- Sketch of Boarstall Tower, Buckinghamshire © Centre for Buckingham Studies (ref. D 22/21/8)
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown visited Boarstall around 1769 and advised the Aubrey family about changes to the gardens surrounding the medieval tower and manor house.
The Aubrey family acquired the estate at Boarstall, near Aylesbury in 1691. Brown visited twice, possibly around 1769 when Sir John Aubrey was moving into the house. At that time there were formal gardens and an enclosed courtyard around the 14th-century tower and moat. No obvious changes were made to the landscape after Brown’s visits and his fee was relatively small. It is likely that he just gave advice to Sir John rather than proposing any major changes to the gardens.
Brown’s accounts show that he made two visits to Boarstall and charged Sir John 15 guineas (£15 15 shillings; £26,520 in 2015). This was not a large enough sum to cover the cost of a survey. It’s likely that Brown just gave advice on his visits – possibly about tree planting. The dates of the visits are not known but they are thought to have been in 1769, around the time that Sir Thomas Aubrey was moving out of Boarstall so that his son, John, the 6th Baronet, could move in.
A group of three mature sweet chestnut trees stands on a bank 60 metres south-east of the tower. The largest of these measures 4.8 metres in girth and may have been planted as a result of Brown’s advice. It is known that there were elms and a large beech tree on this site near the tower, which may also have dated from Brown’s time. These are no longer standing.
An engraving of Boarstall from 1695 and a plan of 1697 show what the estate would have looked like when Brown visited. There were formal gardens beyond the west and north arms of the moat and to the north and south of St James’s church. An avenue of trees lay directly north of the tower.
Brown’s involvement at Boarstall is unlikely to have continued after 1777 because Sir Thomas ordered the house to be pulled down following the sudden death of his six-year-old grandson. Sir John and his wife moved to Dorton and the gardens at Boarstall were abandoned, so Brown’s advice would not have been needed.
Boarstall Tower today
The last surviving member of the Aubrey family died in 1901. The tower had been left empty for years and the garden was used for pasture. In 1925 Mrs Bertha Jennings-Bramley leased the tower at Boarstall and turned it into a house. Boarstall then became a popular venue for parties and musical events, with actors Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh among the guests.
In 1941 Ernest Cook bought the tower and moated area and two years later he gave them to the National Trust. The tower is now listed Grade I (Historic England) and was restored in 1998. The site remains in divided ownership.
Buckinghamshire Gardens Trust: www.bucksgardenstrust.org.uk
Historic England: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000581
National Trust: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/boarstall-tower