Capability Brown's Wimbledon Park, in His Day and Ours
Between 1806 and 1810 the 2nd Earl Spencer measured the girth of some 44 trees in the vicinity of the last house and he measured them again in 1823 or 1826. The results, shown in the Althorp papers held by the British Library today, provide statistics on their rate of growth and indicate which could have been there in Brown’s original design and which must have postdated his involvement with Wimbledon Park. The Earl found an average growth in girth of 1.3in per annum, slightly better than the rule of thumb devised by the modern dendrologist, Alan Mitchell, of an inch a year for a tree with a full crown 8.This rate can be accounted for by the unusually fast growth of one species, the Cedar of Lebanon. A quarter of the Earl’s trees were cedars and he found an average growth rate for these of 1.7in per annum.
Many of the trees measured in 1823 or 1826 were small specimens at the time. Only a few were large enough to date back to Brown’s own day. Among these were a cedar ‘south of the pavilion’ and an elm ‘south of the terrace’ which were then already approximately 150 years old. They must have dated from around 1675, not long after the Cedar of Lebanon was first introduced to England. Three other cedars and a Scots Pine were around 70 years old, so probably planted before Brown’s time, as was a Beech of around 100 years.
Trees that could have been planted by Brown himself had estimated ages from 65 to 40 years. There were four cedars, a Tulip-tree, a Weymouth Pine, a hybrid poplar (which the Earl called a ‘Carolina poplar’ 9), a Larch 10 and a Copper Beech. There was also a ‘Red Cedar’, unlikely to have been a Western Red Cedar as that was not introduced from America until the 1850s. The remaining 41 trees were younger. The trees measured by the second Earl were a tiny proportion of those indicated on John Corris’s Plan of Wimbledon and Surrounding Parishes of 1787.
In today’s Wimbledon Park area, the oldest tree is an Oak near the 8th green of Wimbledon Park Golf Course, which is over five metres in girth, so about 300 years old, probably already 50 years old in Brown’s time. Trees with girths between 4.4 and 4.8 metres have estimated ages of 230 to 255 years and may originate with Brown’s landscaping. These comprise four further Oaks, two of which are on the golf course, one in the pavement of Home Park Road beside the course and one in Lake Road 11. Both within the historic Wimbledon Park and
nearby today there are many more trees with a girth of around 4 metres, indicating an age of around 200 years. They may post-date Brown.