Has Jan Woudstra discovered the key to Capability Brown’s nickname?

In preparation for a paper on Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, Dr Jan Woudstra from the Department of Landscape, has discovered when and where the 18th-century Landscape Architect got his nickname.

2016 marks 300 years since the birth of Lancelot Brown, the world’s most famous landscape architect, and sees a host of conferences and events to commemorate this event.

Better known under his nickname ‘Capability’ Brown, thought to be for the reason that he saw the ‘capabilities of sites’ and based his proposals on these. Up to now however, it was not known exactly when, where and how he came to be branded.

Jan said: “during his first meeting with Lord Coventry, who had asked him for advice on Croome Court, he was asked whether he liked the place, he responded: ‘Why, my Lord, the place has its Capabilities’. This laid the foundation of a relationship with Lord Coventry for whom he transformed Corsham commencing in 1750. The nickname turned out to be a fantastic marketing tool, but perhaps was not enjoyed as much by his son, also called Lancelot, who on arrival at Eton was dubbed ‘Capey’ by his fellow students!”

Brown went on to become the most influential designer in the eighteenth century and is often identified with the English landscape garden, which is referred to as ‘Brownian’.

Dr Woudstra is contributing papers to two conferences in June; the first at Hampton Court Palace entitled ‘Capability Brown, Royal Gardener, The man and his business: Past, present and future’, held from 6 to 8 June; and another at Sheffield Hallam University entitled ‘What Capability Brown did for ecology: the legacy for biodiversity, landscapes and nature conservation’ held from 15 to 17 June.

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