In Capability Brown’s tercentenary year, one of his landscapes, Paultons Park in Hampshire, is welcoming one million visitors who have not actually come to celebrate our birthday boy. Rather, Paultons is today best known as the site of Peppa Pig World, having been designated as the home of a porcine animation much beloved of television watchers under the age of six years.
Brown was commissioned at Paultons Park in 1772 and worked his familiar magic, making a horseshoe lake out of a twisting river and tweaking woodland into a scenic tree belt. After his intervention, the site continued to enjoy gracious living until the mid-20th century, when its fortunes slipped and it was put up for sale in divided lots. The central garden area and lake were bought by local farmers John and Anne Mancey, who cleared and renovated the neglected and overgrown gardens, and in 1983 opened them as a country park attraction, with their son Richard and his wife Sara then developing the site further into a theme park.
As a landscape historian with a passion for seeing these places conserved and cherished in the 21st century, it is difficult not to feel frustrated that Brown’s work has to an extent been swept away. But wait a minute … there is arguably no one in garden history better at sweeping away earlier landscapes than Brown himself, who was merciless in brushing aside existing gardens to create new features for the enjoyment of a new generation. In fact, it is more than possible that Capability Brown himself might have been rather sympathetic and interested in the recent management of Paultons Park.
Most thought-provoking is the undeniable similarity between the design techniques of Capability Brown and those used at Peppa Pig World. If Capability Brown began our passion for taking nature, improving it, and presenting it back to us as though it were untouched by artifice, then Peppa Pig World with its artificial grass slopes, carefully placed trees, and eyecatching buildings has surely perfected that fine art.
Linden Groves is a landscape historian with a particular interest in children in the historic environment (www.outdoorchildren.co.uk).
This blog entry is an extract from a fuller article published by Historic Gardens Review. To subscribe, please visit www.historicgardens.org