In the 1760s Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown drew up plans for the park at Adderbury for the Duchess of Argyll.
In the early 1760s Capability Brown was asked to make a design for the park and gardens at Adderbury, near Banbury, Oxfordshire. His client was probably the widowed Duchess of Argyll. Brown’s design apparently included “a fine serpentine stream”, but this probably wasn’t done until Henry Scott, 3rd Duke of Buccleuch, inherited Adderbury in 1767 and began improving the estate. By the mid-1770s the estate was enclosed by belts of evergreen and forest trees, perhaps reflecting Brown’s influence.
Brown made an undated note in his account book (see online) of a journey to Adderbury and preparation of a plan 'for alteration of the Park and Gardens', for which he charged £42 (£61,000 in 2015). This sum is shown as finally having been paid to his executors on 15 May 1785.
Brown’s plans for the park at Adderbury are thought to date from the early 1760s. Though the park had been enlarged in the 1730s it is likely that the layout was still formal. A map of 1735 appears to show a water feature with a nearby summerhouse and an avenue of trees running from the back of the house.
Brown’s scheme probably included remodelling the existing lake to make it look more natural and like a river, as was his style. He may also have made suggestions for planting around the lake and in the wider park.
Although Brown’s drew up plans for the Duchess of Argyll, they were not implemented, and it was probably the 3rd Duke of Buccleuch who improved Adderbury, after he inherited the estate in 1767. The duke employed architect Sir William Chambers to remodel the house in the Palladian style. He may have taken up Brown’s ideas at that time because the park was extended again and up to 90 cottages were pulled down.
When Adderbury was sold in 1774 the grounds included 90 hectares (224 acres) of flower gardens and parkland, enclosed by belts of evergreens and forest trees. There was also said to be “a fine serpentine stream of water in full view of the house”. It is not clear how much of this was part of Brown’s design for the park.
Adderbury after Brown
In the mid 1850s owner William Hunt Chamberlin altered the lake area and turned it into pleasure grounds with ornamental buildings and planting.
In the early 20th century the estate was sold several times. After the Second World War Oxfordshire County Council converted the house into an old people’s home. In 1992 Adderbury House was sold to private owners. The house is now listed Grade II (Historic England) and there is no public access to it or to the gardens. The gardens are now mainly grass with a few large mature trees – possibly survivors of Brown’s era.
The parkland surrounding the lakes is separate from the rest of the estate and is managed by Adderbury Lakes Nature Reserve. There are two lakes at Adderbury, an upper and a lower lake, linked by a cascade under a wooden bridge. The many trees in this area include ash, beech, oak, sycamore and yew. The oldest and largest tree in this part of the estate is an oriental plane that is thought to date from around 1810.
Within this area there is an ice-house (built around 1816), a modern boathouse and a summerhouse. This area is open to the public and has many trees and plants that may show the influence of Brown’s 18th century planting.
Information courtesy of Oxfordshire Gardens Trust: ogt.org.uk
Capability Brown's account book on the RHS website, page 118: www.rhs.org.uk/education-learning/libraries-at-rhs/collections/library-online/capability-brown-account-book
Dorothy Stroud, Capability Brown, Faber & Faber, 1975, page 214