Lancelot 'Capability' Brown

At a time when so many of us are separated from nature due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, and the landscapes in the care of the National Trust, English Heritage and independent owners are closed, we feel more strongly the need for green space and for beauty. For many, the ideal landscape yearned for as we sit out the days of self-isolation and social distancing, is that of the English landscape garden.


Re-wind four years to the spring of 2016 and a small team, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, were planning to launch the tercentenary celebration of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, the man behind England’s Green and Pleasant Land. As an eighteenth-century cultural historian, with an especial interest in the position of the country house and landscape in British culture, I was lucky to participate in a range of events exploring Capability Brown’s legacy.


I spent 2016 arguing that Brown’s concoction of tress, grass and water now represent a reassuring vision of Englishness: stable, secure, remote from the challenges of the twenty-first century and easily marketable to domestic and international tourists. This was the subject of my Medium article – available to read here – and an article in The Conversation – where I suggested that we needed to re-think the radical legacy of Capability Brown, and see in his approach to landscape an opportunity to pause and reflect on the best way of balancing urban growth with the conservation of landscape and habitat.


With Blenheim Palace just down the road, I had the opportunity to film a short video for the University, taking full advantage of the photogenic landscapes.


The tercentenary events of 2016 enabled us to consolidate and develop our partnership work with the current owners of Brown’s surviving landscapes, including the National Trust, for whom we commissioned new web content through the Trusted Source Knowledge Transfer Partnership.

Oliver Cox is Heritage Engagement Fellow at the University of Oxford. He co-ordinates, supports and brokers collaborative research and engagement projects between the University of Oxford and external partners in the UK and international heritage sector, through enabling individual researchers, research groups, students and professional services to develop mutually-beneficial collaborations.

Oliver leads the TORCH Heritage Programme, is co-Lead of the Oxford University Heritage Network and part of the team delivering the University of Oxford’s strategic partnership with the National Trust. Oliver co-leads the Heritage Pathway Graduate Training Programme. He is also the inaugural Humanities Innovation Champion for Oxford University Innovation in recognition of his external consultancy.

TORCH Heritage Programme Homepage

Portrait of Capability Brown

A portrait of Brown painted by Nathaniel Dance, c. 1773 (oil on canvas, currently at the National Portrait Gallery, London). ©️ Public Domain