Landscape gardening and the Picturesque


Detail of Milton Abbas

Before the 1750s, little attention was paid to the countryside outside the immediate surroundings of the country house or park, apart from occasionally aligning views with prominent features such as a mountain or church spire. From the 1730s, the formal layouts of gardens and parks began to relax under the influence of William Kent. However, not until the rapid development of the ‘informal’ landscape park by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and his followers from the 1750s did formality finally go out of fashion.

Formal parks around Baroque houses had extended avenues that could usually screen or virtually ignore existing villages. However, as the avenues were softened into occasional clumps, it was soon realised that villages were often in the wrong places. Unappealing both visually and socially, many were removed and rebuilt elsewhere, usually to provide a visually sympathetic approach to the country house.

The style of the rebuilt villages could be Classical (Nuneham Courtney, Oxfordshire, 1760s) or Picturesque (Milton Abbas, Dorset, 1773-4), according to taste. Only occasionally was there a conscious intention to improve the quality of life for the working classes (Blaise Hamlet, Somerset, 1810). As tenants, the inhabitants were given no choice and moved under duress, as happened at Milton Abbas.

About the online exhibition

'How We Built Britain' is a major collaboration with the BBC


Images in the exhibition are from RIBApix, a growing database dedicated to providing you with exceptional and unique images from the RIBA British Architectural Library's collections.

Top of page