HIGHCLERE CASTLE, United Kingdom: While Britain has Queen Elizabeth II and Shakespeare for icons, fans of Lancelot “Capability” Brown, the grand master of English gardens, hail him as another stalwart of national identity.
Brown, who was born 300 years ago, is credited with creating more than 170 gardens, among them the grounds of Highclere Castle in southern England, made famous as the set of the hit television series Downton Abbey.
Brown began working on designs for Highclere in 1770, when it was owned by the first Earl of Carnarvon and was still a relatively modest red brick building. The process of transformation would take years.
A tour of the 400-hectare grounds is a journey through hilly landscapes, dotted with centuries-old cedars. The dark trees are trademark of Brown’s, which he used to accentuate the effects of perspective and to cause the huge castle to dip in and out of view.
The park envelops and accentuates Highclere Castle, the home of the aristocratic Crawley family in Downton Abbey.
The series, which recounts the lives of the family and their servants in the early 20th century, has more than 100 million viewers in over 200 countries—and has made Highclere a tourist destination.
Following the success of “Downton”, the average number of visitors to Highclere has risen from 100 to 1,500 a day.
The influx of visitors certainly helps with the running costs in a country where many aristocratic residences became impossible to maintain after World War II without an unusual level of wealth.
Down the generations, the Carnarvons have managed to make it work. But ultimately it was a marriage with a Rothschild heiress and, now, the entertainment industry that saved Highclere and Brown’s gardens.