Gatton Park is one of lesser-known masterpieces of the great landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, created for Sir George Colebrooke in the 1760s.
Its location on the edge of North Downs near Reigate in Surrey, was fully exploited by Brown, who accentuated the existing downland into a dramatic sweeping valley punctuated by groves and lakes. Brown's work is distinctive for its sweeping views, lakes, ponds and mounds planted with clumps of trees. All these features can be seen at Gatton Park, and were created by hand with many of the mounds being formed out of the spoil dug whilst creating the ponds and lakes. The main lake was greatly expanded and the tributary lakes reshaped to include one of Brown’s trademark serpentine canals. Whilst its scale is not vast at 510 acres, it makes up for it in its spectacular topography and diverse habitats.
Today management of the park is split between the Gatton Trust and the National Trust but it is managed as a whole by the two Trusts to restore Brown’s vision of Gatton.
The National Trust parkland is open access and is open all year round. There is a waymarked circular trail starting from the Wray Lane car park on the western boundary of the park, which guides visitors through two miles of stunning historic landscape, with fine views across the whole park.
The Gatton Trust manages the parkland, lakes and gardens around Gatton Hall, which is now occupied by the Royal Alexandra and Albert School. Here in Victorian and Edwardian times Jeremiah Colman, of the East Anglian Colman’s Mustard family, invested a fortune in the restoration of the house and grounds, and, by the time he had completed the transformation, Gatton Hall was a stunning prize to possess. A Japanese garden, a rock and water garden, and walled gardens embellished and complemented the parklands and lakes designed by Brown.
During the last 20 years Colman’s gardens have been lovingly restored by the staff and volunteers of the Gatton Trust. There are many opportunities to visit during the year, starting in February when the gardens are carpeted with drifts of snowdrops. Details of open days and other events in 2016 can be found on the website.
About the author: Louise Miller is the Education Manager at Gatton Park.