Gary Webb looks back at the CB300 celebrations, and ahead to what’s next for the park and gallery

    View of the Foot Bridge from East Lawn ® Compton Verney, photograph by Moira Walters

    With Park Life! festival just around the corner, Gary Webb, Head of Landscape and Gardens at Compton Verney, looks back on a packed year for the art gallery and park during the 2016 Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown tercentenary celebrations.


    For Compton Verney, the 2016 ‘Capability’ Brown Tercentenary year became a very big deal. Having presented an exhibition in 2011 titled Capability Brown and the Landscapes of Middle England, our programming precluded a further full scale exhibition; the team, however, could clearly see the mutual benefits of an involvement.

    In the fullness of time, and after hosting a successful skill sharing session for the CB300 team, Compton Verney was enlisted as a Hub Landscape and the stage was set. Whilst the major exhibition for 2016 was Shakespeare in Art, the team made space available in a key gallery room for the Shakespeare of Gardening himself, Mr. Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. What a combination!

    In Brown’s room we offered, among other things, the opportunity to see from two key windows the landscape that he created for Compton Verney. To this end, we produced transparent, hand-held panels to illustrate the window views and show the dramatic change from formal to informal landscape.

    Hub Landscape

    Additionally, a separate room was devoted to the tercentenary with branded panels, an events notice board concerning Brown activity nearby, and books available for flicking through. A landscape photography competition was also hosted from this room with entries exhibited.

    Through additional funding from the tercentenary group, we were also offered a free bus service on event days in an effort to attract visitors from nearby urbanised and remote locations. This activity was very well-intentioned, but very difficult to assemble and execute. All passengers were nonetheless very grateful for the opportunity.

    In-Light Event

    In the autumn of 2016, Compton Verney enabled an interactive landscape lighting event, working with artist Laurent Louyer from Creatmosphere. The In-Light event brief was for Laurent to focus on interpreting elements of the Brown landscape: his chapel, the house, lawns and trees. The show was extremely popular with visitors, who could both orchestrate and contribute to the display.

    Landscape Restoration Project

    Compton Verney had also been planning a large-scale project funded by Heritage Lottery Fund amongst many others. With 2016 approaching, and considering the trigger for the entire project was born out of the desire to restore Brown’s fine Chapel, a Reviewing the Landscape project grew with its timeline constructed around the 2016 festival year.

    From a visitor numbers point of view, 2016 was certainly successful, with Compton Verney pushing its annual visitor count higher than ever before. It is fair to say that some of the success can be attributed to the wide appeal and promotion gained through CB300’s reach, through the enhanced exhibition and events programme on site, and through external campaigns such as Year of the Garden by Visit Britain and Visit England. Additionally, being featured on the special edition stamps alongside some very well-known Brown landscapes couldn’t have been a bad thing!

    Beyond the Fence

    Considering the wider effects of the 2016 tercentenary, I witnessed people move from having misconceptions and occasionally loathing of a Brown landscape to positions of acceptance and appreciation. Through conferences and seminars, people took Brown to task, examined his influence and questioned his motives, all while generally building a more informed picture of his work.

    People made it happen

    People studied, contributed, and visited in their thousands to enjoy and discover the delights of a designed landscape. It only takes one person to make a difference, and seeing so many new people engaged in heritage landscapes certainly gives me hope for the future.

    The 2016 legacies for me are seeing how people came together as a direct result of Brown’s tercentenary, and as a collective, becoming much more informed about this key figure than ever before. I’m delighted that so much research was completed and shared, and I look forward to seeing this happen for other prominent landscape designers.

    Looking forward

    Compton Verney life continues apace. Our HLF project continues with the final landscape elements taking place through 2017 and an enhanced events programme for the remainder of the year and beyond. We’re establishing new park walks, enhancing interpretation and working on partnerships that we hope will help sustain our landscape in the future.

    This weekend sees the return of an updated Park Life! event on Sunday 25 June, which contains a very wide range of activities in and around the landscape. The weekend following we also play host to the Compton Verney Half Marathon, a road-based event which starts and ends from the beautiful lawn beside the house. What can I say: there’s never a dull moment in a ‘Capability’ Brown landscape!

    Gary Webb, Head of Landscape and Gardens, Compton Verney

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