It has been my great good fortune to spend a few days recently at liberty in Fenstanton, that tranquil village neatly bisected by the Felixstowe Road which serves here to link the Great North Road with the M11.
I was in company with a number of fine people, unsparing in their opinions, and opinions aplenty soon besprinkled the long grass of Hall Green as we trudged this way and that through it in our search for the village church – which is as strangely elusive as the gardener Brown’s own grave. One opinion most forcefully expressed by the learned gentleman farmer, Professor W was that, great drainer though he might have been, big boy Brown (the Capability man, of whom we were talking), would have found it hard to drain the field, which is flat and large and only a foot or two above the River Ouse which makes its sluggish way past the village and on towards the Wash.
I had got this far in my account when my interlocutor, Captain Ken, inquired what Fenstanton had to do with Brown anyway, for he had forgotten that here Brown had his landed estate, and here, when Heaven had prepared itself for alterations, he was buried.
Now it would be easy to say, and a number of our party did say, that Brown was a great drainer, that he could have drained anything, or at the very least turned Hall Green into a flood meadow, yet I am not so ready to brush the Professor to one side. For it is the case that greater drainers arose to follow Brown. Elkington of Leicestershire at Woburn, at Paget’s and Lord Radnor’s, at Fisherwick, at Tardibig (I half expect this to be Hewell Grange), at Normanton, Charlecote and Trentham, where ‘a great part of the park … [was]… drained over again.’ After Elkington comes William Smith who replaced him at Woburn and went on to Shugborough – it is true that the bulk of the practice of these men related to places where there was no Brownian connection. Nonetheless, one might ask – were they taken on because Brown’s work had failed? because his client had elected to extend his improved acreage? because Brown’s brushwood drains would not have lasted more than a couple of decades? Who can say? – not I, I regret to say.