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.
In 1778 Lancelot 'Capability' Brown produced a plan for remodelling the estate at Sledmere for Christopher Sykes.
Sykes is known to have consulted both Capability Brown and surveyor Thomas White (1739-1811) during the period 1776-1778. It is likely that he took ideas from both men in drawing up his own scheme for the Sledmere estate, near Driffield, East Yorkshire. Though it is not clear which elements of the completed design were the work of Brown, he probably suggested the building of a number of farmhouses to act as eye-catchers around the estate.
'The Great Brown'
Sykes noted the arrival of 'the Great Brown' in his diary in September 1777. Brown spent a day and a night at Sledmere and made another brief visit there a year later. At that time Sledmere was a mainly uncultivated area of the Yorkshire Wolds – "a bleak and barren tract of country” according to Sykes’ son.
One month later a surveyor, Mr Dunn, arrived and spent 10 days at the estate. Brown probably used his survey in drawing up his 1778 'Plan for the intended Alterations at Sledmere'. Though Brown’s account book does not include work at Sledmere, Sykes did note that he paid him £73 and 10 shillings (£111,000 in 2015) in May 1781 for his 'plan and two journeys'.
Sykes added various buildings to the gardens and parkland as part of his ambitious scheme of improvements. The ornamental Castle Farm is one of three farmhouses “resembling villas erected for the purpose of rural retirement” that were built as eye-catchers around the Sledmere estate.
Castle Farm was the work of architect John Carr (1723-1807, Wikipedia; see also Harewood and Hornby Castle) and Life Hill and Marramatte are thought to have been designed by Sykes himself. These 'model' farms, connected by ornamental drives, are a feature of Brown’s work in Yorkshire. He is thought to have influenced Sykes’ decision to build them and probably suggested a site for Castle Farm during his first visit to Sledmere. The proposed drives between the farms are shown on a plan of around 1780 but were not built.
Sykes began improving Sledmere from 1770 onwards. He used two local nurseries, Telford’s of York and Perfect of Pontefract, to plan and supply trees for plantations. By 1800 he had spent more than £8,600 (nearly £1 million in 2015) planting 400 hectares (about 1,000 acres) of woodland on his estate. The views of the farms and the lines of sight between them have now largely been lost because of new planting and the growth of the trees.
The estate is still owned by the Sykes family. The gardens are open to the public, as is Sledmere House (listed Grade I), which is now a museum and gallery.
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
Parks & Gardens UK: www.parksandgardens.org/places-and-people/site/2998