There has been some concern at the Tatler’s Waste-bin that my recent notes have been too much given over to generalisation and to congratulatory notes on the pleasures that must attend the 300 year birthday celebration of the great Capability Brown. Pushed to the broom cupboard, as a result, have been those questions of our numerous correspondents that have to do with particular places where Brown is know, or thought, to have worked.
Forgive me therefore, if, in a few notes that follow, I now address some of the questions that have been raised and are specific to those particular places that excite the curiosity of those that know and love them above any statement of more general application.
Thus have the concerned citizenry of Dorset risen up again with their interrogation of Milton Abbey.
First, it having been put to them already that the pleasure ground there was made in St Therace’s Vale, behind the folly known as the Ruins, at the foot of Melmouth Hill. Now they ask why St Therace, and when was this valley first so named? The same question has been asked of Eleanor Combe, on the east side of the abbey. I would like to think that Therace (otherwise a name unknown to me) is an Anglicisation of St Teresa, and presumably St Teresa of Avila was meant, the spelling somehow both accommodating the Spaniard into English culture and emphasising the ancient lineage of Milton itself.
Perhaps you need no reminding that Milton Abbey was a Benedictine monastery, a cloistered community, dedicated equally to work and to prayer. Saint Teresa was of the Carmelites, an associated order that places still more emphasis on solitary contemplation. Indeed her book The Interior Castle chronicles the ascent of the soul through a life of prayer and simplicity. Appropriate enough to her interest would have been the primitive and removed habitation that is the vale, with its secret and hidden garden wherein she might have practised in peace the twin arts of ‘ora et labora’ .
As for when, it would suit me well to discover that this valley and Eleanor Combe, on the opposite of the landscape, were first so named by Lord Damer, client of Capability Brown, who created this masterpiece.
A second and independent question then arises: when was the Great Stair/Great Stare made? This set of grass steps rises up from the Abbey church to St Catherine’s chapel over the new road made by Lord Damer. The bridge that carries it over the road is clearly nineteenth century and the work of later owners, the Hambros, but there must have been access to the chapel before then, and the pun (the grass stair leads to a vast stare) – the pun is certainly bad enough to have been Brown’s, a juicy jocund man, much given to jowly japery. Therefore I wonder if the ‘wooden bridge’ mentioned in the sales particulars that persuaded the Hambros to buy the property in 1852 could have been its fore-runner.