As part of our celebration of the tercentenary of Capability Brown, and his contribution to the development of the English countryside in general and Highclere Park in particular, we are organising a Press Day here at the Castle. This will take place on May 12th and we are working in collaboration with Visit Britain as well with some of our own press contacts.
Lancelot “Capability” Brown was born 300 years ago and during his life transformed many of the more formal English gardens and parks into an Arcadian world of expansive lawns and lakes framed by artfully grouped trees. It was about scale and grandeur as well as beauty. During our event we are aiming to explore the transformation of the landscape at Highclere and relate it to other houses and “Capability” Brown parks.
Highclere Park is quite large so I thought it would be sensible to hire a mini bus for those journalists wanting to see some of the key scenic views. The Highclere team began to discuss the details of the day and, a little nervously, the route that the bus might take. I say a little nervously because of the events of a couple of years ago. On that occasion we had hired two buses to take some guests round to see various follies. I was on the first one and my husband was on the second. On my bus I was facing the back simultaneously lecturing whilst giving directions to the driver and thus, perhaps inevitably, left and right got muddled and my bus went the wrong way. My husband, somewhat bemused, ignored us and his bus carried on to return to the Castle.
Realising my mistake, I stopped my bus and suggested we back up. Unfortunately, whilst doing so, the driver reversed over a triangle of grass and the bus got stuck – quite badly. I radioed the Castle saying we might need a farm tractor. Meanwhile I suggested that everyone got off and pushed. This may have been a slightly surprising turn of events for the guests, some of whom were not wholly suitably dressed for such activities, but everyone gamely did so. The bus was now much lighter and lo and behold, we got it off the grass. We clambered back onto the bus to continue our unexpectedly interactive bus tour. My husband stood crossly waiting for me in front of the Castle and said “I don’t believe it!” I was laughing so much I could not answer but all our guests took it in good spirits.
Unanimously, I am apparently not giving directions this time.
Capability Brown drew up three plans for Highclere in 1770. We still have one and I have written a short booklet about his life and Highclere, focusing on the map here before Brown, his map and the map after Brown.
These particular maps mark forty years in the development of Highclere’s Park and I have found the project fascinating. However, the story is not just about Brown but also about the energy and vision of the 1st Earl of Carnarvon who rode and observed with such care the land he had inherited. Therefore like many of the commissioned landscapes, Highclere was a partnership between “Capability” Brown and his client.
A short excerpt from “Capability” Brown’s obituary in 1783 says:
“where he is the happiest man he will be least remembered, so closely did he copy nature his works will be mistaken’.
Today, the Park looks utterly natural: a marvellous accolade to a great man.