Restoring the estate at Croome: A Capability Brown masterpiece


The idyllic parkland at Croome, set in Worcestershire, was the very first commission for the great landscape architect, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Brown’s vision of a seemingly natural-looking landscape sent shockwaves throughout the gardening world, inspiring countless other estates and transformed the face of the English countryside.

Sadly this ground-breaking design was lost due to decades of intensive farming. Now as we celebrate 300 years since the birth of the great gardener, we look at the on-going work by the team at Croome to restore ‘Capability’ Brown’s masterpiece to its former glory.

When we acquired Croome 20 years ago, follies and features were submerged by undergrowth, the magnificent serpentine lake, nearly two miles long and originally dug out by hand, was silted up, its bridges sunken under the mud. Brown's green pastures and many of his trademark trees had been lost to decades of farming.
 
Dredging silt and reed from Croome river in 2003
Dredging silt and reed from Croome river in 2003

Amazing archives

Remarkably every detail of Brown’s design for the sixth Earl of Coventry, down to bills for individual plants, survives.  The estate records are among the most complete for any historic garden in the country, opening the opportunity for Croome to be pieced together again.  A 1796 map by John Snape, so precise even tree seats can be made out, has provided an accurate guide for restoration. 
 
John Snape’s 1796 map of Croome Park
John Snape’s 1796 map of Croome Park

In 1824, head gardener, William Dean, produced a guide book to Croome, Hortus Croomensis, with an A to Z of every significant plant, over 5,000 of them, an invaluable snapshot of the garden after Brown’s work had matured.

 

Putting it all together again 

The river restored to its former glory
Looking out over the river and estate at Croome, Worcestershire

Since 1996, the momentous task of rediscovering and restoring this vast estate (730 acres of the original 14,000 acres are now cared for by the Trust) has been gathering pace. Just over half has now been returned to Brown’s original vision, although the new trees are very much in their infancy. 

This mammoth project has only been possible to our dedicated team of gardeners and the tireless work of our growing volunteers:

" The most exciting aspect of working here is the feeling of reliving history. The new planting, recreating paths and opening up vistas is exactly what was going on in the 1750s and 60s. We’re seeing Croome re-emerge and develop just as the Earl of Coventry and Brown would have watched it happen over 250 years ago."
- Katherine Alker - Croome Garden and Park Manager

Today you can admire the glassy lake again, edged with cedars of Lebanon, London planes and other specimen trees that thankfully survived modern agriculture.  Vistas have been reopened, the Pleasure Ground shrubberies replanted and eventually a new multi-use track for bikes and buggies promises to bring the twenty first century equivalent of the original carriage rides through the estate.

Restoring the Chinese bridge

Time and again detailed archive records have allowed the team at Croome to bring the estate closer to its eighteenth-century heyday. Using original drawings, a replica of the original Chinese-style bridge that once spanned the river has been put back in place; the original having disappeared beneath the river more than 150 years ago.
 

New additions for 2016

This summer the restored sculpture of Sabrina, Goddess of the River Severn, who reclines by Brown’s grotto will have water flowing from the urn she carries once more, providing a cool resting place on a hot day. 
 
There’s so much more to see and do at Croome as it grows and matures and that’s what makes this 250 year old masterpiece such an exciting place to visit.
 
The restoration of Croome is a mammoth, on-going task. There are paths, plants, buildings and much more still to restore and replant. You can get involved and help create something for future generations to enjoy by becoming a volunteer or making a donation. Please contact us on 01905 371006, or email Croomepark@nationaltrust.org.uk to learn more.