Capability Brown at Hatfield Forest

2016 marks the tercentenary of the birth of one of England's greatest landscape designers, Lancelot "Capability" Brown. This is being celebrated at Brownian sites across the country with a series of events. Brown developed a small scheme for the central area of Hatfield Forest and we will be marking this in August.

Who was Capability Brown?

He was one of England's greatest landscape designers, rising from humble origins in Northumberland to create a business with the equivalent of a multi-million pound turnover and dieing a wealthy man.

Brown worked on over  three hundred schemes across the country, with a client list which included the King of England, George III, six Prime Ministers and half the House of Lords.

It has been estimated that he received over £500M in fees (adjusted to present day prices).  The largest came from the King (£54M, for work at Hampton Court, where he was Royal Gardener), Lord Clive (Clive of India, £51.8M, for work at Claremont, Surrey) and the Duke of Marlborough (£35.3M, for work at Blenheim Palace).

He developped a very naturalistic style, a reaction against the very formal and elaborate style epitomised by the gardens at Versailles.

Brown's scheme for the Forest

One of his smaller schemes, dating from 1757, was a plan to modify the lake which had been created in the centre of Hatfield Forest about 10 years earlier.

He proposed the addition of two arms, one at each end of the lake, and with a little island at each end, to create the illusion of a much larger river.  In addition, he proposed softening the outline of the lake with sinuous curves, to give a more naturalistic look.

The plan was only partially implemented, with the creation of what is now the Decoy Lake.  This is now detached from the main lake, with the western bank further modified, when it was taken back, by excavation, to form a channel, thereby creating the larger island.

Later work at Hallingbury Place

Brown returned to the area in 1772 to prepare a scheme for nearby Hallingbury Place, the seat of the Houblon family, owners of Hatfield Forest.  There is no surviving plan and no evidence that any of his scheme was implemented, at least in the years immediately afterwards.

CB300 Festival

To celebrate this important anniversary, events are being held across the country at sites associated with Capability Brown, under the CB300 banner.  The face of the Festival is a portrait painted by Richard Cosway painted between 1770 and 1775.

Events at Hatfield Forest

We will be celebrating the anniversary with a series of events, including special Capabili-Tea's, guided walks and a "Big Brown Bash" conservation day.   In addition, we will have some new interpretations panels in the lake side area.


The drinking of tea was becoming increasingly popular in the 18th century as the price of tea fell.

Come and enjoy a special afternoon tea with cakes inspired by authentic recipies from the 1700's.

These will be available in August from the cafe in the lakeside area.

Guided walks and talk

This will explore the legacy of Brown in the lakeside area.

For times and prices, please check the "Whats On" section of our website.

Big Brown Bash

On Wed 31 Aug, between 10.00 and 16.00, we will be holding a "Big Brown Bash".  All are welcome.

The banks of the Decoy Lake and island within it have become overgrown with woody vegetation, making it difficult to appreciate this important Brownian legacy.  

Come along and help restore this historic area.  The Big Brown Bash is a hands-on scrub clearance day. 

Free event, no need to book.  For further information please ring 01279 874045.

Interpretation panels

Look out for the new interpretation panels in the lakeside area.

Find out more

Hatfield Forest has several mentions in the recently published book: "Capability Brown and his Landscape Gardens" (Sarah Rutherford, National Trust Books, ISBN: 9781909881549) .  This also includes an image of the plan prepared for the lake in 1757.