Warwick Castle’s heavenly landscape

on Mar 01 in News by

The visitor to Warwick Castle progresses through the countryside with a growing appreciation that they are approaching greatness. The landscape itself is a character in the unfolding drama.

The relationship between Warwick Castle and its surroundings goes to the heart of what the first and second Earls of Warwick, father and son, committed 60 years of their lives and their entire fortune to create; a sublime Arcadian park and an improved agricultural estate.

In the process they gave Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, probably the best-known landscape designer in English history, his first major commission; they contributed to the birth of the Picturesque, they commissioned famous artists such as Canaletto, and and they advanced agricultural science. They helped to forever change the way the English countryside is experienced.

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Lancelot Brown’s career runs in parallel to the first wave of the Parliamentary enclosure movement (1750-1780), and by the mid-eighteenth century two-thirds of England was enclosed in small, regimented fields.

Perhaps partly in response to this ‘taming’ of the English countryside, it became fashionable for wealthy landowners to transform part of their estates into naturalistic open parkland. Glimpses of heaven, or what might have been seen in Europe after the retreat of the Ice-Age.

The Parliamentary enclosure movement not only covered England in fields, it also offered wealthy landowners the opportunity to extend the acreage of their parkland.

Historic England advises that the landscapes associated with landed estates need to be examined as a whole, rather than drawing too sharp a distinction between parkland and surrounding farms. Many aspects of estate landscapes served both functional and aesthetic purposes.

The Earls of Warwick developed Castle Park and their farmland in tandem, and these combined landscapes provide the setting for Warwick Castle.

The second Earl of Warwick drew his inspiration from the Lake District and the Alps. He was an early champion of the Picturesque Movement and he spent his entire fortune on art and landscape design at Warwick Castle. Part of his planned route to the castle included the creation of New Waters, a vast lake a mile long, stretching across Castle Park and surrounding farmland. Visitors to Warwick crossed this body of water along a causeway, following the Banbury Road. Part of the lake and fragments of the causeway survive.

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Looking out from Warwick Castle’s towers today, you can still clearly see the two central themes that the Earls of Warwick applied to their estate, improved farmland and a natural park landscape. It’s possible to imagine how the rapid spread of enclosed farmland created a desire for wilder, naturalistic landscape, as still seen in Castle Park.

The first and second Earls of Warwick committed 60 years of their lives and their entire fortune to create an Arcadian park landscape in tandem with an improved agricultural estate. There has been some change over the following 250 years, but these landscapes remain remarkably intact and they are of international significance.

Many people, not just aristocrats, now enjoy the magnificent interplay of ancient military architecture and eighteenth century landscape at Warwick Castle. 750,000 people visited the castle last year and there will be additional visitors in 2016 to mark 300 years of Capability Brown (1716-2016).

 

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