- Brightling Observatory seen from Rosehill Park. Drawn by JMW Turner, engraved by W B Cooke 1819 © Tate, London 2014 (ref: T06003) Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)
Lancelot 'Capability' Brown made a plan for improvements at Brightling Park, near Robertsbridge, East Sussex, for the Fuller family.
Little is known about when Capability Brown’s plan for Brightling Park was made or how much of it was carried out. What is known comes from later comments by landscape designer Humphry Repton (1752-1818, Wikipedia), who worked there in the early 19th century. Brown’s proposals appear to have included moving the entrance to the house and improving the views to the south-west by removing trees. Brightling Park is a 212-hectare (around 520 acres) estate that was laid out as a deer park in the 1740s. From the early 1700s the property was known as Rose Hill or Rosehill.
Repton on Brown
In 1806 owner John Fuller III called in Repton to produce a Red Book (Wikipedia) for Brightling Park. In his introduction, dated June 1806, Repton suggested that Brown’s earlier plan did not seem to have been fully understood by those who wanted to carry it out. Though emphasising his respect for Brown, Repton claimed, “I think he had mistaken the treatment of Rose hill by not sufficiently consulting the comfort of habitation rather than the advantages of beauty in the situation.”
Repton thought that the house at Brightling was already too much exposed to the weather because of its position. He disagreed with Brown’s plan to make improved views a priority: “I must deliver as my opinion, either that the mansion should be removed to a more sheltered spot, or that the present spot be retained without increasing its exposure, but rather by providing addition shelter, either from Art or Nature.”
John Fuller II, who owned Brightling from 1745-55, was active in extending his house and estate, creating a deer park. In 1747 he constructed a chain of five ponds, divided by a large dam running down the centre of the park. It is thought that these improvements date from before Brown came to the estate, although they fit with his style of landscaping.
When John died his brother, Rose Fuller, took over the estate. Though he too improved the property there is no evidence of professional links with Brown. However, his sister Frances did marry Lancelot Brown Junior in 1784.
The estate remained in the Fuller family until 1834, when it was sold to the Tew family. In 1955 it was sold again and the house was partially demolished. The gardens are listed Grade II and remain in private ownership. They contain a number of follies built by architect Robert Smirke (1780-1867, Wikipedia) in the early 19th century.
Information courtesy of Sussex Gardens Trust, Alan and Jennie Starr, 'Brightling Park' in Susi Batty (ed), Capability Brown in Sussex, 2016 www.sussexgardenstrust.org.uk
Historic England: www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001261