Ian Weightman

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Trentham's celebration of Capability Brown is a walk in the park

It’s the tercentenary of Lancelot “Capability” Brown in 2016, and The Trentham Estate in Staffordshire will be playing its part in commemorating the man described as “England’s greatest gardener”.

Brown remains a household name to this day, mainly thanks to the fact that we’re still all visiting some of the 170 parklands he designed and created in the 18th century.

A prime example of his work, The Trentham Estate is in that wonderful position of not only having been deeply associated with Brown, but also being currently involved in a major project to “rediscover” the landscape, layout and tree-lines which he created.

Brown’s involvement in The Trentham Estate’s long history came at a time when King George II was on the throne, when the Industrial Revolution was just beginning to change the shape of Britain forever, when Britain was wrapped-up in the Seven Years War, and when the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew was being created.

Like many other parklands, Trentham’s estate plan had been strongly influenced by Charles Bridgeman - the last gardener to have sole responsibility for all of the Royal Gardens.  But the formal Dutch and French styling which had been all the rage in the estates and parklands of Britain was about to be swept away by an entirely new and different, Brownian fashion.

Brown was first commissioned to work at Trentham in 1759, where he was consulted on developing the body of water that would be transformed into a mile-long lake.  He was commissioned on two further occasions, and maintained a lengthy engagement at Trentham until 1780.

Brown’s works would remain in place, largely unaltered, for the best part of 80 years, until the Duke of Sutherland commissioned Sir Charles Barry (best known for designing the Houses of Parliament) to create the estate’s famous Italian Gardens.

And - once again, like many other parklands of Britain - the Brownian landscape, though still clearly visible in many respects, gradually lost its shape and styling over the next 150 years.

But that’s where The Trentham Estate could once again hit the headlines - as the project to rediscover and recreate the Brownian designs unfold at exactly the same time the tercentenary anniversary celebrations begin to take shape.

The current Head of Trentham Estate and Gardens, Michael Walker, explains: “We are trying to appreciate exactly what Brown did for The Trentham Estate.  We’ve already undertaken a lot of research, with more to come.  And our work in reuniting the North Park with the rest of the estate’s designed landscape is a massive part in revealing the work he undertook here.”

The estate’s landscape management plan as a whole has been based around understanding its historical significance and then uncovering and conserving what remains the Brownian legacy at Trentham.

“We’ve already achieved more than we originally thought we would when we first started in February 2012,” says Michael Walker.  “And a part of the North Park is now one of the 60 new woodlands created especially for the Diamond Jubilee.  That’s resulted in 10,000 new trees - an entire new woodland - being planted in partnership with the Woodland Trust.”

The bid to recreate Brown’s plan for this part of The Trentham Estate has been driven as much as anything by the enthusiasm of Michael Walker and his team.  And visitors to the parkland are already able to not only see a vision from the past, but also the shape of things to come.

Accessible by countless public footpaths - as well as the brand new, long-distance Two Saints Trail connecting Stoke-on-Trent to both Chester to Lichfield - the parkland and woodlands are slowly being reunited with the rest of The Trenham Estate which has itself become one of the UK’s leading visitors attractions over the last 10 years.

To discover more, simply take a walk in the park.  Or visit www.trentham.co.uk

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