2016 marks the 300th anniversary of the original celebrity gardener Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and Compton Verney - which re-opened for 2016 on the 19th March – has a packed programme of unique events to celebrate. Brown literally changed the landscape of 18th-century England; designing stunning vistas for the gentry by moving hills, creating rivers and lakes in his quest to shape nature to his remarkable vision.
Thanks to a £2.5 million Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant, the historic Warwickshire art gallery and former country house, Compton Verney is a flagship CB300 project, spearheading local and national celebrations devoted to the man and his achievements.
The money is being used to preserve, conserve and celebrate the contribution ‘Capability’ Brown made to 120 acres of Compton Verney’s Grade II-listed parkland, which includes the restoration of a rare, Brown-designed Grade I-listed Chapel and refurbishment of the Ice House. There will also be a brand new Visitor Welcome Centre to provide materials about the site’s landscape, history and ecology as well as much-needed visitor facilities.
In 1769, Brown was employed to lay out the grounds in keeping with the new taste for more naturalistic landscapes. He eliminated all trace of the earlier formal gardens and in their stead came grassland and trees, with the planting of cedars and over 2,200 oak and ash saplings. Brown also turned the lakes into a single expanse of water.
Three years later he demolished the medieval church of Compton Murdak, to give an uninterrupted view of the lake from the south east of the house. An obelisk now marks the site of the original church and crypt. Brown designed and built a new chapel in 1776. Today, it is being painstakingly restored, aided by the HLF grant.
An essential accessory for any fine country pile was an ice house. The example constructed by Capability at Compton Verney in 1772 allowed the Verney family to delight their guests with refrigerated food, sorbets and ice creams. 2016 visitors will now find the Ice House fully restored, albeit it has also become home to a bat colony.
Visitors will be able to experience all of this when Compton Verney re-opens following its winter break on 19 March 2016.
Highlights of the CB300 activities are fully outlined below, but will include tours of the landscape with the Brownian elements highlighted, a series of talks about ‘Capability’ by leading academics and Compton Verney’s Head of Landscape and Gardens, Gary Webb. A Brownian trail around the landscape will allow visitors of all ages to explore and discover 300 years of horticultural history - all before enjoying a capabiliTea in the Lawn Restaurant.
An undoubted highlight will be 26/27 June, the Park Life! Weekend, which sees two days focusing on Brown and the Georgian period in which he came to Compton Verney. The period will be brought to life by costumed characters, while activities and demonstrations by rural craftsmen will heighten the visitor experience and understanding of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s life and era. The house and park will be transformed into the venue for a fabulous costumed Regency Ball on the Saturday evening.
Dr Steven Parissien, Director of Compton Verney says “Compton Verney’s ambitious; HLF-supported Park Restoration Project is the most important capital programme taking place during the ‘Capability’ Brown’s tricentennial year of 2016. As a result, Compton Verney will become widely known not just for its astonishing exhibitions and thought-provoking collections but also for its outstanding, inspirational landscape..”