The Bicentenary of the Death of Humphry Repton (1752-1818)
Humphry Repton (21 April 1752 – 24 March 1818) was the last great landscape designer of the Georgian era, filling the void left after the death of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in 1783 and linking the 18th century landscape tradition with the gardensque movement of the early Victorian years.
2018 marked 200 years since his death, and while the national celebration was launched earlier last year, there remains plenty of time to take part in events, such as the comprehensive exhibition on Repton’s career at The Garden Museum in Lambeth.
Repton in London
While born, raised and buried in the East of England, Repton has numerous connections with London. The London Parks and Garden Trust has recently published a book compiling its research into Repton’s work in London.
Repton set up his business as a ‘landscape gardener’ in 1788 at the age of 36, practicing out of his family home on Hare Street in Romford, Essex. This is now in the Gidea Park neighbourhood in the London Borough of Havering. The site of Repton’s house is marked by a ‘green’ plaque and surrounding streets bear his name.
Repton practised as a consultant, advising on designs for around 400 English landscapes and gardens. While Repton’s commissions included the great estates of the traditional landed gentry, much of his clientele included ‘newly rich’ merchants, bankers, lawyers and other businessmen whose smaller estates and villa gardens lay in and around major population centres. Naturally, a high number of these, some 60, were in London, of which 12 are now included in the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest.
So, why not visit one of the parks and gardens in London associated with Repton? You can see some of our recommendations below, and you can use your photos to Enrich the List.
Kenwood (Grade II*) in Hampstead represents one of Repton’s earlier commissions, with Lord Mansfield appointing him in 1793. He visited the site three times between 1793 and 1796 and produced advice in the form of one of his famous hand-written and illustrated bound leather volumes called a ‘Red Book’. These usually contained his innovative before and after watercolour views, where he painted the existing scenery on folded flaps of paper which then could be lifted to reveal the proposed designs underneath. As with many of his commissions, only some of his ideas were implemented but his influence remains visible in the design of the approach drives, the flower garden west of the house, the expanded pleasure ground south of the house, and the arrangement of stables, kitchen garden, farm buildings and offices.
Grovelands Park (Grade II*) in Enfield is included within the Heritage at Risk Register for London but remains an excellent example of a Repton landscape laid out and established for a newly wealthy client. Quaker brandy merchant Walker Gray acquired the rural estate beyond the fringes of London from the Duke of Chandos in 1797, and commissioned Repton to lay out new gardens and an associated landscape park to accompany a new house by John Nash (1752-1835). Repton advised on siting the house, laying out its surrounding gardens and pleasure ground within a ha-ha, forming a serpentine lake, positioning carriage drives and entrances, and planting the park. All of these features were implemented, and many of the surviving features can be seen today from the publicly accessible areas of the park.
Repton’s Urban Squares
London is unique in offering examples of small-scale urban sites designed by Repton in the form of Russell Square (Grade II) and Bloomsbury Square (Grade II) designed in 1805/6 and 1807 respectively for John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford as part of the development of the Bedford Estate. Repton was also responsible for Cadogan Place (Grade II) designed in 1806 for Charles, 1st Earl of Cadogan. All of these sites represent early examples of urban planning by a ‘landscape designer’, with Repton considering the design and use of the external public space as well as the private internal space.
Wanstead Park (Grade II*) in Redbridge is a good example of Repton’s involvement in a well-established estate. William Pole Tylney Long Wellesley and his wife Catherine Tylney Long appointed Repton in 1813 to advise on improvements to the extensive and elaborate landscape park laid out by Catherine’s forebears from the beginning of the 18th century. Repton’s suggested improvements to drives and vistas, ornamentation of the park’s existing lakes and introduction of new gardens and terraces around the house. Few of Repton’s numerous proposals were implemented; as the Tylney Long’s lavish spending exhausted their fortune and forced them to begin selling off parts of the estate from 1822. The house was demolished in 1824 and the designed landscape at Wanstead Park has been in slow decline ever since. However, Repton’s influence remains, perhaps most poetically in the lines of the parterre garden implemented to the west of the house which can still be seen as ‘parch marks’ during dry weather in summer. Wanstead Park is included within the Heritage at Risk Register for London but remains a fascinating designed landscape well worth a visit.