- Stansted House from the south west Courtesy of West Sussex Record Office (from European Magazine vol 15 May 1789 ref: PD 1121
- Pastel of Stansted from the South West, late C18th Copied courtesy of the Stansted Park Foundation/West Sussex Record Office
- Barwell's estate map of Stansted Copied courtesy of the Stansted Park Foundation/West Sussex Record Office (ref: Add Mss 2861)
In the early 1780s Lancelot 'Capability' Brown advised owner Richard Barwell about redesigning the park at Stansted.
Though Brown’s two visits to Stansted Park are recorded in his account book, his exact role in the improvements of the early 1780s is not clear. He may have been responsible for the New Walk and belts of trees along the southern boundary of the park. He may also have designed the Orange Garden, enlarged the walled gardens and created Rosamond’s Hill and the Managerie. Stansted Park lies on the border between West Sussex and Hampshire, about 11 kilometres (7 miles) north west of Chichester. It now covers around 520 hectares (1,285 acres), including 230 hectares (568 acres) of Stansted Forest.
Visits to Stansted
Brown’s account book (see online) shows that he and his surveyor Jonathan Spyers both visited the Stansted Park estate in December 1781. Between March and April 1782 Spyers made plans and drawings of the park, gardens, house and neighbouring buildings. The total payments recorded were only £7 and 16 shillings (£11,170 in 2015) and are unlikely to reflect the full costs of even the surveyor’s time. Brown died in February 1783, so he probably only visited the estate during the planning stage.
Barwell, a wealthy businessman who had recently returned from India, bought Stansted Park in 1781 for around £100,000 (real price £11,280,000 in 2015). Three estate maps of Stansted were made between 1777 and 1785, and these help to reveal the changes he made, although there were no large-scale works at that time. These may also give some idea of what Brown added to the overall design.
A new walk
The 1785 map (left, WSRO ref: Add Mss 2861) shows a new boundary path labelled “The Walk”, which begins and ends at the turning circle in front of the house. It heads off towards the south boundary of the open park and winds in a northerly direction to the woodland north east of the house. Also new is a narrow fenced tree belt along the southern boundary, which was replanted at this time. The map suggests that the belt of trees also had underplanting, a feature of Brown’s work, which screens off the wider landscape.
At the north east the path runs through an existing building that the map now calls Lumley Seat, with another building called the Managerie behind it. It then passes through an area of around 1.6 hectares (4 acres) marked on the map as the Orange Garden, which appears to be a pleasure garden with walkways. In 1777, this fenced off triangle of land between the house and the start of the open ride to the north had been known as the Plantation.
Also new is a small building on a slope, in an area marked as Rosamond’s Hill. This is situated towards the far end of the open ride that heads northwards from the house towards the estate boundary. This was not an eye-catcher, as it could not be seen from the house, but would have given views to the distant sea. It does not appear to have formed part of the New Walk.
The 1785 map also shows that the walled gardens near the house have been enlarged. Part of the tree-lined avenue to the west has been removed between the house and where the woodland begins. Other indications on the map of Brown’s involvement may include some reshaping of the edge of the woodland, thinning of trees and changes to the clumps in the open parkland.
Praise for Stansted
In the Public Advertiser newspaper of 4 December 1784 Barwell’s work at the estate is praised: “All in all, he [Barwell] was said to have improved Stansted, an ‘enchanting spot with grett [sic] good taste’.” Brown is not mentioned in the sales particulars of the estate of 1905 nor in a description of Stansted from the mid-1860s. A later owner, the Earl of Bessborough did credit Brown with the clumps of beeches in the East Park, though without providing any evidence.
Stansted Park today
Barwell died in 1804 and the estate was bought by Lewis Way, who carried out “a good deal of replanting of the forest”. The house burned down in 1900 and was rebuilt.
In 1983 the 10th Earl of Bessborough transferred ownership of the house and park to the Stansted Park Foundation. The gardens and park are listed Grade II* (Historic England) and are open to the public.
Information courtesy of Sussex Gardens Trust: Marcus Batty, 'What did Capability Brown actually do at Stansted Park?' in Susi Batty (ed), Capability Brown in Sussex, 2016 www.sussexgardenstrust.org.uk
Capability Brown's account book, page 150: www.rhs.org.uk/education-learning/libraries-at-rhs/collections/library-online/capability-brown-account-book
Historic England: www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000327
Illustrations: Courtesy of the Stansted Park Foundation/West Sussex Record Office