Capability Brown and Hallingbury Park, and Humphry Repton

Chris Connell, Volunteer Chris Connell Volunteer

Capabilty Brown was consulted by the Houblon family in the early 1770's, about proposals to remodel the area surrounding their residence, Hallingbury Place. No documentary evidence survives of his proposals and it is not clear whether or not any of it was implemented, at least in the short term. Hallingbury Place was later visited by the one of the next big names in English landscape design, Humphry Repton

Capability Brown returns

Following his work for Jacob Houblon III in the late 1750’s at Hatfield Forest, Capability Brown returned in the early 1770’s to work for his son, Jacob IV.  This  time it was for Hallingbury Park, around the time the house was being remodelled as a Palladian mansion.

Documents recently discovered in the family archives held at the Berkshire Record Office shed more light on this.
In a letter dated 26 April 1773, Jacob Houblon IV writes to Lancelot Brown to thank him for his “excellent plan for the laying out of my grounds”.  This gave "great satisfaction ….. to myself and to everyone that has seen it but that is a success that Mr. Brown never fails off.” 
Houblon also asks for the name of Brown’s bankers and how much he should pay in on account. 
In a letter dated 31 Jan 1777 and sent from Hampton Court, Brown presented his account for £105, for the survey work done in 1772, along with a note of apology for the timing of this.  
This is followed by a further letter from Brown, dated 3 Feb 1773, acknowledging receipt of a bankers “draft on Child & Co for one hundred guineas”.  He adds in a PS that he intends to call in, to pay his respects, on his way to Cambridge, hopefully before the family “leave the country”. 
This payment is confirmed by an entry in the Hallingbury Cash Book, for £105, for 1 Feb 1773 for “ Mr Brown for Plan and Survey of Hallingbury” 
Receipt of the payment is confirmed by an entry in Capability Brown's own Account Book, dated 2 Feb 1778. This records a payment of £105 and details the work as: 
" For the Survey of Hallingbury taken by Mr Spyers for his Expenses and for the Plan and Drawing which contains 493 Acres 3 Roods and 6 perches; For a General Plan for the alteration of the Place; Plans for Lodges"
- Lancelot Capability Brown

None of the Plan, the General Plan or the plans for lodges has survived so we do not know what was proposed or what was implemented.

Lady Alice Frances Archer Houblon’s account

Lady Alice, in her account of the history of the Houblon family, notes at p71, that after 1757, Brown was:

“now engaged in carrying out alterations at Hallingbury. It was probably at this time that the Elizabethan garden was destroyed, the ha-ha made, and the pleasure grounds laid out about the house, in the style which the taste of the day substituted in so many instances for the more formal beauty of the past.”

This is however inconsistent with other sources which date this work to the early 1770's.  A ha-ha survives to the present day and is especially prominent on the south of the site of the house.

Lady Alice further notes, at p 156, that (about 1773):

“Capability Brown did some work about the grounds at this time, and probably planned a large sheet of water in the park, which was made not long afterwards.”

Again, the chronology is inconsistent.

The lake in Hallingbury Park

A lake was created but it does not appear on the 1777 Chapman and Andre map or the first Ordnance Survey map, dating from 1805.  It is however shown quite clearly in an engraving of 1832.

The estate lodges

The surviving East and West Lodges at Hallingbury Park date from about 1861 and 1846, respectively, with the design of the East Lodge attributed to G E Pritchett, rather than a belated use of the 1778 Brown design.

An authentic Brown site? 

Ironically, Hallingbury Park, rather than Hatfield Forest, is better documented as an authentic Brown site, in standard Brown texts such as by Dorothy Stroud and Roger Taylor, and the definitive list prepared by John Phibbs, on account of the readily available evidence from the Accounts Book, even though it seems unlikely that any of the plan was implemented, at least in the short term.  The evidence for his work at Hatfield Forest has not been so widely known until recently.

Humphry Repton and Hallingbury Place

Humphry Repton is regarded as the successor to Capability Brown, although he did work in a slightly different fashion, providing only plans suggesting landscape improvements (his famous Red Books).

He was also an accomplished artist and provided a series of drawings which were converted into vignettes for a yearly almanac published by William Peacock, the Polite Repository.  The page for May in the 1803 edition contains a vignette of Hallingbury Place (measuring about 60 by 30 mm - small but beautifully formed!).  

Some Repton scholars have suggested that these vignettes were from places where Repton had worked/hoped to work, so it is tempting to speculate that he had more than a passing interest in Hallingbury.  Unfortunately there is no documentary evidence to support this.

Vignette of Hallingbury Place taken from 1803 edition of The Polite Repository
Vignette from an almanac of 1803 showing Hallingbury Place
Vignette of Hallingbury Place taken from 1803 edition of The Polite Repository

see also: Lancelot Brown and his Essex Clients; Essex Garden Trust; 2015.