Public vote to follow wise old discovery

Wallingtons head gardener John Ellis and Julie Thomson, events and marketing manager, at the Owl House. Picture by North News & Pictures.
Wallingtons head gardener John Ellis and Julie Thomson, events and marketing manager, at the Owl House. Picture by North News & Pictures.

Members of the public will be able to have their say on whether an 18th century banqueting house at an estate in Northumberland is a long lost Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown design.

The Owl House stands in Wallington’s picturesque walled garden, which it has been suggested he had a hand in moving to its present location.

The Owl House, which overlooks the walled garden at Wallington. Picture by North News & Pictures.

The Owl House, which overlooks the walled garden at Wallington. Picture by North News & Pictures.

Staff at the property in Cambo – just two miles from where the famous garden designer was born and raised at Kirkharle – say it’s not ‘inconceivable’ to think he would have designed the attractive three-storey brick building set into the garden wall.

People will be asked to vote on whether or not they believe it is Capability Brown creation and with renovation work earmarked, the National Trust is also encouraging visitors to have their say on the Owl House’s future use.

There has been little visible evidence to suggest Brown, who was born 300 years ago, played an active role in any part of the creation of the wider estate.

But new information has now been unearthed that could indicate the contrary.

Paul Hewitt, Wallington’s countryside manager, said: “The evidence we have probably wouldn’t stand up in a court of law, but it’s good circumstantial evidence.

“There is a building in Talacre Garden in North Wales that looks very like our Owl House that is ascribed to Brown, as well as drawings of something similar held at Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute.

“Both are set into kitchen garden walls as our Owl House is, and both were banqueting houses.

“Brown never worked at Mount Stuart itself, but he was commissioned by the Bute family to design gardens for them in both England and Wales. It is possible that the Mount Stuart building is an imported design of Brown’s.

“Over the years, it has been suggested that in the 1760s while visiting Northumberland, Brown advised Sir Walter Blackett not just on the Rothley scheme, but relocating Wallington’s walled garden from one part of the East Wood to its present location in the north east corner.

“As such, it is not inconceivable to believe he had a hand in designing the Owl House.”

Rather than a place to hold lavish feasts, its original use would have been as a retreat far from the house at the end of the pleasure grounds, where half a dozen people could take afternoon tea and enjoy the view.

“Come the summer, we will be laying out the proof we do have and asking the public to act as our jury to decide if they think the Owl House is a Brown building and also the best use the space should now be put to,” added Mr Hewitt.