2016 - a year of "Great Capabilites"

29.12.2016 | category: General
Scampston in Sunshine. Winning entry in our #CapabilityColours photography competition by Sue Butler of SJ Butler Photography
Scampston in Sunshine. Winning entry in our #CapabilityColours photography competition by Sue Butler of SJ Butler Photography

2016 has been a year of tercentenary celebrations for Capability Brown, with nearly 500 events and over 60 exhibitions celebrating his work and historic landscapes, not to mention well over 1600 pieces of media coverage. The Capability Brown Festival team have spent a little time looking back over 2016 and have picked out some of our favourite news stories to revisit.

The only known Capability Brown Account Book, owned by RHS Lindley Library, was put on public display for the very first time in September. The book has also been digitised and can explored online. The research into the Account Book shows that ‘Capability’ Brown earned the modern equivalent of £508.7 million between 1751-1783, and also gives glimpses of the man himself, including a spat with a Mr. Dickens who would not pay his bill.

The Royal Mail issued a series of commemorative stamps in August, the month of Brown’s baptism. The Capability Brown landscapes of Blenheim Palace, Longleat, Compton Verney, Highclere Castle, Alnwick Castle, Berrington Hall, Stowe and Croome Park feature on the stamps.

Brown’s baptism on 30th August was celebrated in style with services of commemoration at his birthplace Kirkharle and burial place at Fenstanton. We couldn’t let the 272 anniversary of Mr Brown’s wedding to Bridget Wayet at St Mary’s Church at Stowe on the 22nd November go without marking the occasion, and linking with ExploreChurches to highlight other churches connected with him.

We have travelled the country in search of Mr. Brown, not on horseback or carriage, but often by public transport. Visits to Scampston and Chatsworth (both members of the Historic Houses Association) were enhanced by the journeys there and we commissioned Mr Brown's Green Directions to encourage other Brown sites to consider different ways for visitors to reach the landscapes. National Trust Croome developed Potter and Ponder, an innovative trail around their Capability Brown landscape aimed helping families with children with severe disabilities access and enjoy the landscape too. It also works really well as a guide to stopping and appreciating the landscape anew with all your senses and can be downloaded here.

Visit England declared 2016 the Year of the English Garden and persuaded Prince Charles to speak about Brown’s landscapes of ‘incomparable beauty’. Compton Verney lit up their Capability Brown landscape, Weston Park in Shropshire turned their annual Granary Art Gallery programme over to exploring aspects of Capability Brown and the Northamptonshire Gardens Trust worked with Castle Ashby to help local groups explore the landscape, using our Schools Education Pack. The Embroiderers' Guild put on 46 exhibitions across the country with Brown as their inspiration. One of the more unexpected celebrations was the decoration of a cow statue with a Capability Brown landscape, by artist Emily Ketteringham, for Surrey’s fundraisings Cow Parade auction. The cow was christened Claremoo after her summer home at National Trust Claremont. The Gardens Trust, many County Gardens Trusts and NADFAS have run a host of events, alongside Heritage Open Days and individual Brown sites.

Of course, in December we couldn’t resist the tale of Mr. Brown and the turkeys of Hampton Court Palace, but we also suggest some opportunities to go out and explore a Capability Brown landscape and wear off any overconsumption of the bird in question over the New Year break. Perhaps persuading our colleague Lauren to run a Tough Mudder assault course at Belvoir was a little extreme. Throughout the year we have eaten Capabili-Teas, held a birthday cake competition and National Trust Wimpole, in Cambridgeshire, took celebration in culinary form one step further, creating a giant cake replica of their house and landscape. Whilst Brown is known to have taken the odd glass of Tokay, Burton Constable toasted his birthday in many ways, including commissioning an Incapability Brown Ale in honour of “Mr Brown’s Directions” to build a brew house there alongside his work on the landscape.

More seriously, we looked at some of the human cost underlying the generation of income for the people who commissioned Brown, as the sugar and slave trade triangle grew.  Brown’s commissions were complicated, requiring skilled draughtsmen such as John Spyers, and numerous foremen oversee large workforces for years at a time. His work also benefited local suppliers, such as Mrs Wood the Wheeler, who provided 22 wheelbarrows for Syon during Brown’s contract there.

Historic England have developed a wonderful map with aerial images of Brown landscapes from above to aid future research, and have added a number of landscapes and buildings to the National Heritage List for England. A large number of books have been published this year, and this will continue into 2017 as information researched and collated in 2016 is added behind the pins on our interactive map of Capability Brown sites to form an accessible legacy of the tercentenary festival. There are plans to fundraise for and restore the Brown family memorial in St Peter and St Paul's in Fenstanton. Celebration and appreciation of Capability Brown’s life and work will not end with 2016.

The Capability Brown Festival team would like to thank all our Festival partners, volunteers and our funders Heritage Lottery Fund, who have contributed so much to the Festival this year. We couldn't have done it without you!

About the Author: Ceryl Evans, Director, Capability Brown Festival