We are delighted to announce that Gatton Park had been successful in its bid for £50,800 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for an exciting new project, ‘Capability’ Brown’s Vision for Gatton. On the practical side this project will reinstate some of Brown’s lost designed viewpoints and tree plantings across the estate and see the installation of new parkland railings to replace broken fencing. It will also include some new family learning and community engagement activities that hopefully will inspire people to learn more about their local heritage and the designed landscape. The start of the project is well timed to link with this year’s celebration of the 300th anniversary of Brown’s birth.
To launch the project, and to celebrate Mr Brown’s birthday, an evening reception was held on 1st September in Gatton Hall for sponsors, project partners and representatives from other local community groups and it was great to share our plans with them all. The evening was hosted by actors portraying Sir George and Lady Colebrooke, Gatton’s owners at the time, and Mr Henry Crabbe Boulton, the chairman of the East India Company and his wife - and of course the great man himself - Mr Brown.
Linked to this project, we held two August Bank Holiday Picnic with the Past open days with volunteers from Gatton Community Theatre dressed as ‘Capability’ Brown and his apprentices and members of the Colebrooke family, their friends and employees. The volunteers from GCT had researched many of the characters who had lived locally at the time, the history of the Colebrooke family, the life and work of Lancelot Brown and his design for the Gatton Park.
The Sunday and Monday afternoons were spent with people picnicking on the parterre, meeting the characters and exploring the grounds with a particular focus on the Brown landscape. By talking to the costumed volunteers as key individuals from the period, more than 340 visiting adults and children learnt about Gatton’s designed landscape and what it might have been like to live and work there in the mid-1760s. Our Gatton Trust volunteer tour guides also donned period costume and took many people on guided walks around the park to share their particular knowledge. Children had great fun in Gatton Hall dressing up in period clothes, kindly lent to us by Painshill Park Education at Cobham, as well as making Georgian themed hats and playing the games which would have been around at the time – croquet, skittles etc. Much fun was had by all!
Our grateful thanks to all the Gatton Park and Community Theatre volunteers who helped to make the two days so successful.
We are also extremely appreciative of the other sponsors and project partners who with their match funding have helped us to secure the HLF grant and get this project underway: National Trust, Netherby Trust, Surrey County Councillor Community Allocation, Merstham Millennium Trust, Surrey Hills Society, Surrey Gardens Trust, Sir Jeremiah Colman Gift Trust, Reigate Decorative & Fine Art Society, Royal Alexandra & Albert School Foundation.
2016 is the 300th Anniversary of the birth of Capability Brown
In 1762 the owner of Gatton Park, Sir George Colebrooke, employed Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to design the surrounding parkland at Gatton. Brown’s ideas were the antithesis to the formal gardening which had been favoured by the French and Dutch and was so popular with owners of large properties. Brown’s style encouraged the wild, natural freedom of the landscape. His designs form many people’s ideas of what the quintessential English countryside should look like. His signature features were a single tree reflected in a lake, lakes formed by invisible dams, a solitary Cedar of Lebanon, clumps of trees set in undulating grass runs, shelter planting and curved paths.
At Gatton, Brown swept away the formal landscape that had been there before and replaced it with informal naturalistic plantings which accentuated the rolling landscape of the park. The main lake at Gatton Park was greatly expanded and the tributary lakes reshaped to include one of his trademark serpentine canals. The work at Gatton Park was completed in 1768 at a total cost of £3055, this commission was within the top 25% of Brown’s commissions in terms of value.
Brown was a workaholic and designed many sites during his working life such as Croome Court, Blenheim Palace, Warwick Castle, Harewood House, Bowood House and Milton Abbey. His clients were many and even included a King, six Prime Ministers and half of the House of Lords.
The key elements of Brown’s design at Gatton Park have been worked on since 1996 by volunteers who have both restored and maintained the parkland here. This is an ongoing project but the stunning features of Gatton Park can be enjoyed today as a result of their hard work.