Does Uppark have a Capability Brown connection?

Portrait of Capability Brown

The name Lancelot 'Capability' Brown is often associated with many a fine country estate. But was Britain's most famous landscape designer responsible for the idyllic setting at Uppark?

Shortly after the Uppark estate was bought by Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh in 1747, a plan of the principal site was created. As well as the location of the house and the new service blocks, it shows the layout of the serpentine paths through the pleasure ground and a variety of other features. Some of these features may never have been implemented, or have simply been lost over time.

Was this map of Uppark produced by Capability Brown?
Map of the garden at Uppark, West Sussex, produced circa 1750
Was this map of Uppark produced by Capability Brown?

Although the plan is not signed, it has long been attributed to Capability Brown. It certainly shows features that are in Brown's style, such as the broadly sweeping park boundary defined by a ha-ha, informal shrubbery with open glades and specimen trees, and meandering paths around a circular basin. 

Many of these features can be found at nearby Petworth, and as Brown was known to be working there from 1751 it seems possible that he might have visited Uppark during this time. However, none of Brown's surviving account books or those of Sir Matthew contain any references to confirm this.

Brown or Browne?

One reason for the confusion regarding Brown's involvement arises because of a surveyor called Thomas 'Sense' Browne. Records show that Sir Matthew hired Browne and his assistant James Crow to produce a plan of his new property, for which they were paid £300 in 1747.

It may be possible the plan they produced is in fact the one later attributed to Capability Brown, but as it was regrettably lost in the fire of 1989, further examination is now impossible.