Highclere has now launched into the week of special tours and lectures about the “Castle and its Setting”, highlighting the serenity and grandeur of “Capability” Brown’s landscape here. As well as our charming academic lecturers, I am also speaking each day, often with Geordie as an excellent contributing editor. In particular, his role is to talk about the lakes here, in part because he recently witnessed part of Blenheim’s restoration project rebuilding the dam on their Capability Brown lake. It was a major but essential project, lakes need dredging and the banks need securing.
Every “Brown” landscape involved a lake. At Highclere we ended up with two. An already existing one, Milford, was simply enlarged and unified. However one huge new lake, Dunsmere, was created from scratch, transforming uninspiring marshy ground into a vista where a broad, serpentine lake wound out of sight through the landscape. The Earl’s son was so excited by the idea of this project that he wrote to his father from where he was traveling in Austria jokingly hoping that the new lake would be as big as Lake Superior. Since Lake Superior is roughly the size of Austria this was a joke perhaps in more ways than he realised at the time.
Dunsmere is now a key restoration project before too much of it is lost entirely. We have cleared a small area of water which feeds into it and this has already become a source of much pleasure. A great friend of mine, Karine Hagen, gave me a canoe as a present and she and I have both paddled around trying not to be swamped by dogs. All our Labradors adore water and leap straight in, so the work at the lake has caused great excitement. These are good moments in busy lives. The canoe (pictured above) is called “Captain Percy”, named for our original Labrador dog, Percy pictured above), who is the grandfather of Karine’s beloved Finse.
“Capability” Brown was also an architect and drew up a plan for a new house at Highclere, as well as the plan for the landscape. As part of my talk, I briefly explore the layout of the Elizabethan red brick house which existed here at the time when “Capability” Brown first visited in November 1770. The layout of this house developed piecemeal around an earlier medieval collection of rooms or chambers. Great houses were usually arranged around courtyards, perhaps following the earlier Roman formula or perhaps because outer and inner courtyards helped provide protection in times of need. The model stuck and by medieval times, Highclere indeed had two such courtyards. In the middle of the complex a chapel, with chambers arranged around it for esquires, knights and lords. The rooms formed a procession and the further a guest was allowed in, the greater the esteem and his importance. Thus in a royal household you might hope to be welcomed to the inner sanctum: the cabinet or even the privy chamber… Every one, (downstairs and upstairs) ate together.
However, by the 17th century, the format of houses began to change due primarily to the Italian architect Palladio. He created imposing symmetrical houses with double height halls so that the upstairs and downstairs began to dine in separate rooms, one above the other. The eighteenth century was a time of celebration of the rational man, of symmetry and coherence and the house at Highclere would be altered as well. We do not know whether “Capability” Brown’s house at Highclere was ever built. Sadly his plans are missing and I would love to find them to see if they bear any similarity to the symmetrical Georgian House that was in fact built here 25 years after Brown’s death. I keep looking in case they turn up somewhere. In the meantime we can see his vision here in the beauty he created in the physical landscape and the joy it gives both to visitors and our Labradors.
I just love it when you share the history of Highclere.
So do I!
Lots of summergreetings from Sweden!
I think the Georgian house was beautiful… I’m assuming it was pulled down at some point and not incorporated into the castle?
It was incorporated – clad – within Charles Barry’s later house..the Saloon probably stands where the old medieval hall stood and the wall between it and the Library is very thick indeed. The Georgian House would have fitted rather than dominated the landscape which I think the current Castle does. But the landscape is hilly as well so the other adjective I would apply to the Castle is inspiring!
Another most informative writing on the history of Highclere and we can add another title to your ever expanding duties, “Lecturer”. Is the Georgian House still in use today?
Well I am just off to Connecticut to give some talks. My next job today is to prepare the presentations! I wanted to understand what amused people who have come this week in order to highlight some of it for next week..
Stunning landscape! It indeed must be a challenge to maintain such an extensive estate. My hats off to the staff who manage to keep it so prim and proper, despite the many challenges that the weather must pose.
Just beautiful! Interesting history lesson!
I love..love when you share this type of history with us. I can only imagine the work that goes into upkeep. What a wonderful job you are doing sharing and preserving history and keeping things in working order!
Your groundscrews are certainly kept busy… but the payoff is the absolutely stunning views and gorgeous specimens on your estate. I could probably spend days just wandering around in awe. I’d love to dip my kayak in the lakes there! The vistas in the pictures you shared remind me of a few lakes that I paddled in Maine.
Best to you on your projects to restore Dunsmere. And thank you for all the fascinating information in this post about the grounds and house.
I love that the dogs accompany you on your paddles, although you probably need to pack a spare set of clothes in a waterproof bag just in case the dogs take you swimming with them! 🙂
Have a wonderful weekend. Cheers from South Carolina.
A canoe on a lake…how tranquil! So interesting the history of Highclere and how similar the drawing of the Georgia mansion is to Lyme Park, in Cheshire, probably because of the Palladian influence. Recently been seeing “Pemberley” reflecting in the lake as Colin Firth goes in for a dip in “Pride and Prejudice”, (TV 1995). But how fortunate that Highclere Castle is now like the Houses of Parliament: elegant and lofty.
I love the Castle today but who does not love Pemberley and Mr Darcy?!
This week has had such good feedback that we are feeling inspired to repeat it for next year. I would like to look at Jane Austen and her landscapes on one day and perhaps Kate Felus’s theme in her book ” the Secret Life of the Georgian Landscape” (I think we should picnic in the park on that day !!!) Tim Mowl loves dandies and regency times.. it has been a really fun week.
I was under the impression that the Georgian House is in fact Highclere Castle and that its facade was later altered to match the style being used on the royale houses. Am I mistaken?
I love the pictures, the lakes are so beautiful and you and your friends and dogs are so lucky. Paddling a canoe is such great exercise and yet so relaxing. Thank you for doing a wonderful job overseeing the upkeep of the estate and sharing this with us.
The Georgian house was transformed into something far grander and more inspiring. The 3rd Earl of Carnarvon was a great traveller and like Charles Barry, the architect spent much time in Italy. This is, I think, another book!!
I had the pleasure of attending a Capability Brown tour, of the grounds and castle, on Sunday, May 15. It was so informative and interesting. It’s amazing to think of the work it took to create something wholly new and beautiful from a completely different landscape. It was a real treat to hear your lecture and have our questions answered by you and the Earl. I have no doubt that your stewardship, of this special place, will ensure its continued success for generations to come. Thank you for opening your home to us for visits!
Greetings, Lady Carnarvon! All very interesting! I was somewhat startled when I saw the reference to Lake Superior. My grandparents settled on the banks of Lake Superior (Duluth, Minnesota) after they arrived from Sweden. My grandfather built a boat and spent a lot of time on that huge, rugged and ever so feisty lake. The wind would brush across it and I can recall it whistling through the windows in their lakeside home. The Legend of the Edmund Fitzgerald was a popular song in the U.S. many years ago ( the big cargo ship that was a victim to the lake’s fury).
Dunsmere was large but not rugged!!!
Just wonderful as usual – you are an amazing historian!
What an exciting adventure…Keep searching for those plans and enjoy the hunt.
Dear Lady Carnarvon. Another wonderful and interesting post. Loving the pictures of the dogs in the lake. I think you should write a book about the history of the Castle and it’s grounds.
Yes so do I – it is just hours of a day…… but I now have a deadline to finish the current book!!!
Dear Lady Carnarvon Ooo What is the new book about and dose it have a publication date ?
What a fascinating article. Thank you.
I am in awe of those who possess the vision and creativity to conceive and design lakes – not just as part of a dam, but to be able to picture their contours well above where a valley, marsh or stream may lie. In effect they are re-creating a landscape.
In Australia, the American architect, Walter Burley Griffen, did a wonderful job with planning the layout of Australia’s Capital City, Canberra. The Canberra Valley (described as being “an amphitheatre of hills”) had its Molongo River transformed into what is now Lake Burley Griffen, the centrepiece around which the city of Canberra exists today.
It has been recorded that on his appointment, Griffen famously said:
“I have planned a city that is not like any other in the world. I have planned it not in a way that I expected any government authorities in the world would accept. I have planned an ideal city – a city that meets my ideal of the city of the future.”
Given that the design of Canberra was described as blending a composite and harmonious whole, one assumes that the landscape architects of the 20th Century, such as Griffen, were significantly inspired by the work of ‘Capability’ Brown.
The grounds at Highclere are outstanding; a visual feast and a regal setting.
It also is interesting to note that Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s first visit to Highclere occurred in the same year that the first Englishmen (James Cook & his crew) “visited” Australia.
Within each talk I have given this week, I try to remember to say that this park, with its views, hills,lake and trees was created for people to “wonder and admire”, it is about enjoying what we can simply walk through and look at.
When Frederick Law Olmsen (US Landscape architect) came to England he was looking at Brown’s landscapes, and as you say the legacy and composition for later inspiration in Australia as well. Yet Brown’s hand is least seen where it has been most successful.
Dear Lady Carvarvon, thank you once again for your history lesson on Highclere Castle. I am so glad I found your blog and look forward to each new one here in Rochester, New York. It is quite interesting to hear the narratives of every-day life at a castle and imagine myself there. Have a wonderful summer.
So the Georgian House at Highclere isn’t what exists under the modern facade at Highclere Castle today? It looks an awful lot like its foundation. Beautiful! And a canoe for a gift? How wonderful in every way!
The canoe was the sweetest thought ….
I second John J’s request for a book on the history of Highclere, authored by you. I enjoyed the history included in your books about Lady Almina and Lady Catherine, but would love to read more about the earlier history as well. I can’t wait to see the lakes and landscape myself in a few months!
Wait for the next book – photographs , archives history and weekends!!!
What gorgeous landscapes and walking paths that, to me anyway, bring relaxing thoughts after hectic days. Your photos show simple beauty, and of course how can one forget the labs! Perfect playground for dogs of that caliber.
The only thing I see missing is a ‘tower’ to your own Castle Highclere, they’re look so similar from here.
Thank you once again for bringing your home into mine, and sharing your wonderful history. Marvelous, I only wish I could see it.
Love that you named your canoe after Percy! Very fitting. Love your wit. We have a small pond on our property and our former lab would bolt out the door and straight into the water. He would wade around the bank for hours watching frogs leap off in front of him as he strolled round and round. It was so lovely to sit by the water and watch him play his game. We never had to worry about him running off and always knew where he was. His energy was amazing. They are among the best by far.
Was Capability Brown a family man?
Carol, he was indeed. He was married to Bridget and they had nine children. She clearly provided a well run family base and was also a good nurse given he suffered from asthma and was sometimes very ill.
Hope all well in with in Houston!
Thank you so very much for allowing your readers in to your beautiful home and your life. I am planning on visiting Highclere when in London. Thanks to Julian Fellows for Downton Abbey for without the series I would have never know of this “Jewel” of history! Cheers!
I agree – it has been marvellous for all of us!
I found Highclere via Downton Abbey which I loved! I’ve learned a lot about Highclere’s history from your books and your blog which is brilliant and so interesting! I will be visiting Highclere in June and I can’t wait to see it for real, I’ve been looking forward to it for months. I love hearing what the dogs have been up to and I’m hoping to catch a glimpse of them during my visit!
I absolutely loved meting you and attending the first day of your Capability Brown tour on Sunday May 15th, 2016. I have brought back many pictures, stories and souvenirs for friends and family here in Pasadena, California. What a wonderful experience! Highly recommended!
Thank you – the week seemed a great success and we all enjoyed taking all our guests through the different aspects of the day. I am going to keep the same week in the diary for 2017 but change the subjects. We might do one day for Capability Brown, another day for Jane Austen and her landscapes, and so on. Please do let your friends know and if any of them are travelling in September – the “Garden party” . Come back!
My husband and I visited Highclere in May 2015. We enjoyed every moment we spent there and explored the beautiful grounds surrounding your home. We actually saw you drive up and come inside the house… that’s when it really hit me that Highclere is a real home, to a real family! How truly blessed you are to live there and we are blessed that you share it with us. I do not remember seeing the lakes you talk about in your post. They must be lovely and I’m sorry we missed them. I guess we’ll have to come back again! Thank you again, for opening your home to the world!
Hello again Lady Carnavon, you have a talent for writing interesting blog posts. Every one has something to catch our attention, explain something we have wondered about, or beautiful photos to show your home, the grounds, dogs & horses, and now a canoe named Captain Percy. Thank you.
Thank you – I feel very blessed but hope never to take it for granted.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
I enjoyed reading your previous books about Lady Almina and Lady Catherine immensely. I am excited to find out that you have been working on another one. Please, do give us a hint what it is going to be about.
Warm greetings from Poland!
My friend and I visited Highclere for the Capability Brown event on May 18th and we both thoroughly enjoyed your lecture and not only the beauty of your home but the amazing history as well. The rain dampened the garden tour but I loved seeing the Egyptian exhibit especially after having previously lived in Egypt for twenty plus years. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and history of the estate and park as well as your love and respect for what it was and is.
Another AMAZING story/history on HIGHCLERE CASTLE.I love it❤️✌️✌