- Ashburnham Park in 1874 Courtesy of http://www.landedfamilies.blogspot.co.uk
- Ashburnham Place on the Ordnance Survey 6" map surveyed in 1873-74, Courtesy of www.landedfamilies.blogspot.co.uk
In one of his major commissions, Lancelot 'Capability' Brown designed a new park for Ashburnham Place for the 2nd Earl of Ashburnham.
Brown’s masterplan of around 1767, A Plan for the intended Alterations of Ashburnham in Sussex the Seat of The Earl of Ashburnham, sets out the broad scheme. It proposes new areas of parkland to the north and south of the house, a chain of three lakes, a bridge, walled garden and drives. The estate lies in the Vale of Ashburnham, near Battle, East Sussex and then extended to around 3,237 hectares (8,000 acres) of which 90 hectares (220 acres) were gardens and pleasure grounds.
The exact dates of Brown’s work at Ashburnham are not entirely clear. The first payment from the earl was in 1767, so some work had already been done by then. The account was fully settled in 1773. A new account was then opened in 1774, with a final payment recorded in 1781. Brown was paid a total of £7,296 and 1 shilling (more than £10.5 million in 2015; see Brown's account book online). That figure is for direct payments to Brown and does not include bills from others working on the scheme, who were paid direct by the earl. Foreman Jonathan Midgley, working independently, was paid more than £8,600 by the earl (nearly £12.5 million in 2015) between 1776 and 1781
Chain of lakes
A major element of Brown’s design was his work on the lakes. The existing Mill Pond and Old Pond were dammed and enlarged to create Broad Water. Front Water, which had previously been a canal to the south-east of the house, was also expanded. Evidence suggests that he also enlarged the Reservoir Pond, which lay to the north-east.
A note on Brown’s plan proposes to “alter the water and take away the garter”. This refers to the existing bridge over a narrow stretch of water between Front Water and Broad Water. Though part of the work on the lakes took place immediately, the final design was not finished until 1797, when a map shows the west end of Broad Water had finally been formed.
He designed a timber bridge at the crossing point between the two lakes, which was built. There is a separate drawing of his proposed three-arch stone bridge for this site. This was never built, but architect George Dance (1741-1825, Wikipedia) did build one in around 1813 and this is now listed grade II.
Parkland and drives
In 1766 the main drives at Ashburnham were north of the house, with a link into the park. Brown’s plan included a network of drives across the estate, which brought in sections of the public road around the western and southern boundaries. One element that was not built was his plan for a dramatic new serpentine approach to the house. This would have kept the building hidden from view until the drive reached the crossing between the lakes. The eventual late 18th century route chosen for the main drive to the house from the public road crossed Broad Water on Brown’s timber bridge; the present day route is likely to have been laid out in association with Dance’s new stone bridge across Front water.
Evidence suggests that Brown created the open woodland in the area later called The Grove. This is shown on his plan as a wide stretch of open woodland marked with tree symbols – both single and in clumps. He is likely to have both planted and cleared trees across the whole estate, including in Burrage Wood, which had already been laid out with formal rides in the early 18th century.
Buildings and walled garden
Also part of Brown’s masterplan was the large walled garden, measuring around 165 metres by 78 metres. Surrounded by a high brick wall and lined by a shrubbery walk on its south side, it was sited to the west of the stable block and completed by 1783.
Brown’s masterplan for Ashburnham included a 'Temple' and 'Gothic building' and he made separate drawings of ornamental bridges, a gateway and offices. Analysis of Brown’s drawing and the structure itself indicates that the current Orangery is not the 'Greenhouse' shown in Brown drawing, but is a later addition, possibly part of Dance’s work. There may have been a Brown building on or near the site of the current Temple though.
Map evidence shows that Brown’s design for the pleasure grounds was largely carried out, though much of it after his death. The pleasure grounds were shown on his 1767 plan, framing the house and walled garden and stretching south and south-east to the lakes.
Ashburnham is considered one of the best examples of a Brown landscape, but there were further changes under the 3rd and 4th earls during the 19th century. These included architectural work to the house and outbuildings by Dance, the enlargement of the pleasure grounds and more tree planting and 'filling in' of the open woodland.
The estate suffered neglect in the early 20th century and, as a result, much of the house had to be pulled down. In 1960 the house and 90 hectares of gardens and pleasure grounds were given to the Ashburnham Christian Trust, which runs a Christian conference centre there. The rest of the parkland has been returned to farmland. The park at Ashburnham Place is listed Grade II*.
Biodiversity at Ashburnham
At Ashburnham the parkland features support a variety of habitats including wood pasture and parkland, ancient woodland, deciduous woodland, broadleaved woodland and habitats associated with the large lake and ponds. Within the site Ashburnham Park Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) includes the parkland with very mature trees, areas of ancient semi-natural oak and beech woodland on an acid soil providing habitat for rare lichens and invertebrates. A wide range of woodland birds breed in the SSSI including all three species of woodpecker. The lake supports the rare red pondweed and is fringed by common reed and bullrush.
For more information about habitats and species supported by Brown landscapes please visit the Brown and Biodiveristy page.
For more information about Ashburnham Park SSSI please go to https://necmsi.esdm.co.uk/PDFsForWeb/Citation/1001964.pdf
Information courtesy of Sussex Gardens Trust: Virginia Hinze, 'Lancelot 'Capability' Brown and the Ashburnham Landscape' in Susi Batty (ed), Capability Brown in Sussex, 2016 www.sussexgardenstrust.org.uk/
Sarah Rutherford, ‘Capability Brown and His Landscape Gardens’, National Trust Books, 2016, pages 161 & 168
Capability Brown's account book, page 61: www.rhs.org.uk/education-learning/libraries-at-rhs/collections/library-online/capability-brown-account-book
Historic England: www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/100014