Linking Capability Brown’s five landscapes in Kent are his accounts; those in the Lindley Library and those with Drummond’s Bank (now held by RBS Archives). These provide a starting point from which to discover the eighteenth century landscapes which have so greatly changed over the intervening years. Kent Gardens Trust, with the help of the owners and of archivists both locally and nationally, have pieced together a story for each of the sites.
An introduction places the Kent landscapes in the context of Brown’s work countrywide. Chilham Castle, Leeds Abbey, Ingress, Valence and North Cray Place each merit a chapter in their own right tracing their history, the alterations wrought by Brown and their subsequent story. Many images have been found which make understanding these changes easier.
Much of Brown’s success was due to creating new vistas but at Chilham Castle he knew that restraint and attention to detail would achieve the best improvement in a landscape already moulded by Tradescant over 100 years earlier. At North Cray Place, his skills as a water engineer were needed to complete the changes begun by Thomas Coventry’s neighbours at Footscray Place and Vale Maskell who had made their own earlier improvements to the course of the River Cray. As well as work on the landscape and the house at Valence, Brown was commissioned by the Earl of Hillsborough to design a dairy for his wife in the form of a rotunda which would not have been out of place at Stowe.
John Calcraft, who owned both Leeds Abbey and Ingress, persuaded Brown to work on both properties from where he removed formal seventeenth century gardens, creating a lake at Leeds Abbey and a view to the Thames at Ingress. Brown worked at Ingress from 1765-1772, at the same time that William Chambers was rebuilding the house and completing the pleasure gardens; the same period in which they worked respectively at Richmond and Kew, thus raising speculation about their working relationship.
The only surviving first hand descriptions are some letters of Thomas Heron, from Chilham Castle, to his brother in Dublin, describing Brown’s two visits. A single letter written by John Calcraft from Leeds Abbey to William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, describes the hard work going on there but also carries a request brought by Brown from Lord Bute for Chatham to consider a political rapprochement. It is these tantalising snippets which make it clear how trusted Brown was by so many people and how great his influence was in so many different fields. It is hoped that this book will encourage others to explore further and discover more to add to the collective knowledge of Brown the man and of his improvements.
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About the Author: Dr Hugh Vaux, Trustee of the Kent Gardens Trust