National Trust and Repton
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The National Trust is fortunate to own a number of properties with connections to Humphry Repton.
It can be quite difficult to determine what his exact involvement at any one place was but we do know that he was commissioned to produce Red Books of design proposals at nine National Trust properties. The extent to which Repton’s designs were implemented varies between sites, as does the degree to which the original designs remain visible on the ground. The National Trust is an important custodian of remaining Repton landscapes and the properties listed below also give a good indication of the variety and geographical scope of Repton’s commissions as well as documenting how his design practice developed over his career.
There are two examples of early commissions, both completed in 1792. Antony is one of several Repton sites on the Tamar in Cornwall. It is still home to the Carew Pole family who commissioned Repton to landscape the grounds. The advice he provided on woodland planting was followed closely.
In the same year Repton also completed the Red Book for Tatton Park in Cheshire. At Tatton he recommended adding interesting objects to create character and comfort in the vast park.
The 2nd Lord Berwick appointed Repton to redesign the Attingham Estate in Shrewsbury and paid him a stipend of one hundred guineas a year for two visits. Repton presented his Red Book in 1798. His proposals focussed on the improvement of the River Terne which runs through the park.
In 1799 Repton completed a commission at Plas Newydd, home of the Marquess of Anglesey, but only the text of the Red Book survives. He recommended redesigning the drive and planting more trees between the stables and the house. He also suggested the construction of a greenhouse come pavilion, a hexagonal structure with removable sides, a sketch of which he reproduced in Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1803).
Repton produced his plans for Hatchlands Park in Guildford in 1800. They included the introduction of pleasure grounds, planting to screen the road and changes to the approach road. The layout of the garden and the park remains true to the original design.
The owners of the Wimpole Estate employed a succession of landscape gardeners to ‘improve’ their estate including Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Repton presented his Red Book for Earl Harwicke in 1801 in which he recommended removing trees to reveal the beauty of the house and to make the estate appear more wooded!
Uppark on the South Downs was another property where Repton followed Brown. His Red Book was produced in 1810 and is unusual in presenting designs for the interior of the house as well as for the park. Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh asked Repton to redesign the dining room and adjacent server. His stained glass window, lit by lamps, can still be seen today.
Repton named the commission for Sheringham Park in north Norfolk in 1812 as his “most favourite work.” It is widely regarded as being among his finest works and as the best surviving example of his designs on the ground.
Repton’s 1813 design for the Ashridge Estate on the border of Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire had to complement the large and magnificent Palace of Ashridge House, recently completed by James Wyatt, and again followed work by Brown. For the 7th Earl of Bridgewater and in what would be one of his final designs, Repton proposed fifteen different kinds of gardens, including a conduit or Holie Well, a winter garden, Monk’s garden, rosary and American garden. Today the house and gardens at Ashridge are owned by Ashridge Business School but the National Trust owns a large area of the wider park.
Other National Trust connections
A number of other National Trust places have important connections to Repton. He visited Sheffield Park several times in 1789 and again in 1790. We don’t know if a Red Book was produced but it is thought that his recommendations were concentrated near the house where he created a series of four small lakes on the site of what it known today as the ‘First Lake’.
Repton was commissioned to produce designs for John Dashwood King at West Wycombe Park sometime before 1796. He included sketches and extracts from his recommendations in Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening in which he referred to the production of a Red Book.
Lady Suffield of Blickling approached Repton for advice but there is no evidence that this was formally given. Repton did paint ‘Lady’s Cottage in the Great Wood’ on the estate (c. 1780 one of his earliest known watercolours) and his son John Adey is known to have provided designs for flower beds and garden structures.
Repton refers to Dyrham Park in Observations and a letter and design for a pavilion can be found in Gloucestershire Record Office. A letter from Repton to his son William dated 1809 suggests he carried out work at Woodchester Park for Lord Ducie.
Repton regularly used the library at Felbrigg when he lived at nearby Sustead. The owner of the estate (and Repton’s landlord) William Windham supported Repton’s studies of agriculture and botany, and provided him with introductions to learned men including Sir Joseph Banks, some of which helped Repton to secure his first commissions. He also completed sketches of the estate. There is no paper evidence of Repton ever having completed design work at Felbrigg but we do know that significant landscaping, ‘Reptonian’ in character, was carried out on the estate during Repton’s time.
Repton completed sketches of a number of other properties for publication in Peacock’s Polite Repository, a yearly almanac come diary with scenic engravings: Shute Barton (primarily a holiday cottage), The Weir in Herefordshire, Knole in Kent, Chastleton in Oxfordshire and Wakehurst Place in Sussex. The sketches may be an indication that he carried out work but we don’t have any further evidence.
The National Trust Collections include the Red Books for Tatton Park, Attingham, Wimpole and Sheringham Park, a large number of other sketches and architectural drawings by Repton and his son John Adey, and copies of some of his publications. These documents are important for the study of garden history and act as valuable sources of information for the restoration and management of National Trust properties.