24 March 2018 marks bicentenary since the death of Repton
This year, the Gardens Trust is leading a national celebration of the life, work and legacy of Humphry Repton, the last great landscape gardener of the eighteenth century, responsible for some 400 landscapes across Britain, including Longleat (Wiltshire), Woburn Abbey (Bedfordshire) and Russell Square (London).
More than 200 sites and project stakeholders coordinated by the Gardens Trust, from English Heritage to local volunteer and friends’ groups, are coming together to run hundreds of Repton-inspired activities, ranging from conferences to special public garden openings.
Inspired by their role as a partner in the 2016 Capability Brown Festival, the Gardens Trust is keen to maintain the momentum and legacy of the hugely successful festival by continuing to build collaborative partnerships and raise awareness of our nation’s beautiful, historic landscapes with as wide an audience as possible. Helping to fulfil this ambition, the Gardens Trust was awarded a £99,500 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, made possible by money raised by National Lottery players, to pilot activities that are designed to welcome wider local communities to Repton landscapes. The ‘Sharing Repton’ project will pilot five activities for local communities in Repton-designed parks and gardens, with a long-term view to nurturing a new wave of volunteers and supporters for these heritage assets. These pilot activities will be delivered across five regions: London, South West, East Midlands, West Midlands, East.
Bicentenary celebrations: highlights
There will be a range of events and activities taking place across the UK for all to enjoy, including walks, talks, study days, and exhibitions, some of which are highlighted here:
Visit www.humphryrepton.org for more information and tickets.
Humphry Repton: his life and career
Humphry Repton was born on 21 April 1752 in Suffolk, into the well-to-do family of a tax collector. Whilst a child, his family moved to Norwich, where he attended grammar school, before being sent to the Netherlands at twelve years old as preparation for what was expected to be a career in
commerce. As he grew into a young man however, it became increasingly clear that he did not really have a head for business.
In 1773 he married Mary Clarke, with whom he was to have a much-loved family. When his parents died in 1778 he used the small legacy to abandon business and move himself and his family to a small country estate at Sustead, near Aylsham in Norfolk, where he was able to live the life of a country gentleman whilst growing his social contacts. Finances continued to dwindle however, prompting a mid-1780s downsizing to Hare Street Cottage, near Romford in Essex.
After unsuccessful times in various employments including the textile trade and as a private secretary, in 1788, at the age of 36, he set himself up as a ‘landscape gardener’. Repton is in fact credited with inventing the job title!
In order to launch his new career, Repton approached his social contacts to ask for work improving their estates. His first two landscape jobs were at Catton Hall for Jeremiah Ives, a textile merchant and Mayor of Catton, and for Thomas Coke of Holkham Hall in Norfolk. Both survive today, Catton as a public park run by the Catton Park Trust, and Holkham Hall as a privately-owned home open by ticket and for events. Other commissions were to include Blaise Castle in Bristol, Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire, Endsleigh Cottage in Devon, London’s Russell Square, Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire, Tatton Park in Cheshire, Uppark House in Sussex, Valleyfield in Fife and Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire.
In 1811 Repton had a serious carriage accident, after which he often had to use a wheelchair.
He died on 24 March 1818 and is buried in St Michael’s Church, Aylsham in Norfolk.
Humphry Repton: his landscaping style
Repton wanted to fill the gap left by the death of Capability Brown in 1783. He initially championed Brown’s landscape style but later adopted the ideas of the picturesque movement. His work therefore links the landscape design of the eighteenth century and the gardenesque movement of the early Victorian years.
His work reintroduced terraces, gravel walks and flower beds into the area around the house, to provide a foreground for views of the landscape. Repton also designed separate flower gardens, with more elaborate ornamental or themed planting, a style which became popular in the nineteenth century.
Much of his work included improvements to existing landscape schemes at the estates of aristocratic clients like the Dukes of Bedford and Portland, but interestingly also included designs for much smaller properties as his career coincided with war, economic instability, and the rise of the ‘nouveau riche’.
The way Repton presented his landscape designs was a key part of his success. He produced ‘Red Books’ or folios of his plans, drawings, maps and a description of the improvements he proposed to make. They famously include watercolour paintings with overlays showing ‘before’ and ‘after’ views of the estate.
His ideas about landscape design continue to influence designers today.