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. March 2018 sees the bicentenary of his death.
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.
" ...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... "
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.
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.
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.
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. "
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.
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.
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 from 17 February until September. It will then be part of an exhibition at the Garden Museum in London where it will join other ‘Red Books’ from National Trust estates. You can find more details about this here.
Take a walk in Repton's footsteps
You can find out more about Humphry Repton and the landscape of Attingham Park over the weekend of Friday 23 to Sunday 25 March with our special 'Repton and the Landscape of Attingham' guided walks, to commemorate the bicentenary of Repton's death. These special walks must be pre-booked in advance and you can find out more information on our What's On page or by following the link here.
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.
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.