As part of the preparation for our 20 years celebrations, our Chinese Bronzes and Women’s Library collections will be closed from Monday 26 February, reopening with the rest of our new season on Thursday 21 March.

Capability Brown Festival Update – Compton Verney

On Monday this week I ventured down to the capital for a workshop with a difference, titled New Ways of Looking at Brown. ‘Capability’ Brown was the subject of course, around which we learned from a range of speakers of some of the diverse projects that are springing up, with encouragement from the CB300 festival committee.


New Ways of Looking at Brown

Obviously with the Brownian landscape of Compton Verney close to my heart, and lots of activity in the pipeline for the tercentenary year in 2016 I was interested to hear from other landscape representatives about their activity and plans. I certainly wasn’t disappointed.


Ceryl Evans, silhouetted against the screen introduces ‘New Ways of Looking at Brown’.

There were thirteen speakers in all, representing a host of organisations including big players like the National Trust, Natural England, the Landscape Institute and Association of Gardens Trusts, and individual property representatives from Scampston Hall in North Yorkshire and Milton Abbey Church and Landscape in Dorset. There was a very positive atmosphere as always, and rightfully so considering that end result from all this activity is effectively more enjoyment and interaction with heritage landscapes.

A Capability Brown trail from Scampston Hall.

A number of case studies were presented in quick rotation – a style that really suited the day. Everyone remained engaged and interested and we learned of a number of alternative ways, as the title suggests, to look at Brown and his landscapes. From Scampston, as the map shows above we heard of successful trials with geocaching and parkland trails, and from the project archaeologist at Petworth, Tom Dommett, our eyes were opened to the possibilities and benefits of surveying landscapes using Lidar technology.

Tom Dommett, project archaeologist at National Trust Petworth interprets the pre-Brown formal garden.

There was more – walking, running and cycling holds infinite possibility for events and engagement (thinking of the half-marathon that is run from Compton Verney each year), and for new sportive’s; mass participation events as found via the British Cycling Website. Milton Abbey’s website as we learned contains a great little Capability Brown Hunt to engage younger visitors before they make it to site – they even get a certificate for completing the virtual tour!

All the above is of course good to hear about, but John Phibbs, a foremost expert on Brown and his achievements was keen to talk about the ‘meaning’ of each landscape. It is important he says to “enable people to read landscape”. This, if we’re talking about celebrating one individual landscape designer, is where we need to delve deeper, to understand exactly what he was aiming to achieve, why he did it and how. The festival therefore presents a golden opportunity to add to our knowledge and help sustain these landscapes.

The wider project could be seen to be faulted in its attempts to put Brown alone on a pedestal, especially as there are other landscape designers from the period who receive little or no attention. I would hope however that through all the events and investigation that are now being re-routed or created through 2016 festival activity; all landscapes stand to gain. Whether their gains are through increased knowledge, restored features, or simply more activity to engage the next generation of English Landscape supporters; it all is I hope constructive and beneficial.


Gilly Drummond, Chair of the Festival Committee describes how Heritage Open Days worked for Cadland House and Garden in 2014.

So what does this all mean for Compton Verney? Well, we’ve registered our desire with the festival committee to become a ‘hub landscape’, and early indications are positive. A hub being a kind of regional portal throughout 2016, where visitors can learn of Brown’s achievements here before shooting off on their Brownian discovery.

We also have our major Heritage Lottery Funded Project in process called Re-Viewing the Landscape, which aims (if approved for funding) to restore and re-view the landscape to modern day visitors. This project is very diverse, with one key aim to restore a Brown designed chapel and re-interpret the landscape. All very exciting indeed, but then I’m a strong follower of the English Landscape.

Do keep an eye out for our continued involvement in the run up towards 2016 – Lancelot Brown’s 300th Birthday year celebration. If you’re wanting to learn more, do look to the festival website and check out the latest ‘interactive-map‘ feature – it is amazing how many Brownian landscapes are out there!

Regards, Gary Webb, Head of Landscape & Gardens at Compton Verney.