Ingress Abbey

Greenhithe, Kent
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Overview

Between 1763 and 1772 Lancelot 'Capability' Brown created new views in the park at Ingress for owner John Calcraft.

Ingress lies on the south bank of the River Thames, east of Greenhithe near Dartford, Kent. The site slopes from the river in the north to the former London Road in the south. Brown worked for John Calcraft between 1763 and 1772, though there are no plans or details of their contract. His main contribution was introducing new, informal planting between the house and the river, which created attractive vistas, and replacing the formal gardens to the south of the house with lawns. He also built a new kitchen garden, designed for exotic fruits.

Brown and his rival

There are no details of the contract between John Calcraft and Brown. He was paid £500 (around £870,000 in 2015) in 1763-64 and another £500 (£803,000 in 2015) in 1771. Brown was also working on Calcraft’s estate at Leeds Abbey (Leeds Abbey) during this period. At that time, architect and landscaper Sir William Chambers (1723-96, Wikipedia), who was a rival of Brown, was remodelling the house at Ingress. Chambers had designed a number of features in the park in the 1750s, including a Chinese pagoda called the Eagle’s Nest and a Doric temple now at Cobham.

It is thought that improvements to the west of the house were done by Chambers for the previous owner, Lord Bessborough, with the rest done by Brown for Calcraft. Writer Thomas Fisher (1772-1836) observed that Calcraft had “removed a great bank of earth on the south side and by this means made it more airy and cheerful”.

Framing the views

The Andrews, Dury and Herbert map of 1769 (see online) appears to show the landscape at Ingress as it had been laid out under Lord Bessborough. By the time of the 1799 Ordnance Survey map and a drawing of 1812, Brown’s landscape would have had a chance to mature.

By 1799 the formal straight lines of the avenues had been removed. Brown replaced these with clumps of trees between the house and the river, creating vistas towards the coast of Essex. He was able to frame the view of the river and also create a reverse view back towards the house.

Brown kept the trees to the west of the house and added a sinuous line of them running eastwards. This had the effect of showing off the new façade of the house, designed by Chambers, and masking the outbuildings behind a fringe of trees. Brown is likely to have kept some of the existing mature trees, when he removed the formal avenue, to create his clumps. His new planting also helped to screen off the working quarry that lay to the east of the house.

Calcraft extended his estate eastwards towards Northfleet, buying up arable and marshland. It is thought that Brown later planted a broad stand of trees and a clump in this area, on rising ground known as the Downs. These 'hangers' (woods on the side of a steep hill) would have been seen from the house and park, providing a perspective to the view.

Path and kitchen garden

The 1799 Ordnance Survey map shows a perimeter pathway running south on a ridge of land just to the east of the avenue, giving views across the Dell and probably to the Doric temple there, known as the Mausoleum. The path continued southwards, along the cliff top beside the London Road.

In 1998 the remains of trunks of holm oaks – one of Brown’s favourite trees – were found in this area, as well as a viewing platform allowing walkers to see the dell, house and river.

A major feature of Brown’s work at Ingress was the new kitchen garden. Comparing the 1769 map with the 1799 Ordnance Survey drawing shows this new garden laid out along the south-east side of the modern Knockhall Road. The garden is screened by a belt of shrubs and trees.

The drawing shows that kitchen garden was positioned to receive maximum sun. It is similar in layout and design to the one Brown built at Ashburnham Place in Sussex. Brown knew that his clients wanted to grow exotic fruit and vegetables and took this into account. His rival Chambers dismissed this as the "culture of salads".

A sales description for the property of 1790 gives details of Brown’s garden, with “walls near 14 feet high part of Each have Flues and richly Cloathed with the Choisest of ffruit Trees”.

Ingress after Brown

The landscape around Ingress has undergone many changes since Brown’s time. Only the river and the chalk cliffs have remained constant. Calcraft’s house was demolished and the current house on the site was built in 1833 and is listed Grade II (Historic England).

Brown’s walled garden survived into the 20th century and it appears on an aerial photograph of 1946. Since then a housing estate has been built over this area. The only traces of the work of Brown and Chambers are the remains of a bridge, two of Chamber’s caves, part of a drive and one vista looking northwards towards Essex.

Sources

Liz Logan & Hugh Vaux, 'Ingress: The contribution of Capability Brown and William Chambers', Capability Brown in Kent, Kent Gardens Trust, 2016 www.kentgardenstrust.org.uk

Andrews, Dury and Herbert map: www.oldmapsonline.org/en/Kent 

NOTE: Please note that the modern equivalents of prices given on the Capability Brown website use the equivalant labour cost shown on www.measuringworth.com, rather than the real price (calculated on the increase in inflation), and therefore differ from the figures in the original research by Kent Gardens Trust. This is based on the research by Roderick Floud published in RHS Occasional Papers 14.