A Croome Court story

Lancelot Brown shaped the way you and I think today (you just don’t know it). Close your eyes and try to imagine a lovely country-house. Did you see in your mind a house surrounded with green hills dotted with large trees? Maybe a little river, perhaps even a lake? Interestingly, this is not how the countryside looked like before Lancelot started to play with the English landscape.

Many know him by his nickname “Capability Brown”. He gained his nickname from his “sales pitch”. He used to famously say to his clients their landscape had a lot of “capability”.

Lancelot first major commission came from the Earl of Coventry at Croome Court. In this estate, he designed not only the landscape but also the house itself.

Croome was not only the first major commission of Capability but also a great example of his vision. He created a man-made lake and a river with a beautiful bridge. He created hills and on top of them, he built a series of fake structures known as follies.  Two of them were ruined castles named Dunstall and Pirton.

In order to achieve his vision, Lancelot had to get rid of some obstacles, for example, a village that was located in the middle of his landscape, so the village had to go. The same thing happened a few years later in another estate called Bowood.  In that estate, he literally drowned an entire village in his man-made lake.  a

After the work he did in Croome Court, he became an instant hit.   He worked on the most important castles and estates of the era, including Blenheim Palace, Arundel Castle, Castle Howard, Highclere Castle, Alnwick Castle and many others. Eventually, the Royal family could not ignore him, and Capability got the job to redesign the gardens at Hampton Court and St James’s Palaces.

Saving the work of Capability Brown was so important to the National Trust that it actually bought the park around Croome Court before they bought the house itself. The condition of the park was awful, but the National Trust managed to find the original plans that Lancelot made more than 250 years ago, and re-plant the park with the same trees and shrubs.

But there was also a dark secret behind Capability’s work. The fierce competition between the estate owners led them to spend too much money on his vision and several had to declare bankruptcy.

Capability Brown and his first “boss”, The 6th Earl of Coventry, became good friends. In 1783, Lancelot came to visit The Earl in his London Home. They had a great meal and drinks. After dinner, on his way home, he fell and hit his head, dying a few days later. The 6th Earl built a monument for him in Croome near the man-made lake with the inscription:  “To the memory of Lancelot Brown, who, by the powers of his inimitable and creative genius, formed this garden scene out of a morass.”

Sadly, Lancelot was so busy designing other people’s estates, he did not have the time to design his own house. He bought an estate near Cambridgeshire, but did not manage to develop it for himself.

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