- Youngsbury House, remodelled c. 1769 (by permission of Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studes, DE.Of.6.94)
- David Barclay, engraved by Richard Earlom after Houghton (Public domain)
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown drew up a plan for improving the landscape park at Youngsbury in around 1769.
Capability Brown's scheme for Youngsbury, north of Ware, Hertfordshire included clumps and belts of trees, a pleasure ground, new carriage drive and gravel walks (above, by permission of Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies HALS/A2845). There is no client named on his plan, and it is undated, so it could have been made earlier. Mrs Jane Poole, who owned the estate until 1768, may have been his client, but it is more likely that it was the next owner, David Barclay (above, read more). He was a member of a prominent Quaker family of merchants and bankers, and was interested in improving the estate. Most of the work had been completed by 1793 when he sold Youngsbury to William Cunliffe Shaw, due to ill health.
Enlarging the River Rib
Following Brown’s plan, hedges were removed to improve the views and the River Rib was enlarged. The design for the park is inscribed: "Plan proposed by Lancelot Brown for the Improvement of Youngsbury after remarking that Nature had do[ne] so much that little was wanting, but enlarging the River". The scheme involved few other changes to the landscape of the park.
Although the scheme was largely carried out, it is not known whether the works were supervised by Brown using one of his foremen, or done by the estate. Plans of the late 1760s show the River Rib running unaltered on its old course through the park. By the time of the 1768 plan various clumps of trees and other trees can be seen. The park had been completed by 1793, when the estate was sold to Shaw. In 1796 Shaw, in turn, sold Youngsbury to Daniel Giles, Governor of the Bank of England, and it remained in his family during the 19th century.
Capability Brown features today
Features of the Brown landscape which can still be seen at Youngsbury include the belt of trees on the west of the park (though with some additional 20th century planting), a clump of large beech trees, blocks of woodland to the north and east, and the enlarged River Rib.
To the south, the ruined church tower of St Mary and All Saints acts as an eye-catcher. There is an 18th century culvert (drain) over a seasonal stream and an ice-house. Mature trees include oak, walnut, horse chestnut, and sweet chestnut. The surviving stables, with a clock and bell tower, are contemporary with the Brown landscape. The estate remains in private ownership.
Hertfordshire Garden History Volume II: Gardens Pleasant, Groves Delicious, Ed. Deborah Spring, University of Hertfordshire Press, Chapter Four 'Mr Lancelot Brown and his Hertfordshire clients', by Helen Leiper, pp 106–7
Hertfordshire Gardens Trust walk leaflet: www.hertsgardenstrust.org.uk/downloads/Youngsbury.pdf
Historic England aerial photograph (search for Youngsbury and click on the dots): services.historicengland.org.uk/capability-brown-map/index.html