There were always rumours in the Manners family that ‘Capability’ Brown had designed the vast 2,300-acre landscape that surrounds Belvoir Castle, the ancestral family home of the Dukes of Rutland in Leicestershire. But there was no proof. Then, one day in 2008, completely out of the blue, the archivist discovered a huge dusty old plan of the gardens dated 1780, by Lancelot Brown.
Experts explained its significance to the present Duchess as one of Brown’s last major works before he died in 1783. Even more exciting, it appeared that at such a late stage in Brown’s career (he would have been 63), he was using Belvoir to create radical new ways of presenting naturalistic landscape. He chose not to wipe out existing formal gardens and a highly visible village. And he embraced the estate’s genuine mediaeval history to make a huge feature of the family’s hunting grounds in the chase and the free warren that extended for several miles.
Much of the parkland, lake and pleasure grounds were recognisable in the plan but there were gaps and large areas of neglect. And so, in 2013 the estate invested £200,000 to restore the landscape in time for the tercentenary celebrations. Over 110 acres of woodland were felled; 83,000 new trees and 10,000 shrubs were planted; 110 acres of overgrowth in woodland gardens was cleared; 17 miles of new roads were put in and 10 acres of water in long abandoned ponds and lakes were repaired.
The Duke and Duchess are proud to have restored a truly great eighteenth-century landscape that is still as relevant now for aesthetic, recreational and agricultural purposes, as it would have been in 1780.
For information about private tours, Castle and Garden opening times and for copies of the Duchess’s book, Capability Brown & Belvoir – Discovering a Lost Landscape by the Duchess of Rutland with Jane Pruden, please see website: belvoircastle.com
About the author: Grace Milham, Belvoir Castle, 01476 871001.