One is never entirely alone in the metropolis that is Harrogate. True it is Yorkshire, but this is not the Yorkshire we are familiar with, a place of crags and craggy visages, of whinstone and wind-swept moors, here the cream of society meets at Betty’s and barely a seat to be had, even on a Wednesday. Indeed it was a mercy to find myself at the Mercer Gallery briefly attended only by my good friends Ms K of Leeds and Mrs L of Ilkley, some sixty enthusiasts who had come to admire its multi-media homage to the great designer and man of parts, Capability Brown, having just departed.
Brown had a nose for the new and was nowhere near neutralised at his death. Thus was I able to watch uninterrupted Simon Warner’s video – and thus was I drawn again, much as a luckless minnow might be drawn into the dark caves of the hermit crab, towards the mysteries of Whitley Beaumont. Mr W had taken his camera as far as he could down the sunken drives that run through the woods, and I confess that they surprised me. Like the cut that carries the drive south of the Lion Bridge at Burghley, the cut that carries the principal approach from Higher Lodge at Milton Abbey – and those other cuts through the woodland there, the one on the west side of the walled garden for example – when one thinks of a series of similar features that crop up on several of the landscapes attributed to Brown – and I cannot help it, my imagination carries me on to the sunk drives at Appuldurcombe and Ickworth, and that long sunk drive to the Lime Kiln at Moccas – well when one thinks of these one cannot help but wonder if they are a trick of Brown’s later work. They are of course so unlike him – often straight and seldom following the contour.
I and my colleagues at the Tatler’s Waste-bin would never want to deny the great Brown any of the devices and tricks of the professional place-maker, but I must confess, such a digging, and such an abandoning of the topography and contour comes hard.
When you go to the Mercer Gallery, as go you must, be sure to watch the video. The Brown Advisor will always be pleased to hear of further examples of such drives and approaches, cut deep into the slope. Mr W may after all be right to think of them as Brown’s.