A glittering Advent Calendar marks special dates for festivities, channels expectant enthusiasm and heralds travels to family and friend reunions. Some time ago, Steffie Shields began compiling a different, rather fascinating chart: a calendar of Capability Brown’s journeys. She writes "Sadly, this proved too complex to include in my recent illustrated book. Might others be interested to collaborate, fill in gaps and add to the data that I have collected, I wonder?
A calendar of journeys could sit on a suitable website. This would to shed more light on society’s increasing travel, modes of transport and growing networks: roads, industry and entrepreneurs. It would help ascertain Brown’s motivation compared to various significant stimuli: the architects, designers. engineers and craftsmen encountered and connections made, the places and buildings observed, the latest fashionable ideas, experimental techniques, or specific solutions to problems consequently impacting on his designs and methodology elsewhere.
Winter 1739 to 1740, the most severe on record, saw the River Thames frozen over from Christmas Day to mid-February, during which time Brown was first called across to Stowe, in Buckinghamshire, to solve problems created by the bitter cold. A secure job offer soon followed. For the next ten years, he superintended the finest garden in the kingdom. Christmas 1757 found Brown in Sussex, now running an independent professional land improvement and architectural practice, arranging finishing touches for a great lawn in front of Petworth House, sewing all broken ground with grass seed and Dutch clover (today still grazed by deer right up to the windows.) A decade later, the Earl of Hardwicke writing to Brown shortly before Christmas, expected him to complete a specific plan of operations, detailing estate improvements for the next three years, including ‘our Minute of proceeding at Wimple (Wimpole, Cambridgeshire), and all by the New Year.’
I call on Brown researchers to send me any similar dates unearthed in their invaluable new studies to prove his whereabouts, verified by archival correspondence, account, voucher, newspaper or journal, to map and cross-check those already gleaned. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Together, as part of the Capability Brown Festival legacy, let’s finish logging the unparalleled extent of Brown’s expeditions north, south, east and west. A life-long asthma sufferer, he only stayed home during bouts of chest infection and never retired. His last exhausting trek, Christmas 1782, less than two months before his death, was to Belvoir Castle.
The 2016 Capability Brown Festival has rightly celebrated a driven, visionary father of professional landscape architecture, and enduring pillar of our cultural heritage. Above all as his, now crumbling, memorial in St Peter & Paul’s Church Fenstanton attests*, here was a Christian empowered by a generous spirit to be of service to others".
About the Author: Steffie Shields' book ‘Moving Heaven & Earth - Capability Brown’s Gift of Landscape’ (Unicorn Press, May 2016) was a finalist In the category ‘Inspirational Book of the Year’ in recent Garden Media Guild Awards 2016.
* For donations to Fenstanton Memorial Appeal: https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/fenstantoncb300memorialappeal