‘Capability’ Brown


Following a successful application to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), we have been working on an exciting project, ‘Capability’ Brown’s Vision for Gatton, during 2016 & 2017. We have reinstated some of Brown’s lost designed viewpoints, planted tree clumps across the estate and installed new parkland railings to replace broken fencing. There have been family learning and arts projects to engage with the local community.


We are also extremely appreciative of the other sponsors and project partners who with their match funding have helped us to secure the HLF grant and get this project underway: National Trust, Netherby Trust, Surrey County Councillor Community Allocation, Merstham Millennium Trust, Surrey Hills Society, Surrey Hills Arts, Surrey Gardens Trust, Sir Jeremiah Colman Gift Trust, The Art Society, Royal Alexandra & Albert School Foundation.


We held two August Bank Holiday “Picnic with the Past” open days with volunteers from Gatton Community Theatre dressed as ‘Capability’ Brown and his apprentices and members of the Colebrooke family, their friends and employees. The volunteers from GCT had researched many of the characters who had lived locally at the time, the history of the Colebrooke family, the life and work of Lancelot Brown and his design for the Gatton Park. Visitors interacted with these characters to learn more about this important time period for Gatton.


Our grateful thanks to all the Gatton Park and Community Theatre volunteers who helped to make the two days so successful.


«Wow, What a View!» was a family learning programme for a total of 30 families with young children looking at the landscape and building a rucksack of equipment and ideas to use at other landscapes.


Four artists ran workshops and built installations in the landscape in response to a brief about the work of Brown at Gatton Park:

  • Tahira Mandarino created viewfinders it the landscape to highlight key views to visitors
  • Sonia Percival created “Collection” a piece inspired by the biodiversity now finding its home in Brown’s parkland
  • Art Matters constructed “Serpentine” an installation reflecting Brown’s sinuous water feature made out of plastic spoons
  • Susan Ryland, who became artist – in-residence for the summer, created The Beaufort Way, a series of way markers featuring text from the Beaufort Scale.


To help to share information about Brown and his work, a new leaflet and interpretation panels have been created and tour guides have benefited from training.


Thank you to all of our sponsors, partners and volunteers for their support for this project.


Photos above copyright Matthew Bruce

Brown at Gatton Park


In 1762 the owner of Gatton Park, Sir George Colebrooke, employed Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to design the surrounding parkland at Gatton. Brown’s ideas were the antithesis to the formal gardening which had been favoured by the French and Dutch and was so popular with owners of large properties. Brown’s style encouraged the wild, natural freedom of the landscape. His designs form many people’s ideas of what the quintessential English countryside should look like. His signature features were a single tree reflected in a lake, lakes formed by invisible dams, a solitary Cedar of Lebanon, clumps of trees set in undulating grass runs, shelter planting and curved paths.


At Gatton, Brown swept away the formal landscape that had been there before and replaced it with informal naturalistic plantings which accentuated the rolling landscape of the park. The main lake at Gatton Park was greatly expanded and the tributary lakes reshaped to include one of his trademark serpentine canals. The work at Gatton Park was completed in 1768 at a total cost of £3055, this commission was within the top 25% of Brown’s commissions in terms of value.


Brown was a workaholic and designed many sites during his working life such as Croome Court, Blenheim Palace, Warwick Castle, Harewood House, Bowood House and Milton Abbey. His clients were many and even included a King, six Prime Ministers and half of the House of Lords.


The key elements of Brown’s design at Gatton Park have been worked on since 1996 by volunteers who have both restored and maintained the parkland here. This is an ongoing project but the stunning features of Gatton Park can be enjoyed today as a result of their hard work.