the Brown Advisor would encourage us to believe that Brown’s belts were actually in the tradition of ancient hedgerows but that he used them in many different ways and that they are the single most sophisticated component of his planting design.
Stroud assumed that by and large Brown used native, or long introduced, plants
Norfolk (influenced by the work of Mark Laird) has argued that Brown did plant exotics and probably many more of them than we’ll ever know about. The Brown Advisor would agree that Brown used exotics, but in 2016 would like to reach consensus on the fact that his friends Horace Walpole and William Mason were often critical of their use and were fully aware of the nationalistic impulse to use natives. The BA (notes 174-179) would hope to move forward from there indeed, to the view that by the end of his life at any rate Brown would have preferred to use only the best trusted plants, such as natives, if forced to make a judgement, and that he would have been fully aware of the nationalistic impulse to use natives that informed Mason’s opinions.
Stroud assumed that Brown ‘swept away’ formal gardens
Norfolk has stepped out from the shadow of Stroud to argue that Brown did sweep away formal gardens but not as often as we one thought. Dr R has maintained their position: The Brown Advisor would like to see an acknowledgement that Brown retained and saved what was worth saving of many great formal gardens (note 119 lists Chatsworth, Claremont, Chilham Castle, and Wrest among others), and indeed he also saved the fragments of their Tudor precursors (Ampthill , Chatsworth). While his clients at Wrest wanted to make changes and the king Hampton Court expected him to do so, he refused in both cases. In a surprising number of cases, the sweeping-away, for which he was arraigned by the Norfolk school, will be found to have taken place in the 1730s and 1740s.
Stroud argued that Brown destroyed villages in order to make his landscapes
Norfolk, itself making a great advance on the traditional view, has argued that Brown should not be associated with the destruction of villages and depopulation of the countryside. Dr R has moved back from the Norfolk position: however in the interests of settling any dispute to the advantage of all, the Brown Advisor would acknowledge that villages were indeed taken down, but would ask that in each case we need to divine at whose instruction this was done, and we need to be sure that a village was not moved, rather than destroyed.