The Duke of Northumberland’s account book shows payments to Capability Brown starting in 1754 for the design and construction of a new lake in the north-east of the grounds at Syon. Around this time, a tremendous increase in the size of the bills submitted by tradesmen to the Duke is seen including those from Mr James Wood, a wheeler or wheelwright.
His main work as a wheeler was to make and repair wheels but he also built and repaired carts and barrows, made handles for tool such as pickaxes, mattocks and mallets, and assembled the occasional box.
At some point over the next 10 years or so, it’s not entirely clear exactly when, Mr Wood dies. Initially bills are drawn up by the Duke’s foreman for ‘The Widow Wood’ but as time goes on she is simply referred to as Mrs Sarah Wood. Her bills to the Duke begin as relatively small amounts for making several barrows at about 5s each and mending two garden carts. But towards the end of 1767 and into 1768 several bills are drawn up for ‘New Work By Order of Mr Brown’ totalling around £50. Her business builds some 22 barrows over the space of just a few months as well as carrying out the usual wheel repairs and tool-making. This time period mirrors precisely when Brown received payments from the Duke, almost certainly to create a second lake at Syon. It’s likely that the barrows were being used for moving earth from the newly dug lake to another location.
Payment of the bills is usually received by Sarah Wood herself but at one point Jeremiah Lockyer, most likely a wheeler, takes over and picks up and signs for the money. Interestingly, a few months later in 1769, it is Sarah Lockyer to whom the bills are made out!
About the author: Susan Darling is a garden historian and researcher with the London Parks & Gardens Trust. She is collaborating with Chris Hunwick, archivist for the Duke of Northumberland, and Topher Martyn, head gardener, to understand Brown's role at Syon.