Gardens Trusts' volunteers uncover a mine of Capability Brown research
22 September 2016
We are delighted to announce that substantial research on 179 parks and gardens by celebrated landscape designer Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown has now been made available to the public at www.parksandgardens.org, thanks to painstaking work by volunteer researchers from the County Gardens Trusts. Parks & Gardens UK (PGUK) is a free unique free online resource that captures information on historic parks and gardens across the UK and is the first port of call for garden fans wanting to know more about the history of sites near them. We are thrilled that through PGUK our research on Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown sites will reach a whole new audience.
This work has been undertaken as part of a national celebration in 2016 of the 300th birthday of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Although his name has been on all our tongues, beyond the devoted experts most of us have actually known very little this great man and his work.
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was a prolific hardworker and during his lifetime created around 250 landscapes for the great and good of England, repeatedly using the period’s signature features of serpentine lakes, long undulating slopes of grass scattered with cattle and sheep, eye-catching ornamental buildings, and the careful use of trees such as dramatic plantations of evergreens to mark horizons, striking Cedars of Lebanon, and reassuring little clusters of native species.
The Brownian style is easy to recognise, and he left behind some of his business's Account Books which had helped to identify which parts of our countryside have actually been the work of his hand. Yet until 2016 much of this investigation had stopped at a matching of his name with a site, or a hunch that he may have worked somewhere. This year however, an army of volunteer researchers at Gardens Trusts across the country has been deployed to search through dusty archives and tramp across muddy parkland to get to the bottom of exactly what this great man achieved.
Do take a look at this fabulous, free online resource at www.parksandgardens.org, and see what titbit of historical information you can discover!
We can also provide case studies on a number of specific County Gardens Trust research projects covering:
- A Brown landscape virtually destroyed by the M54 motorway now running through it.
- The successful upgrading of a Brown landscape on Historic England’s National Heritage List.
- The rediscovery of a lost Brown landscape.
- The bold disproving of a landscape previously believed to be created by Brown.
The Gardens Trust
The Gardens Trust was created in July 2015 following the merger of The Garden History Society and the Association of Gardens Trusts. The combined membership of the Gardens Trust and the County Gardens Trusts is around 8000.
The Gardens Trust’s main aims are:
- To speak with a more powerful voice for the protection of parks, gardens and designed landscape;
- To play a key garden conservation role in the planning system as a statutory consultee;
- To provide support to strengthen the local activity of the County and Country Gardens Trusts;
- To be an internationally regarded centre of excellence in the study of garden history;
- To live within the means of the merged organisation and be financially sustainable over the long term.
The Gardens Trust ensures that garden history is 'on the map' as an academic subject, publishing the twice-yearly academic journal Garden History, which remains the leading forum for scholarly work in this area. It additionally takes an active conservation and campaigning role, with a small professional team of conservation officers employed to comment on developments affecting important gardens and designed landscapes. As the statutory consultee for designed landscapes, it is informed of any proposals which may affect places listed on Historic England's Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest (graded I, II* and II).
County Gardens Trusts
County Gardens Trusts (CGTs) are locally-based charities caring for designed landscapes. They operate independently across England, but are all members of The Gardens Trust. In the 21st century CGTs have a vital role to play in the research, recording, history and conservation of our heritage. Increasingly, CGTs are an important and respected voice offering authoritative advice on historic designed landscapes in the modern world. And of course, they also provide a vibrant social group for those interested in parks and gardens, with a busy schedule of events and garden visits. In particular, County Gardens Trusts have been key supporters of the Capability Brown Festival – organising and supporting events, developing new Brown publications, and conducting unique research into Brown’s creations.
Capability Brown Festival
The Capability Brown Festival unites 20 partner organisations in the UK’s largest festival of its kind to date. It marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in August 1716. The Festival is managed by the Landscape Institute and is funded with a £911,100 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with additional match funding and funding in kind from the Festival’s partners and supporters. Many Brown sites, including those not normally open to the public, will host special events, tours and activities throughout 2016.
Parks & Gardens UK
Parks & Gardens UK is a unique national web resource which provides database record information, educational articles and other resources on historic parks, gardens and designed landscapes in the United Kingdom. The website gives free access to over 9,000 records for parks and gardens in the UK, including all sites where Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was involved (up to 30% certainty). Also featured in the records are more than 2,100 biographies of the people associated with historic parks and gardens; references to books, maps and other online and print sources; and nearly 6,000 images of maps, plans, modern and historic photographs and images to better illustrate the landscapes. All of the information on the website has been contributed by volunteers from County Gardens Trusts, local authorities, individuals, owners, friends groups and other heritage organisations. It is anticipated that the records will continue to grow and improve over time, with further depth added as new research becomes available.