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Bow Street: Henry Fielding and the War Against Crime

A House in Bow Street

Crime and the Magistracy

London 1740-1881

Anthony Babington, 1969

Henry Fielding at Bow Street

Henry Fielding

From Wikipedia:

Henry Fielding (22 April 1707 – 8 October 1754) was an English novelist and dramatist known for his rich, earthy humour and satirical prowess, and as the author of the picaresque novel Tom Jones. Additionally, he holds a significant place in the history of law enforcement, having used his authority as a magistrate to found (with his half-brother John) what some have called London’s first police force, the Bow Street Runners.

At the time of Fielding’s appointment, the position of magistrate was lowly regarded, as a large number of magistrates enriched themselves by taking bribes, charging fees, and running bail bond services.

A lampoon from the journal, Old England:

Now in the ancient shop at Bow,

(He advertises it for show),

He signs the missive warrant.

The midnight whore and thief to catch,

He sends the constable and watch,

Expert upon that errand.

From hence he comfortable draws

Subsistence out of every cause

For dinner and a bottle.

No. 4 Bow Street

In spite of the fact that the basest motives had been attributed to him in becoming a magistrate, Fielding himself regarded his appointment as something of a challenge—perhaps the greatest and the final challenge of his whole life. He was finished as a playwright, he had failed as a barrister; his only novel had been cordially, but unenthusiastically received; he was burdened with poverty and ill health.

Fielding, already an acting justice for Middlesex, was granted properties valued at £100 a year by the Duke of Bedford for the purpose of fulfilling the property qualification for the position. At some point he was sworn in as a justice for Westminster—which had no property qualification—as well. In the autumn of 1748, he took cases in his home near Drury Lane, then to Meard’s Court, St. Anne’s, and by December had moved to the Bow Street Office.

By sheer good fortune Henry Fielding was brought into contact at that time with two honourable men, Joshua Brogden and Saunders Welch, both of whom shared his views and were ready to join to the utmost in his endeavours. Brogden, who became his clerk at the Bow Street Office, had been a magistrate’s clerk before.

[Saunders Welch] had occupied the position of High Constable of Holburn for about a year when Fielding came to Bow Street.  The office of High Constable was a part-time function which usually lasted for a duration of between one and three year. As a rule, it was performed by a successful tradesman—Saunders Welch was a grocer—and carried no official remuneration apart from a limited scale of allowances, although there were, of course, ample opportunities for illicit profit. Considering the period in which he lived, Saunders Welch was a high constable of quite exceptional honesty and skill. In fact, after working with him for six or seven months, Henry Fielding said he was ‘one of the best officers who was ever concerned in the execution of justice, and to whose care, integrity, and bravery the public hath, to my knowledge, the highest obligations.’

Initial Reforms

In order to provide for his own financial maintenance—and being unwilling to participate in the unscrupulous methods of boosting income used by his predecessors—he managed to get the government to pay him a regular salary out of public service money.

One of his first actions was to keep accurate reports and publish them in the newspapers.

Before Henry Fielding arrived at Bow Street there could have been very few, if any, full and authentic reports of the proceedings which took place at a magistrate’s house or his office. However, from the outset, Fielding arranged for the details of his cases, written by his clerk, Joshua Brogden, to be published regularly in certain newspapers. His object was not self-publicity, but rather to inform as wide an audience as possible of the types of offence then prevalent, the steps he was taking to overcome them, and to give an occasional dissertation on the requirements of the criminal law.

The following appeared in the St. James’s Evening Post in mid-December, 1748.  This account of a committal to prison of a man who had attacked and wounded a young woman with a cutlass ended:

It is hoped that all Persons who have lately been robb’d or attack’d in the Street by Men in Sailor’s Jackets, in which Dress the said ones appeared, will give themselves the trouble of resorting to the Prison in order to view him. It may perhaps be of some advantage to the Publick to inform them (especially at this time) that for such Persons to go about armed with any Weapon whatever, is a very high Offence, and expressly forbidden by several old Statutes still in force, on Pain of Imprisonment and Forfeiture of their Arms.

This was one of the earliest of Fielding’s celebrated ‘admonitions’ to the public which were to play such a large part in his campaign against crime during the next few years.

Henry Fielding’s Charge

A month after his election to the Chair of Westminster Sessions, Henry Fielding was called upon to deliver a Charge to the Grand Jury of Westminster. This event took place on the 29th June, 1749, and it must have been a significant occasion for him as it was the first time since becoming a magistrate that he had been given the opportunity of making an official pronouncement. Fielding’s fellow justices were so impressed by his Charge that they passed a resolution asking him to have it printed and published, ‘for the better information of the inhabitants and public officers of this City and Liberty in the performance of their respective duties.’ The Monthly Review commented: ‘This ingenious author and worthy magistrate, in this little piece, with that judgment and knowledge of the world, and of our excellent laws (which the publick, indeed, could not but expect from him) pointed out the reigning vices and corruptions of our times [and] the legal and proper methods of curbing and punishing them…’

The War Against Crime

The 1740’s in London was a time when the highwayman, the footpad, and the house-breaker ran rampant over weak and ineffectual peace-officers, and even when a criminal was captured, there was insufficient room in jails to accommodate them.

Henry Fielding was possessed of certain qualities which would have enabled him to become an outstanding magistrate… He had a fearless  independence of spirit, a complete impartiality of approach, a breadth of human understanding, and an infinite knowledge of law and procedure. He felt very little emotional affinity with his own social class. In 1743 he wrote that, ‘the splendid palaces of the great, are often no other than Newgate with the mask on’: and added, ‘a composition of cruelty, lust, avarice, rapine, insolence, hypocrisy, fraud and treachery, glossed over with wealth and title have been treated with respect and veneration, while in Newgate they have been condemned to the gallows’.

…under Henry Fielding the Bow Street Office, whilst remaining a private room in a magistrate’s ordinary residence, was conducted on the lines of a superior court, in an atmosphere of judicial dignity and according to the strictest principles of legal propriety. The office continued to be maintained solely out of the fees which were recoverable by law and by custom from arrested persons, prisoners and applicants for process.

Fielding’s office dealt with serious crimes such as burglary, assault, riot, coining, brothel-keeping, and smuggling as well as minor ones such as drunkards, gamblers, prostitutes, vagrants and beggars.

The justice administered by Henry Fielding was a sagacious blending of sternness, understanding, and compassion. He respected the life and property of the law-abiding citizen, and he knew how easily the delicate structure of society could be imperilled by the forces of disorder; therefore, he wasted little sympathy on the robber, the armed thug, the vandal or the rioter. On the other hand, he felt the deepest pity for the neglected victims of an economic system founded upon inhumanity and self-interest.

Fielding, while he had no qualms about sending juveniles and first-offenders to prison, advocated for less severe penalties for small thefts. He particularly criticized the sentencing of vagrants to houses of detention for the wantonly idle.

What good consequence can there arise from sending idle and disorderly persons to a place where they are neither corrected or employed, and where with the conversation of many as bad, and sometimes worse than themselves, they are sure to be improved in the knowledge, and confirmed in the practice of iniquity?

Employing the assistance of the law-abiding

With no centralised police force, and no effective liaison between the peace officers of the various parishes, it was extremely difficult to achieve even a limited co-rdination of effort. To overcome this obstacle Fielding decided to make a direct appeal to the public.

NOTICE AND REQUEST TO PUBLIC

All persons who shall for the future suffer by robbers, burglars, etc., are desired immediately to bring or send the best description they can of said robbers etc., with the time, place, and circumstances of the fact to Henry Fielding,Esq. at his house in Bow Street, or to John Fielding Esp. at his house in the Strand. [John was his brother, who continued Henry’s work after his death.]

Fielding insisted on the cooperation of the law-abiding, not only for the purpose of making reports, but also in attending his examinations of prisoners in order to make identifications.

Fielding’s thief-takers

The pre-cursors of the force later known as Bow Street Runners, Fielding’s “thief-takers” was a group of six ex-constables under the command of his lieutenant, Saunders Welch. These men were on call to be summoned to pursue villains at any moment.

After a robbery or a house-breaking, a message would be rushed to Bow Street, and the thief-takers, or as many of them as were available, would set out in immediate pursuit. Strangely enough, the system worked remarkably well. This was due partly to the fact that the London criminal had never before been confronted by an organised opposition, and also to the ever-increasing knowledge and proficiency of the thief-takers.

Jack Sheppard, a celebrated criminal of the age, is imprisoned in the gate house at the door of which sits a figure, thought by some to be Jonathan Wild besieged by a crowd of people seeking the return of their stolen property.

Enquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers

A treatise published by Fielding in 1751 stated bluntly that

“The streets of this town and the roads leading to it will shortly be impossible without the utmost hazard.” He claimed that even if the robbers were arrested, they would likely be rescued by their own gang, or by bribing or intimidating the prosecutor.

He asserted that the first cause of crime was idleness and public diversions, such as music and dancing halls. Later that year, an Act was passed bringing these entertainments under the supervision of the justices of the peace.

Next, he denounced drunkenness as “the odious vice, indeed, the parent of all others.” “He elaborated on the appalling consequences of the continued vogue of spirit-drinking, and suggested higher taxes on gin, and a much firmer control over the places where it was sold. Many of the provisions of the Gin Acts of 1751 and 1753 were based on his proposals.”

He also criticized rampant gaming and lotteries, and the application of the Poor Law, as well as defects in the criminal law and criminal procedure. A month later, “a Parliamentary Committee was set up… to revise and consider the laws in being, which relate to felonies and other offences against the peace. The Lloyd Committee… was strongly influenced by Henry Fielding’s views and made a number of recommendations which accorded closely with his suggestions. As a result, several statutes were enacted during the next few years which profoundly affected the future development of the British criminal law.”

Another of his proposals was a law be passed making it illegal to receive stolen property, thus making it more difficult for thieves to dispose of their booty. An effort was made to require pawnbrokers to obtain a license, but this was passed.

Fielding condemned the system by which criminal prosecutions had to be brought by, and in the name of, a private individual, for this resulted in a large number of known offenders never being charged at all. The victim of a crime might be deterred from charging the culprit by threats or intimidation; he might be too indolent to embark on legal proceedings; he might be tender-hearted and, in an era when every felony was nominally a capital offence, averse to taking away the life of a fellow-being; above all, he might be unable or unwilling to bear the costs involved in a prosecution [which might mean traveling great distances for himself and potential witnesses]. … The answer to this, Fielding suggested, was that the county or the nation should pay the expenses of all prosecutions. [This proposal was adapted in part and later became implemented more fully in the development of criminal prosecutions financed out of public funds and presented in the name of the Crown.]

Fielding was intensely critical of the frequency of executions, and of the method in which the hangings were carried out. Fundamentally, a public execution was supposed to produce an atmosphere of terror and shame amongst the onlookers, but ‘experience hath shown that the event is directly contrary to this intention’. The triumphal procession from Newgate to Tyburn, the huge crowds; the condemned prisoner’s final speech from the scaffold; the veneration, the excitement, the acclaim—all these tended to turn a day of infamy into a day of glory.

He suggested that executions should be conducted with much greater solemnity and should be witnessed by as few spectators as possible. Further, they should take place very soon after the crime itself, ‘when public memory and resentment are at their height’. At the end of a trial, he said, the court should adjourn for four days, and then the prisoner should be brought back, sentences to death, and executed forthwith just outside the court, ‘in the sight and presence of the judges’.

Fielding’s proposal for speedier executions was “put into effect in 1752 in respect of executions for murder, by an act which provided that, unless the judge knew of reasonable cause for delay, the condemned murderer was to be hanged two days after the passing of sentence.”

Accolades at last for Henry Fielding

The Enquiry was received with interest and with praise; even Horace Walpole, no friend to Henry Fielding, described it as ‘an admirable treatise’. The Monthly Review in January 1751, paid this glowing tribute:

The public hath been hitherto not a little obliged to Mr. Fielding for the entertainment his gayer performances have afforded it, but now this gentleman hath a different claim to our thanks, for services of a more substantial nature. If he has been heretofore admired for his wit and humour, he now merits equal applause as a good magistrate, a useful and active member and a true friend to his country. As few writers have shown so just and extensive a knowledge of mankind in general, so none ever had better opportunities for being perfectly acquainted with that class which is the main subject of this performance.

Bow Street: Thomas de Veil’s London

A House in Bow Street

Crime and the Magistracy

London 1740-1881

Anthony Babington, 1969

Thomas de Veil’s London

Some time in 1740 Colonel Thomas De Veil, a justice of the peace for the Count of Middlesex and for the City and Liberty of Westminster, decided to move his magistrate’s office from Thrift Street, now called Frith Street, in Soho to a house at Bow Street in Covent Garden.

Thomas de Veil

The Covent Garden area was once pasture land owned by the Abbots of Westminster. Later, it became the site of Inigo Jones’s famous Piazza, with fashionable terraced houses and a small church. The nobility and the gentry scrambled to build homes here.

By the beginning of the eighteenth century the character of Covent Garden was undergoing a perceptible change. It was, perhaps, inevitable that the ultra-fashionable Piazza and the locality all about it should attract a swarm of tradesmen, artisans and others who were needed to cater for the requirements of the wealthy. At the same time the narrow passages, the darkened alleys, and the secluded courtyard which separated the streets and the houses drew in a far less respectable segment of the community. Another factor affecting the type of inhabitant settling in the neighbourhood was the continual tendency of the nobility and the aristocracy to drift westwards as other areas were developed further and fruther from the walls of the City. Soon after the Restoration the newly-built St. James’s Square superseded the Piazza as the centre of fashion, and in the early days of the eighteenth century Mayfair was further developed with the setting up the palatial mansions of Cavendish Square, Hanover Square and Grosevenor Square. However, one of the major factors which contributed to the transformation of Covent Garden was that it was becoming the principal artistic and theatrical locality of London.

Covent Garden in 1737, by Nebot

Actors and actresses and their audiences flocked to theaters such as Drury Lane, the Opera House, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and Covent Gardens. Literary folk and ‘wits’ flocked to the coffee-houses such as Will’s, Buttons’s, and Tom’s. When Tom King died, his widow turned his coffee-house into a brothel. And so it was that “the streets of Covent Garden and the Strand became the chosen haunts of the prostitutes.”

Royal Opera House

“An age of lawlessness and disorder in which the power of the mob and the violence of the criminal were ever paramount”

It was becoming obvious that the current system of policing was inadequate. Streets were especially dangerous at night due to the lack of a proper lighting system.

Pickpockets

A guidebook of the period warned its readers: “A man who saunters about the capital with pockets on the outside of his coat deserves no pity.” As shown by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist, young boys and girls could be very deft at this particular offense. Richard Oakey would trip up a woman from behind and remove her pocket (pockets dangled from the waist on the outside of a woman’s dress) before she hit the ground. Mary Young had a pair of artificial arms made so that she could sit primly in a church pew with the artificial arms folded on her lap while she used her real arms to rob from those sitting next to her.

Footpads

Henry Fielding said that the alleys, courts and lanes in London were “like a vast wood of forest in which a thief may harbour with as great security as the wild beasts do in the deserts of Africa or Arabia.” And not just at night either. Fanny Burney complained about footpads and robbers before breakfast.

Criminals operating in gangs made the situation even worse. In 1712, a band of thugs called the Mohocks would greet people in the streets and if they responded, beat them up. They attacked the watch in Devereux Court and Essex Street; they also slit two people’s noses, and cut a woman in the arm with a pen-knife. One night about twenty of them stormed the Gatehouse, wounded the jailor, and released their confederate from the jail.

No person was safe and equally no home was secure. Madam Roland… said that when the wealthy left London in the summer they took with them all their articles of value or else sent the lot to their bankers, because ‘on their return they expect to find their houses robbed.’

Highwaymen

The highwaymen were regarded both by the public and amongst the criminal fraternity as being the princes of the underworld. It is difficult to understand why they had so glamorous a reputation in the eighteenth century and, indeed, why their image has been so romanticised ever since. By and large they were simply robbers on horseback and many of them had deplorable backgrounds. Dick Turpin’s gang, for example, was well-known for violence, terrorism, rape, and even murder.

Their favorite hunting-grounds were the roads just outside London. For that reason, dwellers of the suburban areas organized vigilante patrols, and in some areas, squads of soldiers were used to escort travelers in and out of town. Horace Walpole told of an attack on a post-chaise outside his home in Piccadilly, and also of a personal encounter with two of them in Hyde Park.

Why the mounting lawlessness?

Some blamed it on the “large numbers of disbanded soldiers and sailors roaming the country without work and without subsistence. Others held that it was due to drunkenness and cheap gin. A few—but a very few—saw a possible cause in the harsh administration of the Poor Laws and the way in which homeless and the destitute were hounded from parish to parish, coupled with the terrible social conditions of the poor.”

Whatever the reasons, the precincts of the capital and its approaches were deteriorating into a state of lawlessness which bordered on anarchy, and the machinery for preserving the peace was becoming increasingly impotent. The ancient system with its corner stones in the amateur magistrate and the part-time constable, had worked comparatively well throughout the ages in the rural areas of Britain but had proved completely unadaptable to an expanding urban community. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the basic problem remained unsolved—and barely appreciated.

It was in a London such as this that Colonel Thomas De Veil opened his Office at Bow Street.

The Four Times of the Day

The Four Times of the Day, a series of paintings by Hogarth in 1738, illustrated the sort of place Covent Garden had become. Read more about it here.

Curious Characters: Marquess of Granby

Lieutenant-General John Manners, Marquess of Granby PC (2 January 1721 – 18 October 1770) was a British soldier and the eldest son of the 3rd Duke of Rutland. As he did not outlive his father and inherit the dukedom, he was known by his father’s subsidiary title, Marquess of Granby. Granby served in the Seven Years’ War as overall commander of the British troops on the battlefield and was subsequently rewarded with the post of Commander-in-Chief of the Forces. He was popular with his troops and many public houses are still named after him today.

Granby was one of the first who understood the importance of welfare and morale for the troops. The character of British soldiering improved, and properly led the army was unbeatable in war. Nearly all the portraits show him mounting a horse, or helping the wounded. On 7 June 1760 he wrote to Viscount Barrington, Secretary at War, receiving a reply ten days later making enquiries as to the Hospital Board accommodation for his wounded men.

Granby’s tactical skill commanding the allied cavalry required courage, control and communication, also bringing Horse artillery to bear. The victory at the Battle of Warburg in July 1760 of an army three times the size distinguished his generalship, and marked the man as a genuine British military hero. His opponent, the duc de Broglie, was so impressed that he commissioned a portrait of Granby by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

He is probably best known today for being popularly supposed to have more pubs named after him than any other person – due, it is said, to his practice of setting up old soldiers of his regiment as publicans when they were too old to serve any longer.

The Marquis of Granby, Waddingham

An incident between an aging Granby and Frances Hayman, the famous theatre set-designer and painter at Vauxhall Gardens, appeared in The Vauxhall Papers in 1841.

Sadly, after his military and political career ended, Granby suffered from financial problems. A close family friend wrote this after learning of his death:

“You are no stranger to the spirit of procrastination. The noblest mind that ever existed, the amiable man whom we lament was not free from it. This temper plunged him into difficulties, debts and distresses; and I have lived to see the first heir of a subject in the Kingdom have a miserable shifting life, attended by a levee of duns, and at last die broken-hearted.”

Belvoir Castle, the seat of the Rutland dukedom

Curious Characters: Sir Samuel Morland

Sir Samuel Morland by Sir Peter Lely, 1845

Sir Samuel Morland, 1st Baronet (1625-1695), or Moreland, was an English academic, diplomat, spy, inventor and mathematician of the 17th century, a polymath credited with early developments in relation to computing, hydraulics and steam power.

The son of Thomas Morland, the rector of Sulhamstead Bannister parish church in Berkshire, he was educated at Winchester College and Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he became a Fellow in 1649. Devoting much time to the study of mathematics, Morland also became an accomplished Latinist and was proficient in Greek, Hebrew and French—then the language of culture and diplomacy. While a tutor at Cambridge, he first encountered Samuel Pepys who became a lifelong acquaintance.

While serving as secretary to John Thurloe, a Commonwealth official in charge of espionage, however, Morland became disillusioned with the Government of the Commonwealth, allegedly after learning of a plot by Sir Richard Willis, Thurloe and Richard Cromwell to assassinate the future King Charles II. As a double agent, Morland began to work towards the Restoration, engaging in espionage and cryptography—activities that later helped him enter the King’s service.

Morland’s multiplying machine

On 18 July 1660 he was created a baronet and given a minor role at court, but his principal source of income came from applying his knowledge of mathematics and hydraulics to construct and maintain various machines. These included:

  • “water-engines”, an early kind of water pump. He was, for example, engaged on projects to improve the water supply to Windsor Castle, during which time he patented a ‘plunger pump’ capable of “raising great quantities of water with far less proportion of strength than can be performed by a Chain or other Pump.”
  • a vacuum that would suck in water (in effect the first internal combustion engine)
  • ideas for the future development of a working steam engine. Morland’s pumps were developed for numerous domestic, marine and industrial applications, such as wells, draining ponds or mines, and fire fighting. His calculation of the volume of steam (approximately two thousand times that of water) was not improved upon until the later part of the next century.
  • a non-decimal adding machine (working with English pounds, shillings and pence)
  • a machine that made trigonometric calculations
  • a “Multiplying Instrument”
  • an ‘arithmetical machine’ by which the four fundamental rules of arithmetic were readily worked (regarded by some as the world’s first multiplying machine, an example is in the Science Museum in South Kensington).
  • a design for making metal fire-hearths
  • the speaking trumpet, an early form of megaphone.

He also corresponded with Pepys about naval gun-carriages, designed a machine to weigh ship’s anchors, developed new forms of barometers, and designed a cryptographic machine.

From The Vauxhall Papers:

Sir Samuel being a great mechanic, every part of his house shewed the invention of the owner: the side-table in the dining-room was supplied with a large fountain, and the glasses stood under little streams of water. His coach had a moveable kitchen, with clock-work machinery, with which he could make soup, broil steaks, or roast a joint of meat. From the this description of Sir Samuel’s character, an impression prevailed… that his house was the identical spot of the present Vauxhall Gardens; and a history of Lambeth, published in 1827, thus summarily disposes of the affair:—“The matter is put beyond the question of doubt from the information of one of the late proprietors, that the present dwelling belonging to the garden was built by Sir Samuel Moreland. The house is large, and from the back kitchen a lead pump was removed about 1794, bearing Sir Samuel Moreland’s mark, viz:—

HOWEVER, the editor of The Vauxhall Papers, Mr. A. Bunn, proves that the two were not the same property, using public documents from the Duchy of Cornwall.

VAUXHALL HOUSE, of which Sir Samuel was… the tenant, was leased to Mr. Kent, a distiller, for 28 years, in the year 1725, and the site thereof subsequently leased to Mr. Snaith: while the Spring Garden, Vauxhall, was leased by Mr. Jonathan Tyers in the year 1730, which fact may also be proved by a reference to the office of the Duchy of Cornwall. Here is proof positive, and utterly undeniable: but we can bring down the present property in direct descent, without any reference whatever to Sir Samuel Moreland, whose estate (VAUXHALL HOUSE), was a total distinct property.

 

Georgian Era Artisans: the Gardenesque vs. the Picturesque

Beaudesert, Staffordshire, from Fragments on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, pub. 1816. Humphry Repton

The Gardenesque: Humphry Repton, John Claudius Loudon

Humphry Repton

The Picturesque aesthetic was a literary reaction to both the landscape legacy of Capability Brown and Humphry Repton’s ‘Gardenesque‘ of the close of the eighteenth century. First defined by John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) in 1832, the Gardenesque was a style characteristic of the small-scale turn of the century garden, which emphasised formal features and botanical variety. Repton (1752-1818), a consummate snob, came to garden design relatively late in life, setting himself up as Brown’s successor in 1788. This precarious position brought him nothing but persecution from the Picturesque writers, and he was thrust headlong into their savage debates. Attacks rained down [from William Gilpin, Richard Payne Knight, and Uvedale Price]. There was no unanimous stylistic agreement among these, and yet all three expressed a preference for the diverse terrain of the Rococo garden and a violent dislike of Brown’s manicured landscapes… the Picturesque ideal was deemed an instinctual reaction to ‘rough’, ‘intricate’, or ‘broken’ Nature. It paved the way for a more Romantic appreciation of Gothic architecture and rough-hewn topography.

The Picturesque: William Gilpin, Richard Payne Knight, Uvedale Price

William Gilpin

Gilpin himself never owned or designed an actual landscape… Nevertheless, his ideas concerning the beauties of natural scenery underpinned the more complex theoretical arguments of Payne Knight and Price twenty years later. His influential reception was also aided by an established craze for domestic tourism. From the 1780’s, as a result of increasing outbreaks of war in Europe, Continental travel was deemed overly dangerous. Classically orientated tours were therefore abandoned in favour of the safer thrills offered by Britain’s mountains, cascades and cliffs, championed by the promulgators of the Picturesque. By the end of the eighteeneth century, Hoare had been forced to build a hotel at Stourton to accommodate his garden tourists.

The Gothic arch on top of Grotto Hill

The painterly qualities of Sir Rowland and Sir Richard Hill’s Shropshire estate, Hawkstone, and Valentine Morris’s Piercefield in Monmouthshire attracted Picturesque tourists in their hundreds. Hawkstone’s conventional landscape park was laid out in 1784-90 by William Emes. The separate pleasure grounds were arranged around a dramatic ravine of sandstone, complete with a ruinous Red Castle. Dr. Johnson surmised that Hawkstone’s Grotto Hill, with its panoramic views, forced upon the mind: ‘The sublime, the dreadful, and the vast. Above is inaccessible altitude, below, is horrible profundity.’ Piercefield, likewise, commands sandstone cliffs of 300 feet in height. Gilpin, Price and Repton all visited the estate, to marvel at its perilously winding river and steeply wooded bluffs. It was, after all, an established part of the Wye Tour.

View from Piercefield

Sir Uvedale Price

Sir Uvedale Price (1747-1829) accused [Capability] Brown of mechanically ‘smoothing and levelling the ground,’ where ‘in a few hours the rash hand of false taste completely demolishes what time only, and a thousand lucky accidents, can mature’. Price criticised the clump, ‘whose name, if the first letter was taken away, would most accurately describe its form and effect’. Picturesque taste equated ‘verdure and smoothness’ with monotony, instead of pronouncing ‘accident and neglect the sources of variety in unimproved parks and forests’. Brown and his followers had taken great care to conceal any roughness prevailing in their landscape parks. As a result, Gilpin railed, ‘How flat, and insipid is often the garden scene, how puerile, how absurd!’

River gorge at Knight’s home Downton. Drawing by Thomas Hearne

Payne Knight by Thomas Lawrence

[Knight] argued that the Picturesque defined a journey of aesthetic and emotional discovery, which united all the arts. [Richard] Payne Knight was a wealthy connoisseur and member of the Society of Dilettanti… At Downton, the half-Roman, half-Gothic estate Knight inherited in 1764, he believed he was ‘collecting and cherishing the accidental beauties of wild nature’. The sinister landscape included a hermitage and isolated cold bath. When Repton visited in 1789, he took in the ‘roaring in the dark abyss below’ of the River Teme, which was ‘enriched by caves and cells, hovels, and covered seats, or other buildings, in perfect harmony with the wild but pleasing horrors of the scene’.

Lacking both Brown’s personable, working-class nature and practical grounding in gardening, Repton nevertheless hit upon a winning strategy: the Red Book.

Pages from Repton’s Red Book

The triumph of these gimmicks, which were printed and found for each individual client between red Moroccan leather covers, was to give posterity an impression of wider landscape improvements than were ever achieved. Essentially, the Red Book was a detailed and persuasive contract for improvements, illustrated with seductive ‘before and after’ snapshots of the estate in question. An overlay allowed the prospective client to picture immediately the possibilities lying dormant within his grounds, should he choose to employ the services of Repton… [W]hen business was slow, Repton reproduced them in albums… Perhaps his most successfully realised Red Book design was for the Blaise Castle estate on the outskirts of Henbury in Bristol for the quaker banker, John Scandrett Harford, in 1795. The result trod a fine line between the ideal parkscape and the wilderness craved by the Picturesque tourist.

Payne Knight had promoted the reinstating of terraced gardens and other landscape features dismantled by Brown and his followers. Although ultimately Repton rejected the notions of the Picturesque, his cluttered compositions of pedestals, pergolas and fountains also drew on the formal gardens of the previous century for inspiration… The shift in emphasis from the park back to the designed garden anticipated the ‘Gardenesque’, as defined by Loudon. Repton’s designs triumphed because of their usefulness and attention to ‘the genius of the place.’ After all most English landscapes did not lend themselves to the Picturesque ideal of mountainous scenery half as easily as they did to the Reptonian concept of an adaptable space on a human scale… The truth was that the average landowner at the turn of the century wanted ‘bowling-greens, flowering shrubs, horse-ponds’, and hankered after the ‘shell-grottoes, & Chinée-rails’ of the Rococo Arcadias.

By 1816, Repton had seemingly turned against the ideal parkscape completely. ‘The Pleasures of a Garden have of late been very much neglected’, he wrote, because of ‘the prevailing custom of placing a House in the middle of a Park, detached from all objects, whether of convenience or magnificence’.

Lancelot “Capability” Brown and the Landscape Park

The son of a Northumberland land agent and a chambermaid, Lancelot Brown worked as the head gardener’s apprentice at the estate where his parents worked, Kirkharle Hall, owned by Sir William Loraine. His eldest brother John became the estate surveyor and eventually married Sir William’s daughter. His brother George became a mason-architect.

Oxford Bridge, Stowe

His first landscape commission was for a lake at Kiddington Hall in Oxfordshire. In 1741, he became an under-gardener at Lord Cobham’s estate of Stowe, in Buckinghamshire, where he worked under William Kent (see a previous post), a founder of the new English landscape garden. In 1742 at the age of 26, he was promoted to Head Gardener (at £25 a year), where he remained until 1750, at the same time taking freelance commissions from Lord Cobham’s aristocratic friends. His landscape designs were in great demand from the landed gentry, and by 1761 he was making £500 a commission and around £6000 a year. Being an expert rider, he could scope out a property and rough out a design in about an hour. As his fame increased, he would charge more than £3,000 per commission.

Blenheim Palace

It is estimated that Brown was responsible for over 170 gardens surrounding the finest country houses and estates in Britain. His work still endures at Croome Court (where he also designed the house), Blenheim Palace, Warwick Castle, Harewood House, Appuldurcombe House, Milton Abbey (and nearby Milton Abbas village), in traces at Kew Gardens and many other locations. “This man who refused work in Ireland because he had not finished England” was called “Capability” Brown, because he would characteristically tell his landed clients that their estates had great “capability” for landscape improvement. (Wikipedia)

Brown’s original plans for Croome Court

Brown’s gardening abilities, honed at Kirkharle, were tremendously proficient. His subsequent success depended largely on his position as contractor, both designing improvements and then seeing the work through to its conclusion. He was skilled in all aspects of planting, drainage, dam-building and earth-moving, and possessed a ruthless business sense. This enabled him to manipulate both gentry and under-gardeners alike in order to further his own reputation… Throughout his career, Brown designed purely for the aristocracy. Many of his commissions overlapped with one another, landed as the result of family connections amidst patrons.

In 1751, Brown set himself up as landscaper and architect in Hammersmith. This move to the outskirts of London marked the beginning of a relentlessly demanding thirty years and a spectacularly successful consultancy. It also cemented a fruitful relationship with the Henry Hollands and their family. Holland the Younger (1745-1806) was, like his father, a successful architect and builder. Brown took him on as informal business partner in 1771 and son-in-law in 1773.

Brown’s cascade at Blenheim Palace

The “Park way”

The approach taken by Brown and his followers was to strip an estate back to its basic forms: serpentine lakes, bare lawns and informal planting.

This was a revolutionary break from the artfully contrived landscapes of the gentleman amateurs, and the most ‘natural’ landscaping style the eighteenth century had yet seen… His model for a landscape park superseded anything that had come before it and dominated garden design completely. Arable fields, unsightly outbuildings and walled kitchen gardens were hidden by screens of trees, and any surviving formal features were replaced by great swathes of open pasture. Brown’s landscape minimalism effortlessly accommodated the practical needs of a landowner within an aesthetically pleasing estate.

Croome Court

In creating a landscape park most owners wanted to ‘improve’ on both their estate’s fashionable status and their economic revenue… the initial creation of a landscape park could be expensive, depending on the existing topography and amount of earth-works required. It was, however, remarkably cheaper to maintain. The upkeep of formal parterres or flimsy Rococo buildings required the employment of legions of gardeners, whereas the pastoral appearance of a landscape park could be easily upheld through ranging livestock. This grazing land could even be let out to local farmers to generate further income.

Ha-ha at Croome Court

Just as he had capitalised on his patrons’ desire to consolidate land in order to secure financial and social power, so Brown manipulated their love of hunting, shooting, fishing, and beauty. Brown’s belts and copses provided the perfect cover for game birds. His expansive lakes, such as that at Compton Verney, could be used not just for fishing (as had the formal canal), but rather for boating, other hunting and providing a landscaped site with a measure of visual relief.

Chinese Bridge at Croome Court

Eighteenth-century landscapes were also required to entertain in a less violent manner. To this end, most large estates such as Croome and Blenheim had two circuit drives to choose from. One was suitable for walking and the other for riding around. Ladies would often take a carriage and then the various parties could reconvene at a chosen spot for refreshments… Dainty Rococo layouts were walked around, in order to appreciate fully the changing moods conjured up by exotic temples. But with these garden incidents cleared away, Brown’s carriage-drive was an invitation to explore a landscape park at high speed.

Rotunda at Croome Court

Brown also contrived glimpses of lakes and buildings through planned openings between trees and shrubs. Each view was carefully orchestrated and revealed at a specific point on the route around the landscape… At Croomie, Brown consciously screened Adam’s Island Temple with yews so that it was not visible until the bridge was crossed.

Brown ‘compared his art to literary composition.’

Now there I make a comma, and there, where a more decided turn is proper, I make a colon; at another part, where an interruption is desirable to break the view, a parenthesis; now a full stop, and then I begin another subject. (1782)

Croome Court

Perhaps his best known house was the Palladian Croome Court, where he was employed by George William Coventry, 6th Earl, from 1751. Croome’s unpromising marshland was drained so successfully that the earl commended Brown. ‘Who by the powers of His Indomitable and creative Genius formed this garden Out of a morass.’ However, his first phase of landscaping was virtually Rococo in style. Chinese bridges, a recumbent statue of Sabrina and a crystal-encrusted grotto were arranged around an inward-looking circuit. The original village and church were demolished and Brown’s Gothick Church of St Mary Magdalene with interiors by Robert Adam (1728-92) was reinstated on the eastern marl ridge to act as an eye-catcher. In the 1760’s a second, outer riding circuit was added. This was in accordance with the growing Picturesque fashion for wilder prospects and took in Adam’s Romanesque ruin, Dunstall Castle, as well as views of the Malverns.

Croome Court

He spent the last sixteen years of his life at his own small estate, Fenstanton Manor in Huntingdonshire, which he purchased in 1767. By the time he died in 1783 of exhaustion and old age he had amassed significant wealth. More importantly, he had joined the very landowning classes he had dedicated his life to serving.

St. Mary Magdalene’s Church, Croome

 

Walled garden, Croome

 

Croome Court

 

 

Mayer, Laura, Capability Brown and the English Landscape Garden, 2011, Shire Publications Ltd.

Henry Hoare: The Rococo

Between William Kent’s classical arcades and the “natural” landscapes of Capability Brown arose the Rococo, with its emphasis on the exotic and dramatic.

A development of the classical Arcadia, the eclectic Rococo garden of the 1740’s and 1750’s marked a transitional stage before the arrival of the Brownian parkscape, replete with natural features. It arranged stylistic confusions of Gothic, Chinese and Turkish influence around a serpentine lake, interspered with irregular planting. The continued appeal of Stourhead in Wiltshire… results from the magical way in which every feature is gradually revealed and then lost from sight, before being presented as a perfect composition. Predominantly the work of the gentleman amateur, there was no room in these estates for the interjections of a professional gardener. Mrs. Lybbe Powys affirmed during her visit to Stourhead: ‘All the buildings and plantations are the present owner’s doing, nor would Brown have executed it with more taste and elegance.’

Henry Hoare

Henry Hoare came from a family of goldsmith-bankers; his grandfather was Lord-Mayor of London. Henry was a partner of C. Hoare & Co. (today the largest bank in the UK and the fourth largest in the world) for nearly 60 years. Nicknamed “Henry the Magnificent” due to his personal charisma and patronage of the arts, Henry spent more than thirty years laying out the gardens of his father’s estate at Stourhead.

Temple of Apollo, Stourhead

The culturally initiated connoisseur could ‘read’ the contrived view of the mid-century landscape, and appreciate its allusions to art, literature and contemporary culture. Hoare believed Stourhead’s circuit would create a  charming Gaspar[d Poussin] picture,’ [see below] and believed fervently in ‘the pursuit of that knowledge which distinguishes the Gentleman from the Vulgar.’ Above the Temple of Flora, Hoare engraved the warning originally given to Aeneas by the Cumaean Sybil — “Begone, you who are uninitiated, begone!’ to remind any garden visitor lacking a classical vocabulary to proceed with caution. Stourhead’s iconography can be identified as an interpretation of Aeneas’s heroic quest to found Rome… Stourhead’s temples articulate the analogy between painting and landscape design more forcibly than any other eighteenth-century garden.

Bridge and Pantheon, Stourhead

Stourhead’s most theatrical feature is the darkened Grotto, which contains a cold bath and statue of the classical river god. Next on the circuit is the Gothic Cottage, where a clearing opens up to offer spectacular views of the Pantheon (1753-4), a miniature replica of Rome’s iconic building, and the most important visual component of Stourhead’s design.

View from the Grotto, Stourhead

Increased travel to the East resulted in a fascination with Chinese and Moorish art and architecture, among others. A preference was developed for the asymmetrical ‘without any Order or Disposition of Parts’. The gardens Hoare created at Stourhead were full of colorful buildings, including a Chinese pavilion, Gothick greenhouse, a Venetian seat, and a medieval Bristol High Cross painted in “strikingly gaudy” colors.  Unfortunately, his grandson, Richard Colt Hoare, removed all of the “exotic whimsicality of the oriental features in order to retain a chaste, harmonious Arcadia.”

High Cross, removed from Bristol

Rococo gardens

The Rococo garden was essentially a stylistic free-for-all, and thus the concept of ‘correct taste’ became a much-debated issue. Both William Hogarth’s The Analysis of Beauty and Edmund Burke’s Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful were written with the intention of fixing the fluctuating ideas of a man of taste, and guiding his patronage.

Exedra, Painswick

Painswick’s landscape was created by a middle-class merchant by the name of Benjamin Hyett, whose designs were based on local artist Thomas Robins.

Red Bridge and the Chinese House, Shugborough

The pleasure grounds at Shugborough, Staffordshire, were designed by Thomas Anson, a traveler and politician who was a pioneer in chinoiserie and Greek revivalism. “Shugborough’s Chinese House, erected in 1747 on a purpose-built island, was…hailed as ‘the genuine architecture of China in all its extravagance’ and ‘painted Blue and White with Indian Birds and Mandarins.’ The grounds also included a hexagonal “Indian Pagoda,” a Palladian bridge, and a Gothick pigeon house.

XIR375781 Landscape with hunter and dogs (oil on canvas) by Dughet, Gaspard Poussin (1615-75); Private Collection; (add. info.: hunting; romantic; cows; lake; chasse; paysage; herd); French, out of copyright

 

Mayer, Laura, Capability Brown and the English Landscape Garden, 2011, Shire Publications Ltd.