Diverse events drive interest in Capability Brown landscapes

Media interest in the Capability Brown Festival was set to peak this week as the 300th anniversary of the 18th century landscape designer's baptism was celebrated.

There are some 300 events at Brownian landscapes such as Bowood. Image: RHS
There are some 300 events at Brownian landscapes such as Bowood. Image: RHS

There is no record of when Lancelot "Capability" Brown, who designed 200 landscapes including at Highclere, Chatsworth, Blenheim and Stowe, was born but we do know he was baptised three centuries ago on Tuesday (30 August) in Kirkharle, Northumberland.

The festival comprises some 300 events in Brownian landscapes this year, organised with the help of local staff, ranging from the traditional to the esoteric, including a celebratory three-hour non-stop bell-ringing marathon in Croome, Worcester, on Tuesday.

Many of the events focus on widening engagement in the gardens, such "Brown at Work", which encourages people to try landscaping themselves, and the "Croome Poetry Slam" inviting urban poets to perform on-site.

At Petworth in West Sussex, a sandbox and projector fuelled by an Xbox allow visitors to create their own landscape models, which are then augmented by the projections in real time. Temple Newsam House in Leeds has an on-going project where choreographers invite people who live nearby to help re-interpret the landscape through dance, an idea pitched by the property's learning and access officer Shelley Dring.

Festival director Ceryl Evans said: "It's really brilliant how people have dreamt up the most amazing things. We wanted to push the boundaries of how to go out and enjoy the landscape."

The events have helped drive media interest. So far the festival has had more than 900 individual pieces of media coverage, which equates to more than four-billion "opportunities to view" - a standard measure of media reach. "It's been incredible," said Evans. "It's gone international. We had something in a Chilean magazine, the oldest publication still published in the Spanish language."

Royal Mail has boosted the Brown brand still further by releasing a set of eight special stamps, featuring some of his best-loved designs. All this has led to reports of increased visitor numbers at his landscapes, said Evans, although full figures will not be released until the end of the year.

Also co-inciding with the anniversary is new research revealing that Brown earned the equivalent of £508.7m from rich clients during his 30 years of work.

A new display by RHS Lindley Library opens on Monday (5 September) showing Brown's personal account book to the public for the first time, alongside a new research paper on Brown's finances by renowned economic historian Professor Sir Roderick Floud.

It reveals that he made a turnover of £840m and profit of £139m between 1755 and 1783 and, between 1759 and 1783 had 125 clients, including the King, six prime ministers, seven dukes, 26 earls, 19 knights and baronets, two generals and a judge.

"A Capable Businessman" runs at the RHS Lindley Library in central London from 5 September to 29 October. The account book has also been digitised and can be viewed at www.rhs.org.uk/libraryonline.


Research calculates the equivalent value of Brown's work

Client Site Today's value
George III Hampton Court Palace £54m
Lord Clive of India Claremont £51.8m
Duke of Marlborough Blenheim Palace £35.3m

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