- Tong Castle engraving, courtesy of www.lostheritage.org.uk
- Before Brown: 1739 Tong estate map for Evelyn Duke of Kingston by S. Reynolds Shropshire archives SA 6007/11
- Church Pool from the site of the Castle © Advolly Richmond
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown advised George Durant on improvements to the house and park at Tong Castle during the 1760s.
George Durant called in Capability Brown soon after buying the estate at Tong, near Telford, Shropshire in 1764. At the time Brown was busy at other nearby estates in the West Midlands.
Brown’s visit to Tong is recorded in his account book for 1765 for his visits and plans. He charged Durant £52 and 10 shillings (almost £90,000 in 2015) for proposals covering the house and grounds. There are no records of further payments, which may mean that Durant carried out Brown’s proposals himself.
The existing canal-like water feature north and south of the castle was altered, creating Church or North Pool and the serpentine South Pool. Two larger lakes were also built, the kitchen garden was moved and the Tudor Tong Castle was remodelled in the Gothic style.
Pools and lakes
The major part of Brown’s plan for Tong was the transformation of the water feature. An estate map of 1739 (see above) shows Tong Castle surrounded on three sides by a formalised stretch of water. A map of 1796 (left; 1796 estate map for George Durant by Sam Botham SA5233/1) shows that a dam had been built just north of the castle and the large island there had been dug out to form Church or North Pool.
The water to the south of the castle was altered to make South Pool, a serpentine lake formed by damming the Kilsall Brook. Raising the water level east of the castle allowed the creation of a cascade into the dell.
Two larger lakes were also formed as part of the improvements. Norton Mere to the north was designed to feed Lodge Lake to the north-west of the castle, with a narrow channel – ‘the cut’ –linking the two.
In the 1870s a rector of Tong commented that Durant had “… expended immense sums upon improving and beautifying the property. He formed Tong Lakes, and the canal which feeds it, upwards of two miles in length”.
Castle and carriage drive
Brown is thought to have provided the designs for remodelling the Tudor mansion into a Gothic-style castle. Durant probably worked on this before starting on the parkland. He removed everything apart from the main block of the existing 16th-century red-brick castle and reused some of the stone from the college that had stood near Tong church.
A sales catalogue map from the 1850s (left; Tong Castle 1855 Sales catalogue map. SA972/2/5/785) shows some of the other changes made by Durant, at Brown’s suggestion. A carriage drive was built, following the curved edge of Church Pool and leading to the village and church of Tong.
The map also shows the formal geometric style paths in Castle Wood had been replaced by the serpentine rides and walks that were typical of a Brown scheme. Brown had also followed his usual practice of moving the kitchen garden away from the house and siting it on the other side of the A41 Wolverhampton road.
Tong after Brown
The Gothic castle at Tong was pulled down in July 1954. Thirty years later the M54 motorway was built over its site. The estate is now in multiple occupancy and is not open to visitors.
Despite the redevelopment, several features of Brown’s work can still be seen at Tong, including parts of the castle, Church Pool and clumps of oak and beech trees. Norton Mere is now a private fishing club, but Lodge Lake was drained in 1949.
Advolly Richmond, Shropshire Parks & Gardens Trust
Shropshire Archives: shropshire.gov.uk/archives
Historic England: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/10006093