This year, 2016, sees the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot Brown, better known as Capability Brown, the landscape gardener who would design over 170 gardens surrounding the finest properties in England. The name Capability came from his decree to wealthy patrons that their estates had the great ‘capability’ for improving the landscape. Known as England’s greatest gardener, Brown was born in Kirkharle in the north east of England. His parents worked for the local Lord, Sir William Loraine at his ancestral home, Kirkharle Hall. Leaving school aged 16, Lancelot became apprentice to the head gardener of the kitchen garden at Kirkharle Hall. This apprenticeship came to an end 7 years later when in 1739 he left and travelled to Boston, Lincolnshire then moved on to take up a position at Liddington Hall in Oxfordshire in 1740. Around this time he undertook work at Wotton House in Buckinghamshire.
These early positions were of short duration and largely involved working in existing gardens. His work at Wotton House brought him to contact with Lord Cobham, who also owned Stowe House where Lancelot joined the gardening staff in 1741, a year later being appointed head gardener. He married Bridget Wayet in 1744 and by taking independent design contracts amassed sufficient wealth that he was able to move to London’s the Mall, Hammersmith, in 1751. By now his contacts in the aristocracy were vying to employ the ‘must have’ landscape garden designer, Capability Brown.
Now a fully independent designer, Lancelot took on commission’s at exclusive properties including Warwick Castle, Burghley House and Blenheim Palace. By the 1760’s his earnings were around £6,000 a year or £0.75 million today. His career reached its zenith in 1764 when he was appointed by King George III as head gardener at Hampton Court Palace. He continued to work until his death on 6th February 1783 at his daughter’s house as a result of a bang to the head following a fall. It is believed that he never referred to himself by his most famous name, Capability.