Colour aerial photo showing an ornamental lake surrounded by parkland and trees with arable fields beyond.
The lake and surrounding parkland at Stowe Park, near Milton Keynes, photographed on 01-JUL-2008 (26048/005) © Historic England
The lake and surrounding parkland at Stowe Park, near Milton Keynes, photographed on 01-JUL-2008 (26048/005) © Historic England

Capability Brown Landscapes

Historic England was a partner in the national Capability Brown Festival in 2016, celebrating the 300th anniversary of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown (1716 to 1783). We worked with a number of partners on new research into the work of this most renowned landscape designer.

Brown worked with landowners across England to create stunning, large-scale landscapes and was known as the 'omnipotent magician'. He dominated his profession and was prolific. His work is everywhere, but with such a naturalistic style that all his best work was mistaken for untouched nature. The English Landscape Style developed by Brown and his contemporaries spread across Europe, Russia and North America and continues to shape contemporary landscape design.


Research review

In 2013, Historic England published a University of East Anglia Landscape Group report reviewing our research knowledge about Capability Brown landscapes, as a contribution to the 2016 Festival planning. The catalogues of Brown’s plans and drawings (see below) follow through these research recommendations. There is more to do and not least a review of the research undertaken since 2013. 

Read the report: Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. A Research Impact Review prepared for English Heritage by the Landscape Group, University of East Anglia

The county gardens trusts and other researchers significantly added to our knowledge of individual Brown landscapes in 2016 and 2017. 

As a result of this research work several registrations were reviewed, some upgraded and a few new sites added to the National Heritage List (with other contributions added via the Missing Pieces Project):

  • Wotton House List Entry Number: 1000608 upgraded to Grade I
  • Hewell Grange List Entry Number: 1000886 revised entry
  • Belvoir Castle List Entry Number: 1000957 revised entry
  • Ragley Hall List Entry Number: 1001196 revised entry
  • Temple Newsam List Entry Number: 1001356 revised entry and listed temple building upgraded
  • Peper Harow Park List Entry Number: 1435898 new registration
  • Stoke Place List Entry Number: 1436431 new registration
  • Wakefield Lodge Park List Entry Number: 1444577 new registration

Capability Brown's Plans

In 2018 Historic England published the first-ever catalogue of Capability Brown’s plans: Capability Brown's Plans: A Reference Catalogue of Design Plans and Surveys drawn by Brown or his office (around 1759 - 83).

The report draws on the research carried out for the 2016 Festival. This first edition included 82 known plans. There was an expectation that there were probably more to discover, and seven more plans have come to light (Burghley, Henley Park, Dinfewr/Newtown House, Packington, and Wallington (3 plans). The second edition of the report now includes these plans and some additional images.

The research report highlights the opportunities to develop this catalogue further, and the value of digitising plans to enable further study and research about Brown’s landscaping work and his team.

Capability Brown's Drawings

A second report Capability Brown’s Drawings: A Reference Catalogue of Drawings by Brown or his Office (around the 1740s to 1783) was published on 30 August 2019. This report highlights the number and range of Brown’s architectural commissions. Like the above report on Brown’s plans, this catalogue captures over 100 known architectural drawings and related material but there may be others to add. There are preliminary sketches, plans, elevations, sections, perspectives and presentation drawings. Even the titles to Brown’s landscape survey and design plans sometimes include small drawings.

The types of structures in the surviving drawings are typical of great country estates of the time. They range from country mansions such as Claremont, Broadlands, Burghley and Belvoir, through stables, offices and farmsteads, and other estate and park buildings such as gateways and lodges, bridges, ruins, pavilions, seats and temples, to more practical ice houses, dams and stockades. The most extensive collections containing six or more architectural drawings include Ashburnham (6), Belvoir (at least 6), Blenheim (9), Burghley (7) Burton Constable (6), Claremont (numerous in an album), and the Hermitage collection (7).

The report offers recommendations for further research, including a re-appraisal of Brown as an architect.

Map of aerial photographs

Clicking on the map provides a link to the list entry for each of the parks and gardens included on Historic England's Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For those not registered, a link has been created to the relevant entry on the Parks and Gardens UK website.

Each photograph is represented by a dot. Clicking on the dot, brings up details of the date on which the photograph was taken, along with a reference number and a link to view the image. There is also a link to the Historic England Archive should you wish to know more about any particular site or to order a larger copy of an image.

Some images may show features not directly associated with Capability Brown's landscapes, such as cropmarks and other earlier or later landscape design features and structures.

Place-making: The Art of Capability Brown

In Historic England’s 2017 book, John Phibbs draws on a wide range of documentary evidence to examine the motivation behind Capability Brown’s landscapes, their value and structure, and their place within the English landscape tradition. Phibbs reveals the thinking behind Brown’s genius and shows us how to interpret his enormous body of work.