England

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Viva Victoriana – London

London’s Victorian landmarks are among the capital’s most iconic sights

Trafalgar Square (above). Although its name and most famous historic figure – Admiral Horatio Nelson who sits atop the 43.5m column – recall a pre-Victorian battle, Trafalgar Square was developed during Victoria’s reign. The Regency architect John Nash got the ball rolling in 1812 with his vision for a cultural space, “a new street from Charing Cross to Portland Place”, and the baton was taken up in 1838 by Sir Charles Barry, also responsible for the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster, who presented a plan including the statue of Nelson and two fountains. The beating heart of the capital, where Londoners gather to celebrate everything from football victories to new year, Trafalgar Square is enveloped by beautiful buildings – most famously the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery to the north, and the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields to the east. It’s also a mere hop, skip and a jump down the Mall to Buckingham Palace. Do pass through Admiralty Arch built in honour of Queen Victoria in 1910 by her son, King Edward VII.

Tower Bridge. A symbol of Victorian ingenuity, Tower Bridge has overtaken London Bridge as the capital’s most famous river crossing. In the 1870s, a new bridge east of London Bridge was considered crucial for the city and the public competition to find the right design proceeded in 1876. The winner, Sir Horace Jones – also one of the competition’s judges – took his inspiration from designs he had seen on the Continent and his scheme for a “bascule” (French for seesaw) bridge comprised a roadway formed of two segments, which could be pulled up like a drawbridge, allowing ships to pass. The high-level walkway, meanwhile, would allow pedestrians to cross when the road was raised. Initially run by steam hydraulics, Tower Bridge is today powered by oil and electricity. It has witnessed much drama over the decades, surviving the Blitz, rogue aeroplanes swooping between its Gothic towers in 1912 and 1968, and a bus making a daring leap over a three-foot gap as the bridge opened after a negligent watchman failed to ring the warning bell in 1952.

From the Gothic grandeur of Big Ben to the ingenuity of Tower Bridge, London’s Victorian monuments feature on postcards and calendars, are lit up on special occasions and revered as timeless symbols of the capital today, as well as representing its rich history.tower-bridge

Victorian architecture looked backwards as well as forwards. The sumptuous detail of the Gothic Revival of the mid-1800s, as developed by architects such as Augustus Pugin, for example, was retrospective, evolving as a reaction against the simplicity and symmetry of the Palladianism favoured in the earlier decades of the century, which looked back even further in time to ancient Greece and Rome.

Later in Victoria’s reign, as a result of new technology, iron and steel began to be incorporated as building components. One of the most famous examples was Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, the iron and glass structure that originally stood in Hyde Park and was later relocated to south London.

Encapsulating the sense of looking both to the future and the past, Tower Bridge, with its iron-and-steel structure so cutting edge at the time, was also designed to complement the historic fortress nearby and clad in Portland stone – a fitting mix of something old, something new.

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A Schoolroom for Everyone – London

The Victoria and Albert Museum has just triumphed as the Art Fund’s Museum of the Year

With over 4.5 million objects and seven miles of galleries, the Victoria and Albert Museum is one of the biggest museums of decorative arts in the world. It is also one of the most beautiful. Take the Medieval and Renaissance sculpture gallery, just to start with, on your right as you enter from Cromwell Road – however many times you’ve been to the V&A, it’s hard to resist wandering in to that beautiful light-drenched space and marvelling at the figures beneath the glass roof, each with its own rich story.

Like many buildings on the site in South Kensington known as Albertopolis – the Science and Natural History museums, Imperial College, the Royal Colleges of Art and Music, and Royal Albert Hall – the seeds of the V&A were sown at the Great Exhibition of 1851, a pivotal event right in the middle of the 19th century which was the brainchild of Prince Albert.

In the wake of the First Industrial Revolution, the world was invited to display its achievements at the Great Exhibition – an event recorded at the original entrance to the museum, on the north side of what is now the John Madejski Garden. (A stretch of grass was all that used to lie between this entrance and Cromwell Road.) On the pediment of this building Queen Victoria, styled as Greek goddess, hands out wreaths to the countries that took part in the Great Exhibition. In a move away from the fashion for Gothic Revival at the time, that original building, in warm red-brick and terracotta with mosaic decoration, recalls the elegance of northern Italian Renaissance architecture; its partner in style is the Royal Albert Hall, which is perhaps no surprise. Henry Cole, the museum’s first director, was deeply involved with both projects.victoria-and-albert-museum-1

The eternally grieving queen wanted it to be called the Albert Museum, but the government put its foot down: there were enough memorials to Albert, she was told. The Victorian and Albert was, in fact, the museum’s third name. Opening as the Museum of Manufactures in Marlborough House in 1852, it was later renamed the South Kensington Museum when it was established in what was then Brompton in 1857 (South Kensington was thought to sound more upmarket), with its final christening taking place in 1899 when Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of new buildings along Exhibition Road and Cromwell Road.

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Discover London

 “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” – Samuel Johnson

Double Trouble

Shakespeare’s romantic comedies Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing, first paired as a double bill at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 2014 to critical acclaim, are to make a brief comeback in the West End.

With Much Ado masquerading as Love’s Labour’s Won – a title that might refer to a lost work or is possibly an alternate name for the play – an ensemble cast performs both involving productions, which conjure an air of Downton Abbey glamour.

Love’s Labour’s Lost brings to life the carefree elegance of a pre-war Edwardian summer, while in Much Ado About Nothing, set after the First World War, life has changed forever. It’s a combination that sheds new light on these ever-popular plays.

The double bill runs from early December to 18 March 2017 at Theatre Royal Haymarket.double-trouble

Let Them Entertain You

The tagline for the British Library’s Victorian Entertainments exhibition, There Will Be Fun, sounds like a promise. Based on the library’s Evanion collection, the archive of 19th-century conjuror Henry Evans, known as Evanion, the exhibition features a vivid array of richly decorative posters, handbills, advertisements and tickets. Such ephemeral material, relatively new at the time, wasn’t considered to be of lasting value back then, making the collection something special. Victorian Entertainment focuses on five entertainers including Evanion himself, whose performance for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert led to the self-appointed title of Royal Conjuror. A programme of live events will accompany the exhibition, including a special Late at the Library recapturing the heyday of Victorian entertainment.

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To the Manor Born, Oxfordshire, England

Let’s visit Blenheim Palace, one of Britain’s most spectacular stately homes and the birthplace of Winston Churchill

“At Blenheim, I took two very important decisions: to be born, and to marry. I am content with the decision I took on both occasions.” These were the words of Winston Churchill, England’s best-loved prime minister and Blenheim Palace’s most famous resident. He retained a great fondness for Blenheim throughout his life, and it isn’t hard to see why; not only was it conceived on the grandest of scales by its talented architect John Vanbrugh, but it retains an aristocratic panache that makes it a genuine joy to visit.

Today, the small town of Woodstock is home to a cornucopia of upmarket antique shops, cosy Cotswold stone pubs and boutique hotels, but it is the enormous edifice of Blenheim that defines the area, in no small part because it is, along with Chatsworth and Castle Howard, among England’s best-known and most loved grand estates. Today it attracts well over half a million visitors a year, and offers a range of sights and

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The Saloon is Blenheim’s most decorated room

activities that include anything from the tourist-oriented pleasure gardens to a miniature railway. And yet, its beginnings were of a very different kind altogether.

By the end of the 17th century, Woodstock was known for two things: proximity to Oxford, and having been home to John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, who had been made ranger and keeper of Woodstock Park by King Charles II. He lived in a lavishly appointed lodge at the edge of the park, which was reputedly decorated with a wide variety of erotic pictures. He did not have especially long to enjoy his domain, however, as he died of syphilis in 1680 at the age of 33. Thereafter, the estate returned to the crown, until it was given by King William III to one of his favourites, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, who had served with distinction during several of his campaigns.

A notable victory was obtained in 1704 at the Battle of Blenheim in Bavaria, and so, in gratitude for his achievements, the king ordered that Marlborough and his descendants be given a large expanse of Woodstock to construct a palace worthy of their service.

It might have been expected that the grand house would be constructed by Sir Christopher Wren, then England’s most famous architect, but Marlborough had the innovative idea of hiring John Vanbrugh, who had previously been responsible for beginning the construction of the neo-baroque Castle Howard.

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Easy Trips

This Month … celebrate Halloween in New York State, track wolves in Spain and enjoy the last of the sun in Cyprus

Dubrovnik, Croatia – After the Crowds

Endlessly photogenic Dubrovnik (above) has spearheaded Croatia’s return to tourist favour in the past two decades. It has played its role so well that authorities are now considering a limit on the number of visitors entering its historic walled centre. One way to avoid the crush is by visiting in the low season. October sees fewer swimmers and cruise ships in the Adriatic Sea, late-autumn temperatures remaining in the mid-teens, and the white stones as resplendent in the sun as ever. Take the cable car to the top of Mount Srd for one of Europe’s most memorable views, encompassing the Old Town and island-dotted coast, before heading back to explore the city’s less-thronged streets at leisure.

New York State, USA – HalloweeNYnew-york

In Washington Irving’s 1820 tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a headless horseman terrifies the inhabitants of Tarrytown in upstate New York. In later retellings, he sometimes hurls a blazing pumpkin, in a defining piece of American Halloween lore. New York City stages its own ghoulish parades around 31 October, but follow the wide Hudson River north to the villages of Westchester County and you’ll get the last of the leaf-peeping season providing a colourful backdrop to all those jack o’lanterns. More than 7,000 of them can be seen lit up at the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze, held in the grounds of the 300-year-old Van Cortlandt Manor. And on the outskirts of Tarrytown is Sleepy Hollow itself, home to the Old Dutch Burying Ground, before which Irving’s headless horseman would disappear ‘in a flash of fire and brimstone’.

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The Fish Hotel – Cotswolds

Why Stay? Because it’s a surprisingly affordable country hideaway in a handy spot for snooping around the historic and handsome village of Broadway in the northern Cotswolds.

Why Now? For brisk walks – willies provided – and nightcaps by a cosy log fire, either at the bar or in the comfort of your own room.

What is It? The third hotel to open on the 400-acre Farncombe estate, owned by the Danish Philip-Sørensen family, it joins smart Dormy House and swanky Foxhill Manor, the former down the hill and the latter up above, with plenty of green space in between. The Fish is a collection of honey-coloured stone buildings set on Fish Hill, where medieval monks are said to have stored their catch, with panoramic views over the valley below. There are 67 stylish bedrooms, a separate farmhouse sleeping 13, and The Lodge with a light-filled restaurant, huge bar and games room (billiards, darts, table football, kids’ play area). You can also have a go at clay-pigeon shooting, archery and riding a Segway.

Behind the Scenes. The team works hard to make everyone feel at home: wake up to the Sunday papers on your doorstep; help yourself to milk from the kitchen fridge for tea. Cheery staff are on hand to help with anything from mapping out hiking trails to ferrying guests around the estate in Land Rovers. London-based interior designer Hannah Lohan is behind the contemporary- farmhouse look, mixing urban edge with sweet-as-pie country charm: industrial light fittings, reclaimed wood and scaffold-pole shelving units, and squishy armchairs trimmed with plaid. There’s a hint of Scandi-styling too, with tall pillar candles in lanterns dotted throughout and walls painted a cool mix of greys and blues.

the-fish-hotel-1Sleep. Rooms here may cost a lot less than at Dormy House, but you’d never think so. They are the kind of spaces to hole up in, especially the Spacious room with its log-burning stove, faux-fur throws, Ercol-style chairs and geometric-patterned blankets on hip-high beds. Bathrooms have artfully mismatched tiles with underfloor heating.

Eat. Chef Jon Ingram, who started work aged 15 at his grandparents’ pub and eventually moved on to Cliveden House and beyond, oversees the food at all three hotels. The dinner menu in the conservatory here is a mix of adventurous dishes (tender scallops with smoked duck bacon, charred cauliflower and almonds) and retro surf ‘n’ turf plates (juicy rib-eye steak served with crispy calamari). Tables are piled with cookbooks and novels to keep you entertained between courses. There’s comfort food for lunch (ham- and-cheese sandwiches; home-made pork scratchings), which can go into a hamper for jaunts across the estate.

Who Comes Here? Townies seeking peace; Cotswolds-obsessed Japanese couples; young families with small children in tow; in short, everyone (even pooches are welcome). With so many different rooms in such a ridiculously pretty area, it‘s no wonder.

We Like. Exploring the vast grounds on a quad bike, whizzing though wooded areas, ducking under tree branches, pelting across grassy meadows.

We Don’t Like. The DIY toast at breakfast is a sweet idea, but can be chaotic with queues and a near­constant smell of burning bread.

 

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8 Bizzare Sleeps

Ludicrous lodgings, from a giant Scottish pineapple and a floating coconut, to a Trojan horse and ghost-filled garrison.

In a pineapple in Falkirk

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The Dunmore Pineapple – Scotland

Surely Scotland’s fruitiest weekend away, The Pineapple is an elaborate architectural joke. The 4th Earl of Dunmore got the idea during his tenure as Governor of Virginia, where sailors would indicate they were safely back from a sea voyage by spiking pineapples on their gateposts. Dunmore marked his own return to home in 1777 with a commission for 37 feet of intricately carved masonry, its stone leaves apt decoration for a hothouse growing pineapples.

Internal accommodation is mercifully unprickly, with two cosy bedrooms, a country-style kitchen and a living room with log fire. The Pineapple presides over a huge walled garden open to the public, but guests also enjoy a private back garden, and there are some lovely nearby walks with views of the River Forth and Ochil Hills.

Arrive: Dunmore is on the A905, the closest motorway is the M9. Regular buses run from Stirling to Dunmore. Alternatively, the nearest railway station is six miles away in Larbert, which has services to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

In a haunted northumbrian castle

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Chillingham Castle – United Kingdom

Claiming the dubious honour of being the ‘most haunted castle in Britain’, Chillingham has acquired its ghosts over the course of eight centuries. A medieval pile complete with crenellated parapets, this 12th-century garrison castle is home to several spiritual residents, including a frail white figure found in the pantry, and the mysterious `blue boy’.

The Torture Chamber displays arcane instruments of punishment, and in the dungeon visitors can see the crude graffiti etched into the wall by former inmates. Ghost tours take place at night and you can stay in one of several self-catering apartments. Our favourite is the Grey apartment, furnished with a four-poster bed, antiques and wall-mounted horns.

Arrive: Chillingham is off the A1 between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Alnwick.The castle is around an hour by car north of Newcastle, and 1.3/4 hours southeast of Edinburgh. Public transport to the castle is limited.

In a Kentish fisherman’s cottage

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The Seaview Cottage – Dungeness, United Kingdom

Sat on the pebbly beach of Dungeness, Seaview is a peaceful spot to watch the waves roll in as small craft bob gently across the English Channel. Once home to working fishermen, this two-storey cottage has had its net store converted into a second bedroom, and its interior given a nautical-style makeover — with blue-striped linens, log burner and decorations made from shells and driftwood.

Round the back, sheltered from sea breezes, there’s a large wild garden that’s ideal for summer barbecues — load your grill with seafood caught that day by local fishermen. Extend your sea view by braving the climb to the top of nearby Old Lighthouse, a mighty 46 metres tall. Also close by is an RSPB bird sanctuary, a great place to stroll mile after mile of shingle while spotting bitterns, little-ringed plovers, Slavonian greebs, smews and wheatears, depending on the season.

Arrive: The nearest train station is a half-hour cab ride away in Rye, East Sussex, with connections to Ashford International, and on to London.

In a floating cabin in France

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Cabanes des Grands Lacs

If aiming for a full fruit bowl of accommodation experiences, these coconut-shaped floating cabins should be next on your list. Eight are to be found bobbing gently on the Domaine des Grands Lacs, a vast wetland in the little-visited region of Franche-Comté. Most are accessible only by boat, giving a sense of romantic isolation only enhanced by the absence of electricity — light being provided by solar-powered lamps, or good old-fashioned candles.

A breakfast of croissants with local jams and honey appears daily on your landing deck, but guests can also arrange for the delivery of champagne or a platter of regional meats and cheeses. The point is to do not very much at all except enjoy the natural surroundings, but on a fine day it’s fun to hire a kayak or a bike to explore the lakes and surrounding trails.

Arrive: The nearest airport is Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg, about a 1.1/2 hours’ drive away. Fly there from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heathrow, Luton, Manchester or Stansted, with BA, easy Jet or Ryanair. Car hire starts at around £40 per day.

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BARNSLEY HOUSE – THE COTSWOLDS, UNITED KINGDOM

This is England at its best. The scent of blousy pink roses, a vegetable garden like a Mr McGregor pastiche (fat cabbages, rows of ruby rhubarb) and formal gardens designed by Rosemary Verey. In short, there’s something about Barnsley that makes you feel connected to a pastoral Britain of yesteryear.

In summer eat supper outside in a hidden nook (the Temple) in winter hunker down by a fire on a cosy sofa, dip into one of the best DVD libraries anywhere, or wallow in a grand, claw-foot bath.

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An intimate spot called “The Temple” – Barnsley House

Bedrooms are spot-on – pretty, lots of beams, big bathrooms – and the food is fresh and zingy, with just-baked bread to dip into garlic-infused olive oil, figs drizzled with honey and served with homemade ricotta, lemon sole doused in butter.

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A bedroom at Barnsley House – The Cotswolds, Great Britain

You’ll wake up to a glistening dawn and pigeons stirring in the rafters. The spa is also a lovely retreat, with treatments such as rose facials lasting 90 minutes (plus a mini hydro pool and a relaxation room). There’s a fun Sunday cinema club with popcorn and pink leather love seats. No wonder staff walk proud, a spring in their step.

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DOWN-12-WATERING HOLES

The great British pub culture goes back to an untraceably long history of inns and taverns of the Victorian era. But now, the drab wooden establishments of yesteryear have been replaced by their rich and modern counterparts frequented by celebrities, artists, and the royalty, here’s a list of the top notch pubs in London you just want to be seen at—some new and some legendary.

KING’S HEAD 

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Let the run down façade of the building not disappoint you; Kevin Spacey has bought a stake here and for good reason. Inside this member’s only club, luxury spans three floors with different kinds of spaces for East Londoners; a lounge, a restaurant, and a club that boast cosy interiors that complement their cocktail menu. thekingshead-london.com

ROSEMARY BRANCH

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The erstwhile Victorian music hall with legends of Charlie Chaplin and Marie Lloyd seeped in its beams and rafters, Rosemary Branch is a bar and theatre that has won many awards for their in-house performances. Here, you’ll find the hipster crowd drawn to its relaxed ambience, plus a weekly changing food menu and special roasts on Sundays. rosemarybranch.com

THE PUNCH BOWL

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Tucked in a quiet corner on Farm Street, this pub in Mayfair is the oldest in the area (1729) and has a long list of patrons who enjoy networking and ideating over fine single malt scotch. Earlier owned by Guy Ritchie and Madonna, it has hosted Princes William and Harry, Kate Moss, Clint Eastwood, and Robert Downey Jr. The Punch Bowl retains much of its history in the dark wood paneling and weighty furniture, offers candlelit private dinners at The Club, and local ales with a Mayfair twist at The Pub. punchbowllondon.com

STOKE NEWINGTON TEA HOUSE

STOKE NEWINGTON TEA HOUSE

A tea-themed pub, Stoke Newington Tea House serves over 100 varieties of tea along with beers, wines, and cocktails and replaces a standing bar with a wait staff. The London School of Tea opens right above the space this year. 102 Stoke Newington Church Street; +44-20/8712-1188

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Nature Perfected – Lancelot “Capability” Brown

Born 300 years ago this summer, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was England’s greatest gardener, and his visionary landscapes changed the face of the British countryside.

At the peak of this career in the1750s, Lancelot Brown was the toast of the aristocracy. Acknowledged as the greatest landscape gardener of his generation, he was in huge demand, repeatedly crossing and re-crossing the country on horseback, visiting some of England’s richest and most powerful people to check progress on dozens of ambitious landscaping projects.

Poet William Cowper wrote in mock awe:

The omnipotent magician,

Brown, appears.

He speaks. The lake in front becomes

a lawn,

Woods vanish, hills subside,

and valleys rise.

 So popular was Brown, and so widespread the impact of his work, that author Richard Owen Cambridge is said to have professed his desire to die before Brown–so that he could “see Heaven before it was ‘improved’”.

Brown’s rise was particularly spectacular, given his relatively humble origins. He began life in Kirkharle, Northumberland, the son of a land agent and a chambermaid. During his teens he worked as a gardener for Sir William Loraine’s estate, of which his father was steward.

Yet these formative years laid the ground for Brown’s future success. Soon he had learned the basic skills of building and land management, proving himself highly competent. Showing an unusual combination of creative vision, practicality and organizational skills, he could both design and project-manage. Just as significantly, Brown could think quickly, turning out new designs fast, and on a grand scale. Soon he began consulting on other estates nearby.

Natural Talent

When Brown moved south in 1741, his work was noticed by Lord Cobham at Stowe in Buckinghamshire, one of the most famous gardens in England. He joined Cobham’s staff and soon became head gardener, tasked with implementing the earlier designs of the landscape gardener William Kent and architect James Gibbs, and he rapidly absorbed their ideas.

Lord Cobham loaned Brown’s landscaping talents to close friends, and his reputation burgeoned. In 1750 he began working independently, eventually lending his talents to more than 170 gardens across Britain.

Brown’s first major parkland commission came in 1751, when the fashionable 6th Earl of Coventry, who had inherited his estate aged 28, asked him to redesign both the landscape and house at Worcestershire’s Croome Court. Coventry wanted the new-look estate to be at the forefront of contemporary design; so Brown swept away the formal garden and drained the surrounding marshy parkland.

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Worcestershire’s Croome Court

He channeled the water into a new meander off into the distance (actually, it came to an abrupt halt behind a perfectly placed clump of trees). He planted a shrubbery walk punctuated by follies and temples, and even moved and rebuilt a village to enhance a view.

There was also an impressive tree collection, said to be second only to Kew’s. Many of the trees he planted have survived, though many are now over-mature. Over the past decade, the lake and a river that appeared to National Trust, custodian of Croome, has planted 10,000 trees there, often using GPS to ensure they are planted according to his 18th-century plan.

In 1754 Brown began another triumphant transformation: creating a masterplan to improve the house and grounds for the 9th Earl of Exeterat Burghley in Lincolnshire, which took more than 25 years to complete. Brown dammed a stream to form a lake, and added several new buildings. One of only two portraits of Brown hangs in the Pagoda room.

Three years later he started work at Longleat. Soon the formal garden had disappeared, while the garden, terrace park and lakes were modified and extensive plantations added – 91,000 trees were planted during one winter.