The year of Capability Brown

Capability Brown's landscape
Capability Brown's landscape

The life and times of the man described as England’s greatest landscape designer will be celebrated by a multitude of events during 2016 centred round his Northumbrian birthplace at Kirkharle.

This year marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, and commemorative events being lined up will culminate in a Capability Brown Festival over the August bank holiday weekend.

Celebrations get under way at Easter with a talk entitled ‘A Very Northumbrian Gardener’ by North East broadcaster and historian John Grundy on Wednesday, March 23, and on Saturday, March 26, there will be an evening torchlight procession around Brown’s serpentine lake beside Kirkharle Courtyard led by military historian John Sadler, of Belsay.

Dates for organised walks from Kirkharle to Cambo, the village where Brown went to school, will start in April and others to Rothley Low Lake, which he designed for the Blacketts, of Wallington, will be announced online soon at

Brown walked the five miles to school from Kirkharle to Cambo every day and he credited the landscape he saw en route with stimulating his imagination.

An anniversary food and flower fair will be held in the Barn at Kirkharle on Sunday, May 1, in conjunction with the National Gardens Scheme.

Throughout the summer, 18th century-style picnic hampers will be available from the coffee house and guided walks round the lake designed by Brown, and to St Wilfrid’s Church, where he was baptised on August 30, 1716, will take place regularly.

May ends with Brown being represented at the Northumberland County Show at Bywell. The results of a school garden design competition will be displayed in a tent there and will be judged on the day by Kitty Anderson, of Kirkharle, and Nick Owen, of the Northumbria Gardens Trust.

The first of several book signings will take place at Kirkharle on Saturday, June 4.

Artist Tim Scott Bolton has been painting Brown landscapes across the UK, and he will be signing copies of his new book, A Brush with Brown, in the Loraine Room above the coffee house.

Authors Steffie Shields and John Phibbs both have books being published this year, and both will be coming to Kirkharle for signing sessions on dates yet to be confirmed.

Shields’ book is called Moving Heaven and Earth: Capability Brown’s Gift of Landscape, and Phibbs’ is titled Place-making: The art of Capability Brown.

An antiques valuation day in the Barn with Flog It’s Giles Hodges, and performances of the play Capability Brown: The Eye-catcher by John Cobb, Artistic Director of Hexham’s Theatre Sans Frontieres, will be held too, together with bike rides and a croquet tournament taking place beside the lake.

Events will climax in a festival starting on Friday, August 26, in Kirkharle’s St Wilfrid’s Church with a concert by Rothbury-born TV presenter and singer Alexander Armstrong.

On Saturday, August 27, Grundy will deliver his second talk about Brown, and there will be a flower festival at St Wilfrid’s. A service of thanksgiving for the life and work of Brown will be conducted by Christine Hardman, the Anglican Bishop of Newcastle Diocese, on Sunday, August 28, and on Monday, August 29, there will be a fete, including displays of traditional crafts.

A timetable of events will be available for visitors from Easter onwards, and it will include an invitation to families to plant new trees on Brown landscapes during National Tree Week in November.

Although Brown began his gardening career under William Loraine at Kirkharle, his dreams of limitless landscapes in “an image of heaven” had to wait until he moved down south 23 years later, establishing his considerable reputation and making his fortune.