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.
Here, to follow the accounts of natural cascades, are some stepped cascades, cascades, recorded in Capability Brown’s day and in places that have been attributed to him. One might conclude that steps were not a preferred solution, because so evidently artificial, nonetheless Brown does appear to have used them.
The following notes summarise Dr. Judith Roberts’ description of John Grundy’s repairs to the Grimsthorpe cascade in 1774: The damage resulting from erosion caused by the falls being too steep and the cascade too narrow; the solution was to rebuild the cascade wider (from 10 feet to 20 feet). In addition `The stonework of the cascade was lifted and an impermeable bed of clay 3 feet thick laid across its extended width. The clay was in turn protected by stones set on edge and filled or pointed with quick lime grout; larger, flat stones came next, pointed in the same way and finally a course of the largest stones set in strong mortar and `well bedded and jointed’ creating a stone skin roughly 2 feet thick over the clay. …As a further precautionary measure, he added side walls to the cascade 12-14 inches thick and covered with sods 4 inches thick to confine the water and prevent it overflowing and wearing away the earth at the sides of the cascades’. The steps of the cascade were not to exceed 1 foot in height.
William Shenstone: `That side ought apparently either to have been coverd with water, at any given expence, for near an 100 yards lower; or it ought to have been thrown into a broad serpentine river, the fens drein’d; & the ground slop’d down to it, from about the Present hahah. The stream is sufficient for any sort of purpose. The Cascades might have been display’d, or the stoppages where they were, conceal’d wth aquatick Plants, as had been thought most agreeable; & I think, by proper management, the expence of either of these Schemes might have been less than the Present.’
Collinson `As you cross the bridge, you look to the right on a very beautiful cascade, which makes five or six slight falls over a moss and ivy bank, under a dark shade of wood.’
Latimer, Roche Abbey
`The adverse shore a Tuscan collonade
Superbly bounds, beneath whose marble floor
The glassy wave escapes with liquid lapse
Smooth sliding; but anon precipitant
Roars o’er the rough cascade with dashing sound,
And rushes into Trent. Recoiling Trent
Shrinks from the mighty tribute. But too long
The pompous works of art engross the strain
Intimate & lifeless, while with life’
Anon: `Below this Piece of Water, on the left hand is another of a Long Irregular Form, Containing about Ten acres of Water, and is fed from the Bason above, from whence also is form’d a Cascade which running under the Ground falls down into this Pond through several artificial Craggs and Rocks, plentifully enough for about 2 hours, if required, but for want of a more Vigorous Stream of Water above is at an End till the Reservoir is again replenish’d.’
Daniel Defoe and Samuel Richardson: `…we came to the Cold-bath, from whence we beheld a natural Cascade falling down from the before-mentioned Octagon, in Three different Sheets of Water, into a large Lake. One of the Sheets glides thro’ an Arch, or Piece of Ruin, which is mostly hid by a Clump of Ever-greens; but his Lordship, as we are told, designs to make a good deal of Amendment to it, tho’ at present it has a very natural and agreeable Appearance.’
Anon: `…The water in the Octagon is 8 or 9 Foot Deep above the Lake leading to Venus. It falls in 3 Sheets down severall Steps, upon which are scattered Pebbles and Stones diverting and retarding the Current and entertaining both the Eyes and Ears; the Slope all about is planted with Shrubs, Greens and Flowers and among them are plac’d Statues of Satyrs, a Venus etc. Over the midle Cascade, is an open Arch representing a piece of Ruin and on each side the Arch a Nich in some measure shaded with Shrubs; here repose a Couple of River Gods on their Urns and out of them seem to Pour the Water down the Steps..’
Jemima, Lady Grey: `..on the Left of the Bason there is a Lake of Nine or Ten Acres which is handsome; at the End is a Piece of Rockwork that turns into a Cascade when you bid it, and by it a bad-dish Sort of Hermitage…’
Philip Yorke: ‘There is … a perpetual cascade in the garden tumbling down 7 or 8 steps, and another handsome water in the park.’
John Byng `the made water above the house, is of a bad fashion, and intention; and about, and near the house it runs in ditches, and canals, except where forming a paltry, (play house) cascade in front of the south aspect.’
Humphry Repton: `Few people have seen the formal cascade at Thoresby in front of the house … without wishing to retain a feature, which would be one of the most interesting scenes in nature, if it could be divested of its disgusting and artificial formality … where a great body of water [is] led underground from the lake to move down stairs, into a scalloped basin, between two bridges immediately in front of the house.
I am particularly flattered in having given it as my opinion that the Lake should fall over a Cascade at the farthest corner from the house, before I knew that my great predecessor Mr. Brown had given a plan upon the same idea……there should be a second fall of water below the principal cascade, which may be easily effected by a few broad flat stones in such a way as to make the whole work appear the natural rocky bed of a mountain stream…… introduce a foundation of stones which are not natives of the soil…… as the velocity of the current will soon delve itself a bed too deep below the surface of the Lawn, it will be necessary at certain places to counteract this inconvenience by making an artificial bottom which may easily be done with large fragments of stone and these should be so dextrously disposed that the same illusion which I have recommended at the Cascade be in some measure continued from time to time thro’ the whole progress of the stream, and the fall which is not less than eight feet from the surface of the bason will allow such a rapid motion to this body of water as will conceal every artifice used in the management of the bottom and give continual life and glitter to this interesting rivulet…. I have supposed such a mass of wood at the corner of the Lake as will be necessary to embosom the top of the Cascade and form a rich background to it in the view from the house.’
Mr C of Dagenham, a formidable scholar of the old school, has asked me why anyone should regard the landscape at Shugborough as anything like Brown’s work.
I am delighted to hear once again from C. de Laune Faunce-de Laune, so much missed since his last essay into print, ‘On laying down land to Permanent Grass’ (Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society, 2nd series, Vol.XVIII pp.230-264), was published in 1882.