- Navestock Hall engraving of the seat of the Earl of Waldegrave Reproduced by courtesy of the Essex Record Office (ref: I/Mb 249/1/16)
- Detail of Chapman and Andre map of Essex 1777 Reproduced by courtesy of Essex Record Office
From the mid-1760s Lancelot 'Capability' Brown carried out large-scale improvements to the park and pleasure grounds at Navestock Hall, Chipping Ongar, Essex for the 3rd Earl Waldegrave.
Though the park at Navestock was only around 60 hectares (150 acres) the scale of Brown’s improvements here makes this one of his bigger projects. Beginning in around 1763, Brown enlarged the park to the north-east, created a new carriage drive, built the new lake (called Lady’s Pond) and added belts of trees around the boundary of the park.
Earl Waldegrave inherited the estate from his brother in 1763 and appears to have called in Brown soon after that. He paid his first bill in October 1765, and Brown’s account book (see online) shows there were regular payments up until July 1773. The total spend by the earl was more than £4,500 (almost £7.3 million in 2015).
There is no record of Brown’s letters or plans relating to the project at Navestock. A payment in his accounts of £29 7 shillings and 3 pence (around £50,300 in 2015) to the Williamson & Co nursery is the only clue. Evidence about what was done can be seen on maps from the survey of the Waldegrave estate made in 1785 and revised in 1835.
The most expensive part of the redesign of Navestock would have been creating a new lake, known as Lady’s Pond. This was done by damming the Rivulet (an offshoot of the River Roding). It was a major engineering job, as the stream ran through a shallow valley and not in the direction that Brown wanted the lake. Moving huge amounts of earth, his workmen built a large embankment that bordered the new lake, with a dam at the northern end. The course of the Rivulet was altered to increase the rate of any overflow from the lake and reduce the risk of flooding.
A highway order of 1766 shows that one of the first jobs at Navestock was removing the public road to Ongar along the north-east edge of the park. The earl had already bought the manor of Bois Hall, which was north and east of the house. This meant that Brown could enlarge the estate in that direction, giving wider views from the mansion and a new area of park, Lady’s Hill, was created south-east of mansion. The new public road was built further east, out of sight of the park.
Brown designed a new carriage drive at Navestock, running through the woodland that surrounded the park. This may have followed the line of the old public road in the north-east. Where the drive had to cross small streams, he built four wide bridges to carry the road.
Planting and pleasure grounds
Brown was able to use existing woodland at Navestock to form belts of tree around the edges of the park. To the north-east he linked the established Red Wood to Hollingford Spring, using a narrow belt of oak and sycamore. The embankment next to the lake was planted with trees, probably to stabilise it and to form a backdrop to the water. Brown added a triangle of woodland – mainly oak – at the southern end of Broom Wood.
Brown also updated the pleasure grounds that had been established in 1726, replacing straight lines with curves. These had included a bowling green, orange walks and fruit garden to the north-east of the house, with a formal canal to the south-west. Brown’s new layout extended the pleasure grounds to the south-west, linking up with the new walled vegetable garden and churchyard. He probably added the ha-ha (sunken wall) that separates the curved boundary of the pleasure grounds from the park.
Navestock after Brown
The mansion was pulled down in 1811, along with its outbuildings, but the medieval manor house on the estate remains and is listed Grade II (Historic England). The parkland was returned to agricultural use, though Countess Frances Waldegrave continued to enjoy her summerhouse in the pleasure grounds until 1879.
The estate remains in private ownership. Features by Brown that have survived include the Lady’s Pond, parts of the carriage drive and the walled vegetable garden.
Lancelot Brown and his Essex Clients: A Gazetteer of Sites in Essex Associated with Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown 1716-1783, Essex Gardens Trust, 2015 www.essexgardenstrust.org.uk
John Chapman and Peter André, A Map of the County of Essex 1777: www.chapmanandremapofessex.co.uk
Capability Brown's account book, page 43: www.rhs.org.uk/education-learning/libraries-at-rhs/collections/library-online/capability-brown-account-book