Burton Pynsent has landscaped pleasure grounds and a park of around 98 hectares. It was laid out mainly around 1765 by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown with politician and former Prime Minister, William Pitt the Elder.
Pitt originally met Brown at Stowe in Buckinghamshire, where the owner, Lord Cobham hosted his extended family and all the influential all Whig politicians of the age. Brown made a lot of useful contacts in his role as head gardener at Stowe in 1740-50s.
Burton Pynsent in Somerset was left to the politician William Pitt by Sir William Pynsent. Pynsent’s only son had died in 1754, and Sir William developed an interest in politics later in life. Disillusioned by Pitt’s dismissal from government, and angered by Lord Bute's 1763 proposal for a tax on Somerset cider supported by Lord North, husband of his expected heiress, Sir William made a new will in 1764 bequeathing the estate to Pitt. Pynsent died aged 90 in 1765, and despite challenges to the will mounted by relations (left 1,000 guineas each - equivalent of c. £3.5 milliion in 2015), which continued until 1771, Pitt immediately travelled to inspect the estate, writing to his wife that 'I propose to pass the rest of my days [there] if I find the place tolerable'.
Political commitments prevented Pitt, who was created Earl of Chatham in 1766, from taking up residence until 1767, but as early as September 1765 he had commissioned Capability Brown to design a column commemorating Sir William Pynsent's benefaction. The Pynsent Column was built by Philip Pear, a builder from Curry Rivel, at a cost of £2,000 (£3.2 million in 2015), and was also completed in late 1767.
Brown wrote to Lady Chatham on September 10th 1767 “Pardon my Zeal! Pardon my Vanity, but I wish above all things to know [how] my Lord does, and how the Pillar pleases his Lordship”. No reply survives but His Lordship is know to have been pleased.
Brown also appears to have advised on the formation of the park landscape, and may have been responsible for the design of a new wing which Pitt constructed at the eastern end of the existing house in 1765-7. Lord Chatham directed much of the improvements including extensive tree-planting including more exotic subjects and large numbers of cedars, many being supplied by London nurserymen including John Broderick; while Captain Samuel Hood sent black spruce from Nova Scotia. After Pitt's death his widow, Lady Chatham, and his granddaughter, Lady Hester Stanhope (1776-1839) lived at Burton until Lady Chatham’s death in 1803.
The estate was offered for sale in lots in 1805, the house and park being sold to a speculator for £8,810. It was immediately re-sold to Colonel Pinney who demolished all but the mid Eighteenth Century wing of the house.
The Pynsent Column had been purchased by Dr Woodford of Taunton, Lord Chatham's doctor, to prevent its destruction, and was subsequently conveyed to Colonel Pinney. The estate was owned by a series of non-resident proprietors in the nineteenth century, finally being sold in 1909 to Mrs Crossley, a relation by marriage of Harold Peto (1854-1933). Peto was commissioned to lay out formal gardens to the east and west of the Eighteenth Century house.
Burton Pynsent remained the property of Mrs Crossley's descendants until being sold in the late Twentieth Century. It remains in private ownership.