The Brown Advisor

300 Frequently Asked Questions about Capability Brown

288: Is Brown known in Europe?

A recent note (no. 286) is reflected in recent encounters with thinkers from France (Dr C), from Germany (Dr K) and from Hungary (Dr A), who speak interestingly, but in concert and with an authority that cannot be denied, and who deny that their 18th century ancestors had any great knowledge of the gardener Brown, even when they were laying out in their own countries lavish landscapes in his style.

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287: What is a deer house?

I am proud to number amongst my acquaintance, Dr J  – I would add ‘of Sheffield’ but that he is so often to be found in Lichfield – or any other field come to that. Though not an enthusiast for office life, Dr J remains a sleek and well-groomed man, one who might earn himself a considerable income from modelling clothes for field archaeologists. Trousers with large pockets feature largely in his costume, and it was from just such a pocket that he drew out a paper, screwed it into a cone, filled it with questions and offered it to me, much as one might share a packet of chips. Uppermost amongst his concerns was the deer house, and how could he find out more about deer houses, and was there a gazetteer of deer houses. I was but little able to help him but we agreed that a deer house was likely to be an open-sided shelter in which forage might be set for feeding the deer in winter. I was too timid perhaps in the presence of such an authority, but might have suggested that these deer houses tend to be recorded in the 18th century – at Chatsworth, at Croxton, at Dunham Massey for example, and that they are not so far removed in style from the ‘shade’, or open-sided shed, often set in a walled yard, and designed for folding sheep or cattle. I had in mind the shades of that type to be found in the west wall of the Norris Castle demesne on the Isle of Wight which were set into yards. Might one conclude that the similarities between the shade and the deer house are more than coincidental, and that there was an idea in the eighteenth century that deer too might be folded, or at least encouraged by feeding to manure the parkland near the deer house, so that this might be picked up and carried to the arable land? Though common enough, deer houses are by no means ubiquitous and there is no particular association between them and landscapes attributed to the master-magician, Capability Brown. If there was an idea therefore that deer could be turned to some use as producers of manure, then it would seem that Brown was having none of it.

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286: Is Brown a classic?

Much as moulds will effloresce upon a ground bedewed and pooled with rain, so a year made florid by the celebration of the tercentenary of that master of illusion, Capability Brown, will bring us thistles as well as roses.

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283: Where does this leave Repton?

While normally I trust I may pride myself upon a sanguine and forgiving temperament, I must confess that a recent correspondence from Mr H of Twickenham, has left me with an unexpected difficulty that I cannot satisfactorily resolve.

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284: Are there no crumbs?

Hirsute and with her head in a bandage again, Mrs W of Staffordshire never looks her best after a fall, but her one wild eye is still a-roving, and thus she came to me seeking as it were a mix of bread-crumbs which she felt would liven up this dish of advisory notes and give them more kick as they came fresh from the oven.

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281: Was Brown asking for trouble?

Mr Honey comes in spinning like a top – I have seldom seen such irritability in a man – and flings onto our table first one issue then another then another of a magazine – well, let us say a magazine with which I feel myself to be closely associated.  Each has within it another attack on the landscapes of Capability Brown.

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285: What of Steffie Shields?

A delayed train to Carlisle having given me an hour or two in hand at Newcastle, I resolved to indulge myself with Steffie Shields Moving Heaven and Earth Capability Brown’s gift of landscape.

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280: What news of the Norfolk school?

Before recommending to our public Tom Williamson and David Brown’s Lancelot Brown and the Capability Men (London: Reacktion Books, 2016), the new basket of bouquets to that great Arbiter of British Taste, Capability Brown, my friends and I decided we would each select some bonbon from the book that would justify such a purchase.

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279: What’s worse – Catholic or Tory?

A chance conversation – I was dining at Stowe – led me to surmise that there is an underlying significance to the names of things. A name first given without apparent thought will be discovered to resonate with the sub-conscious and to convey depths of meaning never suspected by the conscious mind of the namer. Thus it is with the multi-named Saxon Temple, or Gothic Temple, or Temple of Liberty. It is as if all three names were needed to drive home the point that the ancient race of Britain (the Saxon) practiced a certain form of architecture (the Gothic), and lived the life of the free. The message being that the 18th century English should recognise that England’s strength resided in its ancient liberty, and that this liberty should be protected and celebrated.

Why then I wonder was the Catholic and Tory James Gibbs called upon to design the building, a project for which his career to that point had apparently little suited him. Could it be that a Catholic had to be called upon, so to speak, to haul down the flag of Catholicism, hitherto associated with the Gothic, and to exchange it for the flag of Whiggism and liberty?

The sudden association between the autocracy of Catholicism, and the liberty of the English parliament is as striking as the position of the Tories, being at the same time upholders of the established protestant church of England with their plan for fifty new churches in the City of London while at the same time being suspected of residual Catholic sympathies; at the same time loyal supporters of the status quo (Hanover) and supporters of the Stuart succession.

It might be simplest to conclude that neither religion nor politics were quite the fixed poles that we see them to be at a distance of 300 years.

278: What of critics?

At this stage in our tercentennial celebrations for that Protean gardener, Capability Brown, I have heard cries and sighs of satiation from men and from women – there is too much juice I hear, too much pleasure, they are browned off with Brown.

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The Brown Advisor©2015

By John Phibbs