Temple Newsam

Templenewsam Road, Leeds LS15 0AE
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Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown remodelled the gardens at Temple Newsam in 1765–1771, in a style influenced by the landscape paintings of Claude Lorrain, for the 9th Viscount Irwin.

Capability Brown’s masterplan for Temple Newsam, near Leeds, West Yorkshire, dates from 1762. He had been invited to the estate by Viscount and Lady Irwin as early as 1758, but it was not until 1760 that a payment to him of £40 (around £67,000 in 2015) was made. Some initial planning may have been done then, as work was carried out in the plantations in 1760, possibly to set up a nursery. The design aimed to create the sort of serene landscape popularised by the work of Claude Lorrain (1600–1682, Wikipedia), whose paintings inspired the picturesque ideal. Charles Ingram, Viscount Irwin, bought a painting by Claude in 1765 for £100 (over £171,000 in 2015).

Temple Newsam by Michael Angelo Rooker courtesy of the Earl of Halifax

Rain delays work

Although Capability Brown produced the plan for Temple Newsam late in 1762, he still hadn't delivered it to his clients by January 1763, when Charles Ingram wrote to him: "I am glad to find by your letter that the plans are ready and I ust beg of the favour of you to send them to the Temple as soon as possible...I am greatly surprised at your mentioning Frost. We are all here as warm as Toast."

When Brown’s men finally began work in October 1765 they were delayed by bad weather that continued into the spring, leading Frances, Lady Irwin to comment that "Mr Brown has put us in a Woful dirty Pickle". She was still able to go into the park, thanks to the addition of a gravel walk, designed for wet weather promenading.

In December 1766 Lady Irwin, wrote to her friend Lady Susan Stewart about looking at the Claude painting as an antidote to the winter weather: "I apply myself to my beauteous Claude where the scene always enchants me, the trees are green, the water placid & serene & the air has a warmth very comfortable."

The accounts do not show exactly what work Brown did at the estate, but comparison of his plan with later maps reveals that much of his design was completed. He remodelled an avenue to the west of the house, turning it into a plantation rather than a formal feature. The east avenue (dating to 1710) was left untouched, apart from new plantations to soften the outer edges. The extensive planting required a lot of labour. In 1766 there was a bill for ten men working for six days at 1 shilling per day, just to plant "Trees in the plantation the low side of the Park".

A new approach

Sphinx Gates at Temple Newsam photo © Simon WarnerBrown’s plan positioned a small, pedimented temple on the hill as an eyecatcher, with a clearing around it to give a view back to the house. In around 1768 he moved the approach to the house away from the north lodges, creating a more winding route and used "curious and hardy shrubs" along the walks. He removed the stable block and riding school from view, so that the house became the main feature of the estate. The Sphinx gates below the stable block (left, photo © Simon Warner) are copies of those designed by Lord Burlington for Chiswick, which haven't survived. The gates were cast in 1768, and cost £47 and 5 shillings (around £80,000 in 2015).

Other elements of Brown’s design were not built. These included a design for the west front of the house and the proposed areas of water with ‘sham’ or dummy bridges. The existing bridge and ponds dated from earlier work by architect William Etty (1675–1734, Wikipedia). The water is even mentioned in a 1767 poem about landscape gardening: "But when the Lake shall these sweet Grounds adorn" (download as pdf). It is not clear whether the thatched cottage or rustic dairy were built.

Brown's foreman William Stones was still employed at Temple Newsam in January 1771. Viscount Irwin’s bank records show a final payment to Brown of £570 (£800,000 in 2015) was made in September 1771.

The estate today

In 1922 the Earl of Halifax sold the estate to Leeds Corporation. The park is now open to the public, while the house is used as a museum and gallery. A series of aerial views like this of Temple Newsam can be seen on the Historic England website


Information courtesy of Temple Newsam, 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 39: www.rhs.org.uk/education-learning/libraries-at-rhs/collections/library-online/capability-brown-account-book

Parks & Gardens UK: www.parksandgardens.org/places-and-people/site/3229/