Royal Mail recently launched a Special Stamps issue to mark the 300th anniversary of the birth of Capability Brown. Design agency Silk Pearce discusses the Capability Brown project.
Lancelot 'Capability' Brown made plans for the alteration of the grounds, water and house at Highclere for Henry Herbert, later Earl of Carnarvon, in 1770.
Capability Brown visited Highclere, near Newbury, in the summer of 1770, followed by his surveyor John Spyers, who drew up a full survey of the grounds and house between 7 and 25 November. Brown made a number of plans for the house and garden, and it is thought that the plan for the park was implemented by Mr Herbert's estate staff. As the house was subsequently rebuilt, it is not known whether his ideas for the house and offices were used.
The surveys by Spyers were used by Brown to produce a number of plans, as recorded in his account book (see online). They are listed as a general plan for the alteration of the grounds at a cost of £40, a plan for the water at £10 and 'many plans for the alteration of the house and offices - at a great deal of trouble to me' at £25. In addition, the expenses for Spyers' work came to £52 and 10 shillings, including the cost of copying an old survey, bringing the total charge to £127 and 10 shillings (around £209,000 in 2015).
Brown was not responsible for implementing the plans, but there is little doubt that they were used by Mr Herbert's estate men to create the park. The house was entirely rebuilt in an Elizabethan style by Sir Charles Barry for the 3rd Earl of Carnarvon in 1839, so it is not possible to say whether Brown's plans for the house and offices were followed.
Highclere Castle today
Highclere Castle remains the home of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon and is open to the public. Both house (Historic England) and park are listed at Grade I. The popular TV series Downtown Abbey was filmed there.
Dorothy Stroud, Capability Brown, Faber & Faber, pages 159-60
Historic England: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000109
Capability Brown's account book at the RHS, page 91: https://www.rhs.org.uk/education-learning/libraries-at-rhs/collections/library-online/capability-brown-account-book
Highclere Castle: www.highclerecastle.co.uk/