Humphry Repton and the landscape of Attingham Park

It is now 220 years since the landscape you see at Attingham today was designed by Humphry Repton, the great landscape designer of the late 1700s and early 1800s. Repton worked at Attingham in the earlier stages of his career and his ideas about landscape design continue to influence designers today. 2018 marks the bicentenary of Repton's death.

Repton's commission

Thomas, 2nd Lord Berwick commissioned Repton in 1797 to work on proposals for his land at Attingham. He was paid a stipend of one hundred guineas a year for two visits. Repton completed his ‘Red Book’ the following year and some of his suggestions for improvement were carried out.

Repton's Red Book of proposed designs for Attingham, the red Morocco leather led to its name.
Humphry Repton's Red Book of Attingham contained his design proposals for the landscape
Repton's Red Book of proposed designs for Attingham, the red Morocco leather led to its name.
" ...after the improvements of Attingham shall be completed, this little volume will remain in your Lordship’s library as a record of the principles on which those improvements have been conducted... "
- Humphry Repton, from the Red Book

Unlike Capability Brown, the highly regarded landscape designer of the 1700s, Repton did not oversee the construction work but left the client to implement the work.

Video

Humphry Repton's Red Book of Attingham

Take a look at some of the pages inside Attingham's Red Book in this short film.

Repton's proposed designs

Lord Berwick had previously acquired some land which forms the current deer park today. This meant that he could introduce a second entrance and driveway to Attingham and Repton was tasked to improve the views from the two entrances.

Repton’s aerial view of Attingham. The drive from the top left corner would be used if travelling from Shrewsbury and the drive from the bottom left corner would be used if Lord Berwick was travelling from his London house.
A page from Attingham's Red Book showing the two driveways to Attingham Hall
Repton’s aerial view of Attingham. The drive from the top left corner would be used if travelling from Shrewsbury and the drive from the bottom left corner would be used if Lord Berwick was travelling from his London house.

As guests travelled up the main drive, from Shrewsbury, they would see the view towards the Wrekin hill. Repton had difficulty making this approach more interesting as the land is flat and the trees planted around 20 years earlier were still young. He suggested varying the line of the drive to show the house at a better angle and to 'enliven' the landscape with scattered groups of deer or cattle.

If Lord Berwick was travelling from London he would enter the park before Tern Bridge, take in a beautiful view of Attingham Hall and pass over a new bridge built from wood or cast-iron.

Repton's drawing showing Attingham Hall and the river to the front before his proposed design.
A page from Attingham's Red Book showing the landscape before Repton's propsoed design
Repton's drawing showing Attingham Hall and the river to the front before his proposed design.
Opening the flap of Repton's painting of the landscape to the front of the Hall revealed his proposed changes.
A page from Attingham's Red Book shwoing Repton's proposed designs to the landscape
Opening the flap of Repton's painting of the landscape to the front of the Hall revealed his proposed changes.

There is no evidence to suggest that this bridge was built. Repton made proposals for widening the river so it would appear more like a lake.

" It is very true that large pieces of water may be made too trim and neat about the edges… but if the banks are left perfect at first, the treading of cattle will soon give them all the irregularity they require. "
- Humphry Repton, from the Red Book

The view from the Hall to Tern Bridge was improved by lowering the land to view more of the river and removing some of the trees. This would take away the markings of a boundary to Lord Berwick's land and give the impression that he owned more land to the south. By revealing more of the bridge the structure would appear further away and adding a spire to Wroxeter Church would add more perspective, although the spire was never carried out.

Repton's painting of the view from the Hall towards Tern Bridge before his proposed design.
A page from Attingham's Red Book looking towards Wroxeter
Repton's painting of the view from the Hall towards Tern Bridge before his proposed design.
Opening the flap of Repton's painting revealed his proposed design including adding a spire to Wroxeter church.
A page from Attingham's Red Book showing Repton's proposed designs looking towards Wroxeter
Opening the flap of Repton's painting revealed his proposed design including adding a spire to Wroxeter church.

Some designers believed that a landscape should resemble a painting but Repton disagreed, arguing that it would be too restrictive.  In the watercolour paintings below he highlighted just how much can be seen by the eye in comparison to a view selected for a painting.  He referred to this as ‘the axis of vision’, the range of depth and perspective achieved by the human eye.

View to the Shropshire Hills from Attingham Hall demonstrating the 'axis of vision'.
Watercolour paintings from Attingham's Red Book showing the 'axis of vision'
View to the Shropshire Hills from Attingham Hall demonstrating the 'axis of vision'.

Repton's landscape today

Attingham is fortunate to have the original Red Book of Repton's designs as well as the majority of his improvements still able to be seen in the landscape today. The Outdoors Team of Rangers and Gardeners care and conserve the landscape to maintain this design.

Repton’s original ‘Red Book’ will be on display in the Mansion until it closes on Sunday 4 November.

 

Explore the parkland on a self-led Repton Ramble

Download a copy of our Repton Ramble self-led trail and see Repton's iconic views at Attingham. 

A page from Attingham's Red Book showing the two driveways to Attingham Hall

A Repton Ramble at Attingham Park in Shropshire

Walk this easy circular trail at Attingham Park in Shropshire following in the steps of landscape designer Humphry Repton. Explore significant views drawn by Repton in the National Trust landscape.

Repton and other National Trust places

Repton undertook over 400 commissions during his 30 year career. You can see an overview of Repton’s work at National Trust sites on the link below.