Restoring and managing Kirkharle: a perpective from owner John Anderson
Brown’s life and philosophy
Lancelot Brown was born at Kirkharle in 1716 before being baptised in St Wilfrid’s Church on 30th August that year; after attending school in nearby Cambo, he left aged 16 to work as gardener to Sir William Loraine before moving south in 1739 to Wootton in Oxfordshire and a year later to Stowe, working for Lord Cobham. Thus started an illustrious career that was to encompass designing some of England’s greatest landscapes Burghley, Holkham, Harewood, Longleat, Sheffield Park and Blenheim Palace’s lake but to name a few. In 1767 he purchased Fenstanton Manor in Huntingdonshire where he lived until he died aged 67 in 1783. (Not all agreed: Robert Owen, a poet, declared he wanted to get to heaven before Brown so he could see it before Brown had improved it)
With no formal training, it begs the question as to how Brown acquired such knowledge that enabled him to become such a famous landscape designer; my belief is that he gained so much of this on his daily walk to Cambo School; no quick dash in mother’s car or in the school bus, but rather a 3 mile trudge each day there and back throughout the school year. You will know from your own experience how much more you observe when walking, whether it be of your surroundings or the wildlife around you. Brown would have become very conscious of the lovely Northumbrian countryside that lay before him as well as the wild native flora and fauna that added interest; he will have been aware of the many people working the land whether it be on haymaking, ploughing, tending stock or mending stone walls to name but a few of the farming activities taking place. Most importantly, he will have seen all these things throughout the year and how the seasons affected both the appearance and activities of each. Trees changing colours to losing their leaves, birds arriving in the Spring to migrating in the Autumn, wild flowers in the meadows coming into bloom before being scythed down and made into hay. All this must have had a powerful and lasting impact on this young boy; it made him appreciate their many differing aspects and the importance of the living environment. His ability to create a great variety of landscape in one place, that represented both beauty and interest, is what marked Brown out from his contemporaries. I would contend that much of this was gleaned on his way to and from school each day; part of the path, alongside the northern edge of the lake, is built on the track he is likely to have walked.