Capability Brown at The Abbey

St Catherine's Chapel, Milton Abbey, Lord Milton's mansion, and the village of Milton Abbas are embraced and integrated by a breathtaking 500 acre landscape designed by Capability Brown, which began in 1763 and continued up to Brown's death in 1783.

Three valleys converge, and inside one of the valleys is the village of Milton Abbas, contained either side by a silhouette of trees on top of the hillsides. This picturesque 'lost village' in a wooded valley is the first 'new town' in England. Milton Abbey is at the focal point of the converging valleys, encircled by 16 miles of walks, rides, and carriage drives designed to draw the visitor through the space, enriched en route by features such as the folly - called the Sham Chapel - built by Brown and William Chambers. Everywhere there are glimpses and vistas opening up to the Abbey as the route is travelled. This sublime landscape is one of the finest examples of the work of Capability Brown in England.

The 18th century English writer on agriculture and economics, Arthur Young, visited Milton Abbey in 1771 and was overwhelmed by the stupendous reach of grass and woods on the north side of Damer's new mansion - 'a remarkable winding valley three miles long, surrounded on each side by hills whose variety is very great. It is all lawn; and as the surface has many fine swells and other gentle inequalities, the effect is everywhere beautiful. The hills on the west side are thickly covered with wood, from the edge of the vale, spreading over the tops of the hills; these continued sweeps of hanging woods are very noble. In some places they form projections that break forward in great style; in others they withdraw and open bosoms of wood which are as picturesque as can easily be imagined'. He noted that 'All the home grounds are to be walled in, which will be a circuit of 16 miles, half of which are done; and the tops of the hills all planted with a great variety of trees to the amount of 500 acres.'

Ecologists today press for the need for a wider range of landscape, an integration of landscape and nature, a connectedness of things. This is what Brown was able to design for Damer at Milton. His client was 'one of the most considerable farmers in this country, and the home grounds were a farm with about 1,400 sheep, not so much with a view to profit as the beauty of his lawns.' The parkland has become indistinguishable from the farm, the landscape sprawls lavishly over the ground without regard to boundaries, public roads or property. A lake was created at the southern end of the estate adjoining the village of Milton Abbas, winding its way towards the Abbey. Due to a series of technical and legal problems, the lake never reached the Abbey, but it remains an enchanting part of the whole composition.

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There will be a new exhibition in July and August 2017. More details in March.