A menagerie at Weston Park, designed by Capability Brown, stored brightly plumed 18th century exotic birds within the pleasure grounds.
When Capability Brown considered the landscape park at Weston on the Shropshire/Staffordshire borders for Sir Henry Bridgeman 5th, he detailed his works in two contracts of 1765 and 1766 and on a plan of the park. The plan was only discovered in the last twenty years, having been amongst other monuments from the house that were deposited with Staffordshire Archives.
As a document, it is a remarkable record of the thought process involved in creating the surviving pleasure grounds and park which survive almost unaltered and unspoiled by development or roads since the time that Brown and his client walked the freshly sown turf.
One of the most interesting aspects of the plan is that it shows “Menagerie and Dairy” within Temple Wood at the site today occupied by James Paine’s Temple of Diana. The building was, in every sense, a multi-purpose garden structure, combining orangery, music room and dairies, in addition to a circular tea room that gave views to the menagerie. The Menagerie, as in several other of Brown’s parks, was not for animals but for exotic birds of the kind which, in the eighteenth century, could be bought from bird sellers in London, many of whom were to be found in streets near the Strand. Weston Park’s garden records in the late eighteenth century record the replacement of posts and nets in the pleasure grounds – the birds’ enclosures - which were apparently being arranged in a fan around the north side of the Temple.
A series of paintings by William Hayes, now in a private collection, record the brightly plumed birds that Sir Henry and Lady Bridgeman kept in the pleasure grounds, their luxuriant colours and strange calls animating the sylvan beauty of Brown’s groves.
Written by Gareth J.L.Williams MA, Curator and Head of Learning to the Weston Park Foundation.
Weston Park is a combination of fine architecture and living history standing in 1000 acres of sumptuous Capability Brown parklands and beautiful gardens. More information is on the Weston Park website.