271 Berringtonhouse

Berrington shows off two of its fronts in the principal view from the far side of the lake.

A second specific question comes out of Herefordshire. In summary it is ‘why is Berrington so infernally annoying?’

How can a place manage to look so conventional while breaking every rule that one might imagine its designer, Capability Brown, to have established for his practice?

His portraits show a kindly man, one might picture him in a kiosk presenting knick-knacks to kids … but I find that it helps to take any question put to me with a ‘why’ at the front (with that undertow of assumption that the fault for the problem, whatever it be, is all mine) – to take such questions and turn them into an exclamation of surprised delight. Nowhere does this advice find greater application than at Berrington. So let us say instead ‘How extraordinary it is that the hall at Berrington should have been placed where it was placed and given the aspect that it was given.’ Could Berrington in short be the first Brown landscape actually designed so that two fronts of the hall (west and south) could be seen in a single view across the lake? Whately had noticed something of the effect ten years earlier (‘buildings, in general, do not appear so large, and are not so beautiful, when looked at in front, as they are when seen from an angular station, which commands two sides at once, and throws them both into perspective’) and I raised the issue in my note 266. If not Berrington, then might the first have been his landscape at Marienwerder (Richmond), in Germany? That too presents a corner to the river – indeed this was to become a sine qua non for Brown’s successor, Humphry Repton, who had pronounced as early as 1791 that he wished ‘totally to exclude all view of [High Legh] till on quitting the wood at B it presents two fronts in the manner I have shewn by the foregoing sketch.’ However it would be somehow gladdening, in this tercentennial year, to find that Brown had got there first – and thus another puzzling thing about Berrington starts to make sense: the islands of shrubbery planted close to the house. The shrubs there now look as though they were planted in the 1920s, they replaced an earlier shrubbery, planted before 1840. Just the same sort of planting that Brown recommended in his plan for Heveningham: but why? Could it be that they were planted to break up the views out, so that each window would present a distinct scene, without interrupting the views in, which still manage to show two fronts of the house at once?

In our enthusiasm we might go on to say that Brown also anticipated Repton and Nash in building a house that was, albeit slightly, skew to the slope. An idea that they were to reintroduce at Point Pleasant in 1796 in order ‘to command the two reaches of the river from two different rooms.’ The point here, a point which Repton was to make at length, is that if you build a house at an angle to the line of the valley you will have views up and down the valley, while the awkward view directly across it runs out from the corner of the house and cannot be seen from within.