Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, Part II: Whitley Beaumont

After the purge of Christmas food and several breeds of alcohol, the tendency is to tackle outdoors and attempt to go for a walk on Boxing Day. This year I thought I would seek out the landscape at Whitley Beaumont near Huddersfield based on my interest being sparked by the recent exhibition at Harrogate’s Mercer Gallery.

Whitley Beaumont Hall c.1900 ? Image taken from http://mirfield-2ndlook.info website

Whitley Beaumont Hall c.1900 ? Image taken from http://mirfield-2ndlook.info website

The house was demolished in the 1950s after exhaustive mining (and presently quarrying) took over the estate in similar fashion to many sites from Huddersfield to Sheffield. This wasn’t an easy discovery and the land is privately owned so there is only a certain level of access. Add to that two very busy roads, no proper space to park a car as well as imposing industrial barriers strongly suggesting no-go areas. However, several public footpaths skirting the edges of the parkland provided me with enough visual information to pinpoint aspects of the landscape as Brown and his patron intended.

Brown visited Whitley in the late 1770s but it is likely the land survey was undertaken by William Crossley, Snr from nearby Brighouse rather than Brown and his own men. Crossley is important for a few reasons as he would eventually move into surveying for the canal network working across much of Yorkshire particularly but had previously also assisted a William Jessop on several projects and may have known John Smeaton (from Leeds) who established a more efficient water system on the estate at Temple Newsam in the second half of the 18th century. To this extent Brown was not alone and there existed a comprehensive network of individuals jointly employed on sites or undertaking surveys for landowners for development or sale. The second half of the 18th century was a critical time where may landowners sought to enclose common land, achieve greater agricultural efficiency and develop their parkland for ornamental use. For the latter, Brown was the household name, but there were clearly regional pockets of surveyors who most certainly were aware of each other and their teams.

The Whitley estate was owned by Richard Henry Beaumont (1748-1810) at the time of Brown’s visit. The Beaumonts were a well established minor gentry family in West Yorkshire with marital ties across Yorkshire. Beaumont wished to have something in tune with current trends, but compared to the estates of the elite Whitley may never have been intended as something showy. On closer inspection, the existing landscape suggests that this may not have been possible anyway as there is little space for slow carriage drives, open parkland and sweeping lawns. The site is relatively compact with creaking turns accommodating the sharp rise and fall of the land.

What was intended by Beaumont and Brown still incorporated the trademark carriage drive which wound through woodland and out into meadow; this was in marked contrast to the dead straight approach from the north which had previously failed to absorb any other part of the estate. Further rides took the visitor around the edges of the estate, and attempts to smooth the land with the use of ha-has are all still visible on the edge of low lying woodland today. The Brown signature clumps of trees were also established and much of these are visible from the air and from the ground including Deer Hill (as seen below). I could only approach from one side of the old estate and the map below shows where the images were taken.

Ordnance Survey section dating from 1894 (old-maps repository online)

Ordnance Survey section dating from 1894 (old-maps repository online website)

 

Modern satellite image of Whitley Beaumont - Google imaging

Modern satellite image of Whitley Beaumont – Google imaging

Given that there must be scars across the site from extensive mining in the 1940s, it has done little to take away the feeling of awe for the viewer.

Image from point one on the map, facing north east through woodland and across the bridge in Coal Pit Scroggs. Author's own image

Image from Point One on the 1894 map, facing north east through woodland and across the bridge at Coal Pit Scrog. (Author’s own image).

Approaching directly from the village of Lepton to the south, I followed the road north east to Whitley Beaumont Scout Camp in the direction of the parkland and continued across the opening downwards to the stream and dip in the woodland where a part of the old carriage drive appeared to stretch out but actually ended in impassable shrubs and dense overgrowth. Signs that the Brown landscape were added to in the 19th century are visible in the plantations of azaleas and rhododendrons – a now troublesome part of the overgrowth unfortunately!

View from Point Two n the 1894 map looking northwards toward to site of the house. (Author's own image).

View from Point Two on the 1894 map looking northwards towards the site of the house. (Author’s own image).

Eventually reaching the edge of the woodland from a slight turn of direction it was possible to frame the section of high ground on which the house would have stood. The image left should give an idea of the rise of the land in all directions to the north, east and west. The house would have been just over the crest of the hill to the left of the patch of woodland. The kitchen gardens (a section of wall still exists at the edge of the woodland) were situated further towards where the image was taken and are visible on the 1894 map.

View looking out eastwards from Point Three on the 1894 map. The image shows Deer Hill. (Author's own image).

View looking out eastwards from Point Three on the 1894 map. The image shows Deer Hill. (Author’s own image).

Turning south and following the farm track for a few steps another view pinpoints one of a few clumps of trees. Again the sense of height should be clear and from both the house and Deer Hill it is obvious that the views would have been spectacular across this part of Yorkshire. Today one of the most striking features is not of this period but is instead that of Emley Moor TV mast further south (out of frame and to the right in the image above).

There were two follies at Whitley but only one remains in part which is seen from Liley Lane and formed part of the earlier straight north approach. This is known as The Temple on old Ordnance Survey maps or later as ‘Black Dick’s Tower’. Another temple or monument stood close to Deer Hill and a dark speck on the 1894 map is visible of this building which has long since been cleared away. I have not been able to trace a date for the latter building, but neither construction have little to do with Brown and his designs.

Very little of the family papers have been published but what primary documentation exists appears to be fairly extensive, not to mention the exterior and interior details of the house itself which once stood at the site. Local history groups and projects have also been set up which have ventured out past the barriers with the correct permission and I have listed a few of these since their own explorations have thrown up fantastic images of the remnants of the 18th century landscape.

When Brown drew up plans for Temple Newsam the optimism was severely challenged once work began and huge swathes of ground were churned over for planting and creating the desired open grandeur of lawn and unbroken green. At Whitley, the level of work involved is now clear amongst the overgrowth and patches of woodland – the removal and alteration of these being only a part of what may have been a similar task in creating the original ornamental landscape for Richard Henry Beaumont in the 1770s. The ‘capabilities’ of which Brown noted time and again suggest vision for a site and how it might be manipulated, but also the realistic degree of work involved. Whitley is indeed compact in comparison to the elegant Stowe and has a roughness around the edges due to its recent industrial past, yet it remains a true example of the lengths humans will go to in order to alter the natural environment both in light of 18th century desires and the equivalent modern-day exploitation.

Links to local projects and sites:

http://thefolliesofyouth.co.uk/?page_id=25 and http://thefolliesofyouth.co.uk/?page_id=176

http://wyorksarchivestreasures.weebly.com/beaumont-of-whitley-family-and-estate-records.html

Follies relating to the Beaumont family including ‘Whitley Moor Gazebo’ http://jimjarratt.co.uk/follies/page20.html

Child friendly walks around Whitley http://www.kirkburtonparishwalks.co.uk/Grange%20Mo…pdf

More general links including local news

Black Dick’s Tower http://www.examiner.co.uk/news/west-yorkshire-news/black-dicks-famous-tower-could-5082838

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whitley_Beaumont

http://www.lostheritage.org.uk/houses/lh_yorkshire_whitleybeaumont_info_gallery.html

http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1604-1629/member/beaumont-sir-richard-1574-1631

http://www.examiner.co.uk/news/west-yorkshire-news/lepton-estate-capability-brown-9100637

Location of Beaumont family archives http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/rd/b69946eb-8d76-4e39-8f22-a9db6f034d7f

 

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1 Comment

Filed under Men and the Country House, Parks and Gardens, The Destruction of the Country House

One response to “Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, Part II: Whitley Beaumont

  1. Incredible that remnants of the landscape architecture still exist. One imagines wholesale destruction from mining like what was carried out at Wentworth Woodhouse.

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