In the heat of the night
George Plumptre explores one of the most inspired and admired garden-restoration projects of modern times, which is soon to reach its conclusion. Later this month, several fundraising evenings will enable visitors to take atmospheric strolls past its illu
Painshill Park, Cobham, Surrey
In the year when everyone is fêting Capability Brown as we celebrate the 300th anniversary of his birth, it’s good to be reminded that he was not the only great English gardener of the 18th century. And there was hardly a more different character to Brown than Charles Hamilton, who created one of the Landscape movement’s most innovative and influential gardens at Painshill in Surrey.
Brown, born into a humble northumbrian family, worked his way up from head gardener to landscaper-businessman par excellence and made a fortune in the process. Hamilton, the son of an earl, went on the Grand Tour to Italy and, through his friendship with Frederick, Prince of Wales, acquired, in 1738, a lease on Crown land at Painshill, Surrey, where he began creating his garden. However, although he had noble connections and taste, he didn’t have the wealth to match; as the youngest of nine sons, his finances were always precarious. In 1773, he was forced to sell Painshill to repay debts; he retired to Bath, where he died in 1786.
Some 200 years after his death, it was fitting that Hamilton’s landscape at Painshill was brought back from advanced dereliction by one of the most inspired garden-restoration projects of modern times. In the 1970s, the unusually enlightened local authority,