- Map of Woodchester Park belonging to the Rt Hon the Lord Ducie Morton being in Nympsfield, Woodchester, King's Stanley and Avening. 1782 by kind permission of Gloucestershire Archives www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/archives (Ref: D1011/P8)
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown surveyed the estate at Woodchester in 1782 for owner Lord Ducie Moreton.
In September 1782 Capability Brown visited the Woodchester estate of Lord Ducie Moreton and ordered a survey. Brown died in February 1783, and it is not clear whether he made any suggestions for remodelling the estate as a result of the survey done by Jonathan Spyers. The park now extends to around 400 acres of the Inchbrook valley, near Stroud, Gloucestershire, and has elements that are in Brown’s style. These include the string of five ponds and the terraced walks and rides from the house into the surrounding wooded valley.
Brown’s account book shows that he visited Woodchester Park in September 1782. His surveyor Spyers then spent four weeks at the estate preparing a survey, though his plan was not signed. Brown’s total charge, including Spyers’ expenses, was £20 7 shillings and 6 pence (about £29,000 in 2015).
When Brown came to Woodchester there were already formal gardens north-west of the house, which had probably been laid out in the early 18th century. Spyers’ survey refers to the 'New Kitchen Garden' and 'New Pond', though these may have been 40 or 50 years old.
Long valley and ponds
The canal and circular pool shown on the Spyers survey had been filled in by 1802. Brown’s work at other estates often involved replacing formal gardens around a house with sweeping lawns, as part of his naturalistic style. It is possible that he advised doing this at Woodchester.
The park at Woodchester stretches for 4 kilometres along the Inchbrook valley. It is known that the valley floor was covered with grass and specimen trees in the 18th and 19th centuries. Though Brown did not have time to design and oversee work on this scale at Woodchester, he may have given ideas for planting.
Within 20 years of Brown’s visit, woodland had been cleared to create vistas up the side valleys at Woodchester. This is the type of improvement that would have fitted with Brown’s style. There is no evidence that he planned to do this at Woodchester or that he designed the walks and drives from the house through the valley.
There is a string of five ponds and dams along the bottom of the valley. The estate plan of 1782 shows that they were there before Brown came to Woodchester. A cascade was built at the west end of Brick Kiln Pond, close to where the formal circular pool had been. This was a feature often used by Brown when damming water features to create lakes at other estates.
Woodchester after Brown
Brown died in 1783 and two years later the estate at Woodchester passed to Lord Ducie Morton’s brother, Francis. In the 19th century the house at Woodchester was enlarged and work was done on the park and gardens for owner Thomas Reynolds Moreton. Landscaper Humphry Repton (1752-1818, Wikipedia), who visited the estate in 1810, may have influenced the redesigned landscape.
In the 20th century the estate was sold several times and was eventually split up. Stroud District Council bought the house and about 9 hectares of land in 1986, leasing them to the Woodchester Mansion Trust. The landscape park at Woodchester is listed Grade II. In 1994 it was bought by the National Trust, which has been working to restore the 19th-century terraced gardens.
Biodiversity at Woodchester
At Woodchester the parkland features support a variety of habitats including wood pasture and parkland, ancient woodland, deciduous, broadleaved and conifer woodland, good quality semi-improved grassland, lowland calcareous grassland, and wetland habitats associated with the lakes.
Woodchester Park Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) within the site is important for its diverse range of habitats, flora and fauna including a nationally important breeding colony of greater horseshoe bats, a range of invertebrates including nationally rare flies and snails as well as the rare stinking hellebore, scarlet tiger moth and silver washed fritillary butterfly.
Follow this link for more information on habitats and species supported by Brown landscapes: www.capabilitybrown.org/biodiversity-and-natural-environment
Follow this link for more information on Woodchester Park SSSI: https://necmsi.esdm.co.uk/PDFsForWeb/Citation/1003561.pdf
Information courtesy of Gloucestershire Gardens & Landscape Trust: www.gglt.org
Historic England: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000788
National Trust: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/woodchester-park