Humphry Repton at Hatchlands Park

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When George Holme Sumner bought Hatchlands Park and decided that the parkland needed a new lease of life, he turned to one of the foremost landscape designers of the day.

Humphry Repton was born in 1752 at Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk. He grew up in Norwich and was eventually set up in business by his father.

When the business failed, Humphry moved his family to the countryside where, at the age of 36, he began a new career as a landscape designer.

A successful career change

A talented writer and a skilled amateur artist, Humphry had a working knowledge of plants and the countryside and a skill for forging contacts. His first commissions came from local landowners. But over the years he began to receive prestigious engagements for important estates.

By the end of his career he was associated with over 200 schemes, including projects at Sheringham Park, Attingham Park, Dyrham Park and Tatton Park.

He was also invited by The Prince of Wales to submit designs for Brighton Pavilion. Although the Prince could not afford the resulting plans Repton still published them.

Changes to Hatchlands

Repton produced his plans for Hatchlands in 1800. They included introducing pleasure grounds – the laying of dressed lawn around the house with gravel walks leading to objects of interest.

He recommended a screen of planting so that Hatchlands would be, ‘changed from a large red house by the side of a high road, to a Gentleman-like residence in the midst of a park’. He was also unhappy with the approach from London, ‘The objections to this road are so obvious, that to be reprobated, it only requires being described.’

The layout of the garden and the park beyond remains much as he envisaged.

The Red Books

Humphry presented his recommendations to clients in his trademark Red Books, named for their red Moroccan leather bindings.

The books would flatter the clients and note the attractions of the existing gardens as well as the defects.

Improvements to the approach, the park and the pleasure grounds were then suggested. These improvements were accompanied by watercolour illustrations with overlays to allow before-and-after comparisons.

The Red Books functioned as plans, advertisements and souvenirs. Over 100 still exist and the Red Books for Hatchlands and other places can be found in The Morgan Library & Museum in New York.