More than Genius slumbers here: the mystery of Brown's memorial

24.09.2015 | category: General

We know much about his life’s work, but little about where Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown is buried. Mystery also surrounds the memorial to him in the chancel wall of St Peter and St Paul’s church, Fenstanton, Cambridgeshire.

As far as we know, his burial place is in Fenstanton churchyard outside the north wall of the chancel of the church, but no-one is quite sure what happened to any graves in the area. A modern tombstone indicates the approximate location of his grave.

The once-handsome Portland Whitbed stone memorial in the church is dedicated to Brown, his wife Bridget, two of their sons, Lancelot Brown (junior) and Admiral John Brown, and John’s wife Mary. On the central panel is carved an epitaph composed by a family friend, Reverend William Mason, at the junior Lancelot’s request (ref Jane Brown in The Omnipotent Magician, 2011). This lauds Brown's 'sylvan scenes,' and says 'more than Genius slumbers here.' 

It is assumed that the memorial was erected in the late 18th century or early 19th century and the variation in style and spelling of the letter carving of the various names may indicate that they were done at different times. Who the stonemason and the different letter-carvers were, and when they carried out the work to erect and carve the memorial, we may never know.  

Today the memorial is in a state of some deterioration. The eight stones need to be cleaned and their progressive movement addressed. In addition the original white lettering needs to be re-instated and adequate ventilation and isolation from the chancel wall needs to be provided. To achieve this the majority of the monument needs to be dismantled using scaffolding, as the heaviest stone weighs in at 0.86 tonnes.

The estimated cost of this work is more than £50,000, far beyond the means of the Parochial Church Council, which is seeking grants to help cover costs.

About the author: Jane Blunt is a member of Fenstanton’s Capability Brown 300 committee.

Update 02/10/15: A campaign has now been launched to fund the restoration of the memorial in St Peter and St Paul's church. For more information, and to donate, see the JustGiving website