During the 1760s Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown modernised the gardens and park at Aynho and built a ha-ha for owner William Cartwright.
In 1760 Capability Brown made a survey and plan for the estate at Aynho (also spelled Aynhoe), which lies about 10 kilometres (6 miles) south-east of Banbury. His scheme for owner William Cartwright removed many of the formal elements surrounding the house, which had been laid out in the early 18th century. He introduced informal walks in the pleasure grounds, built a ha-ha (sunken wall and ditch) and thinned out the formal avenues of elms in the parkland. A planned extension to the park was not done until the 1790s. An undated and unsigned plan, thought to be by Brown, shows that he also planned a lake in the park, but nothing more is known about this.
The accounts for Aynho show that Brown was paid £26 and 5 shillings (£44,400 in 2015) on 31 December 1760 for his plan. The estate accounts for 1761 show that Brown was paid £660 (more than £1.1 million in 2015) for clumping trees and work on the ha-ha. His own accounts at Drummond’s Bank record payment of £480 (about £830,000 in 2015) between March 1762 and July 1763.
There is plan of Aynho in the Cartwright archives that may be Brown’s 1760 design for the estate, but it is not signed or dated.
Informal pleasure grounds
William Cartwright wanted Brown to update the look of his gardens and park. A map of Aynho from 1758 shows there were formal gardens across the south front, with walled terraces, fountains and groves. Brown levelled the terraces and removed many of these features, including a long rectangular pond, running east to west between the gardens and parkland.
He filled in the canal to create a gently sloping lawn, planting trees and perhaps thinning out the existing groves. A curving ha-ha was built to surround these new pleasure gardens and separate them from the parkland.
The 1758 map shows that the main feature of the parkland before Brown was a huge double avenue of elms, running southwards across the valley of Ockley Brook. Brown’s design took away most of these straight rows, but left some clumps. He also planted circular clumps and specimen trees.
Belts of trees were also planted around the boundary of the park, and there a new circuit drive for carriages was proposed.
Not all the elements of Brown’s scheme for Aynho were carried out. Though he planned to extend the park eastwards, as far as what is now the Bicester road, the work was not done until the 1790s. It’s not clear whether any attempt was made to form a large lake in the valley, as Brown had suggested.
The Cartwright family sold most of the estate in the 1940 and the rest in 1959. The Country Houses Association bought the house in 1960 and it was converted into flats. Since 2003 the new owner has been restoring the Grade I-listed building, which can be hired for short stays, weddings and corporate events.
The parkland at Aynho is in divided ownership and much of it is now farmland, but a few of Brown’s specimen trees have survived, including a cedar of Lebanon. Part of the ha-ha can also be seen.
Northamptonshire Gardens Trust: http://northamptonshiregardenstrust.org/
Aynhoe Park: aynhoepark.co.uk/
Historic England: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001025