Published by the Yorkshire Gardens Trust, Noble Prospects: Capability Brown & the Yorkshire Landscape tells the story of Brown’s work in Yorkshire, from his first known consultation at Harewood in 1758 to new projects at Stapleton and Byram just a few months before he died in 1783.
- Housham Hall drawing by John Booth Courtesy of North Yorkshire County Record Office (catalogue ref: ZCG M 1/6)
- Howsham Hall, photo © Simon Warner
During the 1770s Lancelot 'Capability' Brown produced a plan for redesigning the estate at Howsham for owner Nathaniel Cholmley.
There is little confirmed detail about Capability Brown’s role in the redevelopment of Howsham, near Malton, North Yorkshire during the late 18th century. It is known that he made a design, though the date is not recorded. It is likely that he influenced the decision to remove the early 18th-century formal gardens at the estate and to lay lawns and a ha-ha (sunken wall). He may also have been responsible for the network of rides to the east of the house and the ornamental buildings.
Howsham Hall (now listed Grade I) is on the south bank of the River Derwent. It formed part of the lands belonging to nearby Kirkham Abbey until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. Nathaniel Cholmley inherited the estate in 1755 and began making changes to Howsham Hall and the estate.
Cholmley consulted Brown about his changes to Howsham and paid him his standard fee of £52 and 10 shillings (equivalent to £86,000 in 2015) for providing an improvement plan, as noted in Brown's account book (see on RHS website). There is no date for the payment and Brown’s plan has not survived.
A plan of 1776 still shows the formal gardens to the east of the house, but the extensive remodelling had already begun. Houses on the western side of Howsham village were cleared, probably around 1765, and replaced by a plantation. This could mean that Brown was involved earlier than 1765, if he was responsible for the plantation. Other possible dates for his visit to Howsham are the early or late 1770s, when he was working at Scampston or at Sledmere.
By 1792 the map shows the landscape at Howsham transformed, with the formal gardens replaced by lawns and a ha-ha, to allow views into the park. There is a new entrance, close to Howsham Bridge, with a drive from the Jacobean-style lodges to the house.
Tea room and telescope
Another feature at Howsham that is likely to be Brown's is the network of rides crossing Howsham Wood, to the east of the mansion. A Gothic summer-house 'Bambro Castle House' was built there as a tea room, complete with fine china and a mahogany table. It also housed a 'large Tellescope' and was used as an observatory.
Brown may also have suggested giving the old mill by the river a Gothic look, so that it acted as an eye-catcher from the new drive to the south front of the house.
The estate remained in the ownership of the female descendants of the Bamburgh family until the middle of the 20th century. Howsham Hall is now a private home and the rest of the estate has been broken up and is in private ownership.
Information courtesy of the Yorkshire Gardens Trust and the New Arcadian Press.
For an extended and fully annotated account please see: Karen Lynch, ‘Capability Brown in Yorkshire’, in Dr Patrick Eyres (Ed), Yorkshire Capabilities: New Arcadian Journal 75/76, 2016 www.newarcadianpress.co.uk
For a lavishly illustrated account of Brown in Yorkshire please see: Karen Lynch, Noble Prospects: Capability Brown & the Yorkshire Landscape, Harrogate: Mercer Art Gallery & Yorkshire Gardens Trust, 2016 www.yorkshiregardenstrust.org.uk
Capability Brown's account book, page 134: www.rhs.org.uk/education-learning/libraries-at-rhs/collections/library-online/capability-brown-account-book
Historic England list entry: www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001427
Parks & Gardens UK: www.parksandgardens.org/places-and-people/site/1812