Wimpole is the grandest estate in Cambridgeshire. The setting to its impressive hall and home farm has been shaped by some of the greatest landscape gardeners, including Charles Bridgeman, Robert Greening, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, William Emes and Humpry Repton.
Capability Brown’s North Park, of the late 1760s and early 1770s, is the most beautiful element. It features an extraordinary focus in the form of a sham ruined castle.
Brown’s clients, Philip Yorke, 2nd Earl of Hardwicke and his wife Jemima, Marchioness Grey, had already employed him at Wrest Park in 1758. When Brown surveyed Wimpole in 1769 Jemima accompanied him. Enthralled by the capabilities for improvement Brown conjured, she wrote to a friend the same day: "Break off, Break off, we tread Enchanted Ground is almost literally true with me at present. Mr Brown has been leading me such a Fairy Circle & his Magic Wand has raised such landscapes to the Eye – not visionary for they were all there but his Touch has brought them out with the same Effect as a Painter’s Pencil upon Canvass…."
Brown’s ‘magic wand’ transfigured a vast area of farm-land criss-crossed by hedges and roads north of the house. This was laid to turf, avenues were thinned or felled, and young trees planted singly and in clumps to create open parkland. In the middle-distance two angular 17th-century fishponds were made into serpentine lakes, and a third new lake was dug to the east. From higher ground these appear to flow through the park, like a sinuous river.
The sham ruined castle, designed for the Earl’s father by Sanderson Miller 20 years earlier but never built, was realised. Brown oversaw construction of this picturesque eye-catcher, which gave panoramic views of the parkland and country beyond from its elevated Prospect Room.
The new landscape was enclosed within three miles of perimeter woodland belt. Through this snaked a ride, a feature walkers and runners particularly enjoy today.
Last year a major project saw the Gothic Folly conserved and its crenellations restored. A further phase will see its setting reinstated. Such projects and day-to-day conservation ensure the North Park remains ‘Enchanted Ground’, a place of aesthetic pleasure, recreation and a key part of the productive estate, still grazed by sheep and cattle.
Wimpole Estate is open throughout the year, with the hall open between March and the beginning of November. You can explore the North Park daily from 7.30am - 6.30pm.
About the author: Lisa Voden-Decker is Project Curator at Wimpole.