Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was born in Kirkharle in 1716. He became arguably the most famous landscape gardener in English history, and was described as ‘the Shakespeare of Gardening’ by the German prince, Hermann Puckler-Muskau, in the early 19th century. This exhibition celebrates Brown’s connection to Kirkharle.
Kirkharle Courtyard is a fitting place for an exhibition devoted to Capability Brown: he lived and worked on this estate until the age of 23, and within 2 years of leaving, was head gardener to Lord Cobham at Stowe in Buckinghamshire.
The exhibition begins in the corridor by the coffee house; this section outlines some of Brown’s remarkable achievements. As Deborah Cavendish, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, has said, Brown was a ‘much-travelled landscape man’ who ‘dashed around the country at the behest of every landowner worth his salt’, improving the surroundings of ‘all the big houses you have ever heard of’.
The exhibition continues in the second corridor leading off from the coffee house. While Capability Brown left Kirkharle in 1739, he returned regularly to Northumberland to see his family and to carry out commissions. Two of Brown’s elder brothers married into the local gentry: John, for example, married the younger daughter of Sir William Loraine, 2nd baronet (1658-1743) of Kirkharle Hall, who ‘discovered the gardening talents of one of his tenants’, Capability Brown.
Leaving the second exhibition corridor, a door takes you directly into the Courtyard. A large wall-mounted panel reproduces an exciting find, Capability Brown’s Plan of Kirkharle. It almost certainly dates from 1770, when Brown stayed with Lady Loraine at Kirkharle, possibly while he was working at Alnwick Castle, for the 1st Duke of Northumberland. Brown was by this time a famous and wealthy man, with a royal appointment (he was made master gardener to King George III at Hampton Court and Richmond Lodge, and gardener at St James’s Palace, in 1762).
The design shown in the Plan of Kirkharle was never implemented, This plan has now been adapted and the lake installed.