Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown

2016 will be the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown – the most well-known landscape designer of the eighteenth century (and probably of any century). As landscape historians we are interested in Brown and his work for a number of reasons – his landscapes are works of art in their own right, and by studying them we can understand the changing nature of society and culture in the eighteenth century. We can study their archaeology – earthworks, trees, lakes and buildings, for clues about their development and how they were created and maintained.

But how much do we know about Brown himself? He has been the subject of several biographies, including Jane Brown’s Omnipotent Magician (2012) and Dorothy Stroud’s Capability Brown, first published in 1950, and numerous other books and articles. We have recently completed a review of research on Brown for English Heritage which aimed to assess how much research has been done on Brown, but also where the gaps in our knowledge lie.

The park at Kimberley, landscaped by Brown in the 1760s.
The park at Kimberley, landscaped by Brown in the 1760s.

We held a workshop at UEA earlier this year to discuss our findings with a group of academics, researchers and representatives from organisations like English Heritage and the National Trust. This included a trip to Kimberley Hall in Norfolk, which was landscaped by Brown in the 1760s.

Professor Tom Williamson and other members of the group in the garden at Kimberley, including Professor Ian Rotherham, Dr Jonathon Finch and Dr Stephen Bending.
Professor Tom Williamson and other members of the group in the garden at Kimberley, including Professor Ian Rotherham, Dr Jonathon Finch and Dr Stephen Bending.
Looking at an ancient oak pollard in the Brown parkland, Kimberley in Norfolk.
Looking at an ancient oak pollard in the Brown parkland, Kimberley in Norfolk.

Our report has now been published as an English Heritage Research Report, and can be downloaded from their website. In it, we identify some of the problems of studying the life and work of Brown – many landscapes have been attributed to Brown which are probably not by him, whilst there are probably some Brown parks which have not been identified as such yet.

Despite his fame, there is still a lot that we don’t know about Brown and his work – hopefully the upcoming tercentenery will be a good opportunity to do more work on Brown, and to fill in those gaps in our understanding.

Download our research report on Capability Brown here.

Lancelot 'Capability' Brown: Research Impact Review Front Cover


Pathways to History – parishes of few paths

Following on from earlier posts about the density of rights of way in Norfolk, the map below highlights those parishes with the least dense networks of rights of way and those with no footpaths, bridleways or byways.

PROW map
Parishes shown in white are those with no public rights of way (in terms of footpaths/bridleways/byways). Parishes shown in blue are those with the least dense networks of rights of way.

The parishes with no public rights of way are:

Beeston St Andrew
Little Snoring
Pudding Norton
Shouldham Thorpe

A typical characteristic of these parishes is the presence of single dominant landed estate, often with a large park that accounts for most of the area of the parish. Anmer, Beeston and Houghton, for example, are all parishes where landscape parks dominate the landscape. The movement and closure of rights of way in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to create such landscapes is well documented, although will be the subject of further research as part of this project in terms of chronology and distribution. Other factors such as settlement shrinkage/desertion and military requisitioning (Stanford and Sturston) also loom large in the history of these parishes.

The following parishes all contain some rights of way, but in terms of density account for the 10 least dense networks in the county (excluding those parishes with no rights of way).

No Parish/Area PROW(m) per HECTARE
1 Kilverstone 0.08
2 Necton 0.13
3 West Walton 0.15
4 Scoulton 0.16
5 Morton on the Hill 0.18
6 Litcham 0.27
7 Bradenham 0.29
8 Spixworth 0.32
9 Hilborough 0.32
10 Sandringham 0.39

These parishes continue the predominant east/west divide seen across the county and again the presence of large landed estates in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries seems to be the key factor in most cases (e.g. Hilborough, Kilverstone, Sandringham). However, the figures are also misleading in some ways. For example Sandringham today is, by Norfolk standards, a very large parish covering over 4,000 hectares (making it the fifth largest in the county) and contributing to its low density value. Furthermore this fails to take account of the land which is now accessible to those visiting the Sandringham estate; or the nature reserves at Dersingham Bog and Wolferton Fen.

Sandringham and surrounding parishes in the 1880s. A typical nineteenth-century estate landscape in west Norfolk - parkland, plantations and large enclosed fields (most of which tend not to go hand in hand with dense networks of footpaths...)
Sandringham and surrounding parishes in the 1880s. A typical nineteenth-century estate landscape in west Norfolk – parkland, plantations and large enclosed fields (most of which tend not to go hand in hand with dense networks of footpaths…)

Pathways to History – Mapping Density

Following on from yesterday’s post, these maps show patterns of density across the county, this time taking account of roads as well as public rights of way. In each case the density of routeways has been worked out in terms of metres per hectare.

Public Rights of Way (Footpaths, Bridleways, Byways)

PROW map 1
Density of public rights of way in Norfolk. Blues and greens = low density; oranges and reds = high density.

Highest = Wacton (59m per hectare)

Lowest = A number of parishes with no public rights of way (more on this to follow in another post)

Public Roads (excluding PROW)

Road density map
Density of roads in Norfolk  (blue = low; yellow = medium; red = high)

Highest = Norwich (102m of public road per hectare)

Lowest = Sturston (0m of public road per hectare)

Public Roads and Public Rights of Way

Roads and Prow Map
Combined density of Public rights of way and public roads.

Highest = Norwich (103m per hectare) Sheringham a close second with 101m

Lowest = Sturston (no public roads, no public rights of way)

As research and mapping progress we hope to be able to look in more depth at changing densities over time. It has already become clear from examining seventeenth and eighteenth-century maps of a number of places that processes such as parliamentary enclosure could dramatically reduce the number of paths and roads within a parish. However, in some cases similar processes are evident even in parishes which were untouched by enclosure acts.

Pathways to History – A question of density

When looking at patterns of rights of way across Norfolk some are unsurprising, such as the greater number of footpaths and lanes in the south east of the county and the relative sparseness of the north west. Examining the historic development of such contrasts will form a key part of our Pathways to History project, but as we sort through the results of fieldwork and documentary research we’ve started to explore and map a range of other patterns.

Firstly, we’ve been looking at the modern density of rights of way (footpaths, bridleways and byways), calculated in terms of metres of rights of way per hectare of each parish. On this basis the densest network of rights of way is to be found in the parish of Wacton, to the west of the A140 near Long Stratton. Anyone who has ever looked at an Ordnance Survey map of this area won’t be surprised by this – the mesh of paths and tracks across and around Wacton Common is striking even in an area with as many footpaths as south Norfolk. It might reasonably be expected that the other most densely ‘pathed’ parishes in Norfolk would be in this area, but the distribution of the top ten is rather more widespread.

The top ten parishes in Norfolk on the basis of density of rights of way (metres per hectare)
The top ten parishes in Norfolk on the basis of density of rights of way (metres per hectare)
No Parish/Area PROW(m) per HECTARE
1 Wacton 59.95
2 Thurne 54.57
3 Downham West 40.00
4 Beeston Regis 39.59
5 East Beckham 37.82
6 New Buckenham 36.56
7 Burston and Shimpling 33.25
8 Runton 31.07
9 Yelverton 30.75
10 Drayton 30.37

Looking at these in a little more detail they can be divided into a number of categories. Firstly, there are those parishes which have high densities due to their diminutive areas, such as New Buckenham and Yelverton. Secondly there is Downham West, which scores highly here by virtue of the long bridleways and byways which follow the course of fenland rivers and dykes. Thirdly there are those parishes, such as Wacton and Runton where areas of common land survived much later than elsewhere in Norfolk. Indeed, Runton is one of the few places in this region where open field strips survived late enough to be included on the first edition six inch and twenty five inch Ordnance Survey maps of the 1880s. Drayton is a somewhat surprising entry in the top ten, particularly as there appear to be very few rights of way on modern maps. However, the definitive map for Norfolk includes a cluster of footpaths around Drayton Wood and Canham’s Hill which help to explain the results above. You can see them on Norfolk County Council’s interactive map here –

Runton Map
Strip fields around Runton on the north Norfolk Coast as shown on the OS 6″ to 1 mile map of the 1880s.

Further research, both fieldwork and documentary, will undoubtedly shed more light on these patterns; and on the more detailed history of rights of way within individual parishes.

Pathways to History – July update

Throughout June and July our Pathways to History project has been making steady progress, with the results of fieldwork surveys coming in from all over the county. We’ve also been invited to visit a number of parishes to take part in walks with local groups, making the most of an unusually hot and dry summer. Back in June we went to Felmingham and Beachamwell, parishes at opposite ends of the county but with some similarities in landscape terms due to their sandy soils and heaths. Until the nineteenth century many of Norfolk’s heathlands were criss-crossed by dense networks of tracks, many of which disappeared as parishes were enclosed. Walking from Felmingham church to Bryant’s Heath we followed one such track (now a public footpath) which has survived, crossing the heath and then leading on towards North Walsham. A number of other tracks can also be seen on the heath, some of them significantly sunken.

Felmingham Footpath
Footpath between Felmingham church and Bryant’s Heath, NE Norfolk.

The landscape around Beachamwell, as with many parts of Breckland, is today dominated by large scale agriculture. However, it is also covered by an extensive network of footpaths, the history of which is currently being researched by a group of local people working with the CPRE. We enjoyed an atmospheric late evening walk around some of these paths and lanes via Shingham and what was once Beachamwell rabbit warren. Once again we were struck by the richness of some of the lanes in terms of ancient trees and boundary earthworks, in a landscape more readily associated with the hawthorn hedges and conifers of modern fields and plantations. Beachamwell contains numerous important archaeological sites and it will therefore be interesting to see how the routeways within the parish have both influenced and been shaped by past activity.

Beachamwell Track
Looking back towards Shingham and Beachamwell from a track leading to Langwade Green.
Boundary marker
An eighteenth-century boundary stone (marked ‘PB’), now lying in a hedge near Beachamwell.

At the start of July we spent a morning exploring paths and lanes in Reepham, along with 30 eager assistants from Reepham Primary School’s year 3 class, the Avocets. Our walk included a very impressive holloway between Mill Road and Whitwell Road (see below) and an oak pollard on Back Lane with a circumference of 7 metres. The class provided plenty of thoughtful observations and more than a few challenging questions!

In addition to working on the Pathways to History project Reepham and Beachamwell (along with Thompson and Horning) are also taking part in the CPRE’s Connecting Threads: Exploring Our Footpaths project, which aims to “raise awareness and enrich knowledge of public rights of way so that local communities value them and (literally) explore them more, and are encouraged to engage in monitoring and protecting them”. You can find out more on the project website.

CPRE Project Page

Our most recent visit was to the parish of Carbrooke, one of many splendid examples in Norfolk of a small village with an enormous parish church. In the field to the south of the church are the earthwork remains of the commandry or preceptory of the Knights of St John. As with Beachamwell, it will be interesting to see what connections can be made between such a significant site and the current pattern of roads, lanes and paths in the parish.

Looking north towards Carbrooke from the end of a short footpath running between Summer Lane and Mill Lane.

Pathways to History

We are excited to be able to post about a new landscape history project that we will be running over the course of the year.

Public Footpath

Pathways to History aims to investigate the history of public rights of way in Norfolk. The antiquity of the footpath network has never been fully researched and we are interested in a number of questions:

• How old are footpaths and green lanes in Norfolk?

• How has the number of public rights of way changed in the past?

• Do footpaths and green lanes have a distinct archaeological character?

• What were footpaths and green lanes used for in the past?

• Are there any local names or traditions associated with them?

• How do footpaths and green lanes relate to the wider landscape?

Green Lane

We are looking for volunteers from across the county to take part in the project – to help us carry out surveys of footpaths and green lanes and to carry out archival research into their history. We will be able to provide help, advice and training on fieldwork and research to both individuals and community groups.

We hope that surveying the physical character of footpaths and green lanes will help us to understand more about their history and development. Very old lanes and paths are often characterised as being deeply sunken or eroded, with species rich hedges and distinctive flora like bluebells, primroses and dogs mercury. On the other hand, unbounded footpaths are not always so clearly physically defined. How does this relate to the history and development of green lanes and footpaths? We are also interested in trying to trace the changing number of footpaths and lanes in Norfolk – many parishes were affected by processes like Parliamentary enclosure, so what impact did this have on the footpath network?

We will be running a series of introductory training sessions towards the end of May, and can also run training sessions with community groups who are interested in taking part.

More details are on the project website –

If you are interested in getting involved then please contact Dr Sarah Spooner by email or telephone –

01603 592663


A day at Orford Ness

Orford Ness

Last week we visited Orford Ness in Suffolk for a meeting to discuss the Cold War Anglia project. The isolated and atomospheric shingle spit on the coast at Orford has a long history of military activity dating back to the First World War, and has primarily been associated with experimental work. From the 1950s until the 1970s it was used by the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment to carry out various environmental tests on nuclear weapons and their components. For the Cold War Anglia project Dr Richard Maguire and team will be researching the history of Orford Ness during this period, with a view to digitally reconstructing part of the site as it would have looked during the Cold War.

Orford Ness


Orford Ness


You can find out more about the history of Orford Ness and the AWRE in Wayne Cocroft and Magnus Alexander’s recent report for English Heritage, which can be found online here. Since 1993 the site has been owned and managed by the National Trust. If you fancy visiting then there are more details on the NT website, though check carefully before you go as it’s not open every day. Many thanks to Duncan Kent and Grant Lohoar from the National Trust for making us all so welcome on the day.



…and cover, presumably.


The Great Flood

Exactly a century ago, on the 26th and 27th of August 1912 Norfolk suffered one of the worst floods in its history, now known as the Great Flood. Unlike other catastrophic floods, like those of 1953, the flood of 1912 was caused almost entirely by heavy rainfall – up to 8 inches fell in some places.

The damage was widespread – particularly in Norwich where the lowest lying parts of the city were inundated, including the City Station and the Bullard brewery at Coslany. Carrow and Trowse were also badly affected, as were parts of Lakenham.

The Bure valley was also badly affected and the Aylsham Navigation, along the course of the Bure between Aylsham and Coltishall, was damaged beyond repair.

The floodwaters cascade across the road near the Anchor of Hope Inn in Lammas, near Buxton.

The railway bridge near Buxton, with the floodwaters almost up to the height of the tracks.

This is the same railway bridge, taken from the path next to the river, which shows the depth of the floodwaters at this point.

A train full of holidaymakers from the Midlands was trapped by the floodwaters in Aylsham station, and the passengers had to be rescued by a local fishing boat. One unnamed passenger spoke to reporters from the Eastern Daily Press:

I shall never forget the sight. It was terrible; nothing but water with wrecks of huts and gardens and trees floating, and it was as deep as the sea.

On the Navigation, all of the locks were effectively destroyed and many bridges collapsed. It took several years for all of the bridges to be repaired, and some bridges were still only temporary structures until the 1920s. The Navigation itself was officially abandoned in 1928.

We have been working with the Aylsham Local History Society to investigate the history of the Aylsham Navigation from its inception in the late eighteenth century to its end in August 1912. One of the main outcomes of the project is a publication written by members of the Society and other volunteers, and the book was finished and printed just in time for the centenary of the Great Flood.

This weekend, the local community came together in Coltishall to remember the Great Flood of August 1912. The event was organised by the Bure Navigation Conservation Trust which aims to promote our understanding of this stretch of the River Bure.

The restored wherry Albion came up the Bure from the Broads, and was greeted by a flotilla of sea scouts in canoes. The scouts left Aylsham at 8am that morning to travel down the course of the Navigation, which is no longer accessible to larger vessels. It took them about 6 hours to make the 9 mile journey.

The book published as part of this project will be officially launched next month, but this centenary weekend was a fitting moment to end our project and celebrate the history of the Navigation.

Fieldwork, Ancient Woodland and a Flypast

Each summer, as most students prepare to head home after exams, we gear up for our annual Field Course. This means five days on site surveying earthworks, buildings and anything else we come across that looks interesting. The fieldwork eventually leads on to a longer research project for the students, but on a warm* day in June that all seems a very long way away.


*Disclaimer – fieldwork days in June may not always be warm.


This year we were once again in south Norfolk, exploring ancient woodland and moated sites in the claylands of the Waveney valley. The students coped admirably with the challenges of surveying in woodland, including sighting a prism through 75m of hornbeam coppice in full leaf. Many happy hours were also spent exploring sections of woodland and puzzling over species composition and a confusing array of external and internal boundary banks and ditches.


In the middle of the week our lunch break was interrupted by several large planes overhead, two of them with fighter jets alongside. Interesting, if a little odd, we thought, and promptly returned to surveying. At the end of the week all became clear when we saw the same planes in the same formation on the news, as part of the Trooping the Colour flypast.


We ended the week in glorious sunshine (unusual for a summer field course) at Redenhall parish church. Much of the building dates to the 15th century and was funded by the De La Pole family. As usual in these circumstances though, we defer to Simon Knott’s excellent Norfolk Churches website.

We’ll be returning to south Norfolk in the autumn semester to continue work on drawing up and refining the earthwork plans, and hopefully to piece together a little bit more of the landscape history of this area.

A long way from East Anglia…Part 2

There are, presumably, not many landscape parks in Britain that are best approached via ferry. Of course, if you can think of any do please let us know. We could start a series…

Cremyll Ferry Photo

Anyway, Mount Edgcumbe, located on the very furthest south-eastern tip of Cornwall, overlooking Plymouth Sound, is one of this select band. It’s one of our favourite parks, partly, but not entirely because of the excitement of crossing the mouth of the River Tamar aboard the Cremyll Ferry.

Being surrounded on two sides by the sea gives the park an unusual feeling, as does the fact that views are dominated by the sprawling suburbs of Plymouth (with a backdrop of Dartmoor on clear days). The hall and deer park date to the 16th century, though many of the key features of the landscape today date to the 18th and 19th centuries, such as the Orangery (c.1760), an impressive folly on the upper slopes of the park (1740s) and a range of other garden grottoes and temples. The hall was badly damaged by German bombs in 1943 but subsequently restored in the 1960s.

The park also contains a range of military features, something that is not altogether surprising given its strategic location. These include a two storey blockhouse (c1540) and the ‘Garden Battery’, which began life as a private saluting battery complete with 21 cannon, before being substantially upgraded in the 1860s to form part of the defences of Plymouth Sound and Devonport.

We’ll leave the last word to Louis Simond, who visited in January 1810:

The great charm is in the contrast of the loneliness and retirement of objects near you, with the lively scene and richness, and immensity, bursting on the river here and there; and, upon the whole, this comes nearer to my ideas of beauty than any spot I ever saw.