Capability Brown

Lake view from formal gardens
Lake view from formal gardens

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716-1783) was born in the Northumberland village of Kirkharle, and went on to popularise the English landscape style, advising on over 250 large country estates throughout England and Wales. Formal gardens gave way to naturalistic parkland of trees, expanses of water and rolling grass. He also designed great houses, churches and garden buildings, and was skilled in engineering, especially with water.

In 1771 the 6th Baron Craven commissioned Capability Brown to modernise the landscape around the former Cistercian monastery at Coombe Abbey. Brown swept away the elaborate Elizabethan gardens and landscaped the park to create a serpentine lake, sweeping views and extensive new planting. Working with architect Henry Holland Junior, his son-in-law, Brown also designed several buildings, including a boathouse, menagerie and lodge gates. In a letter, probably around August 1770, Lord Craven wrote to Brown about Coombe (also spelt Combe): “I desire you to exert your  utmost abilities to improve the place and shall leave everything else to you. I hope you will not leave Coombe till you have made a plan and estimate and that you will get the man you mentioned to me, and begin directly.” Work had begun at Coombe by September 1771. Brown recorded payments of £7,150 (more than £11.3 million in 2015) between then and May 1774. He was also working for Lord Craven at Benham Valence during the mid-1770s, and a payment in January 1776 included landscaping work done at both estates.

Portrait of Lancelot ' Capability Brown, c 1770-75 by Richard Cosway

Portrait of Lancelot ' Capability Brown, c 1770-75 by Richard Cosway, 917421821/Private Collection/Bridgeman Images.

Download and print the Capability Brown at Coombe Abbey Park leaflet