I’m lucky enough to live close to one of Humphry Repton’s
finest landscapes at Sheringham Park
on the North Norfolk
coast and last week I went for a long walk in the grounds, admiring what is
still very much a Regency landscape.
Repton (1752-1818) was born and bred in Norfolk
but had a career as a landscape
architect that took him all over the country. He was involved at Wimpole Hall
in Cambridgeshire and “appears” off-stage, as it were, in my novel Regency Rumours: Scandal Comes to Wimpole
which is out in August in the UK
Repton was involved in the government’s search for an estate
to bestow on Lord Nelson’s brother, to accompany a peerage to be given him in
commemoration of Nelson’s achievements. He heard that Sheringham Park
was for sale and suggested it, but the absence of a house ruled it out.
However, when he heard that the estate had been sold to Mr Abbott Upcher by Mr
Cook Flower (unusual names seem to feature largely in this story!) he
approached Upcher with the suggestion that he design a house and landscape the
In July 1812, after spending an intensive five days on the
spot, Repton produced one of his famous Red Books for the estate, covering not
only the landscape of the park, but designs for a house and ideas for the
village and estate cottages.
The Upchers favoured the locality because of its healthful
sea air, but it was also on England
vulnerable frontline in the French wars. The towering modern gazebo on top of
the hill behind the house is on the site of a look-out tower from where the ocean
could be scanned for French warships. In 1814 Upcher commemorated the victory
against the French with a reservoir and water pump in the centre of the
Repton’s plans for the estate took advantage of the existing fine woodland and the hills, valleys and
sloping fields, the result of its location on a glacial terminal moraine. Under his direction the Upchers
planted more trees and carefully planned vistas were opened up to create the
naturalistic, romantic, yet civilised, landscape so fashionable at the time.
I love the location so much that I used it as the setting
for the third in my Shelley Sisters trilogy, Innocent Courtesan to Adventurer’s Bride. (Available on Kindle).
Now, as then, we approach the house down a very long
carriage drive from the heights of the Cromer road. It winds down through the
woodland with one spectacular glimpse of the sea to wet our appetite, before a
turn in the road reveals the house, nestling against the wooded hill that
shields it from the ocean. Everywhere through the park there are set-piece
views so that the Upchers and their guests could walk or drive, picnic or
sketch with a pleasing prospect before them. Not all of Repton’s suggestions
were adopted immediately – it took until the 1970s before the Upcher family
erected the Temple
for example – but the essential design is very clear.
If you are in the area now, and for the next few weeks, the
spectacular rhododendron and azalea collection begun by Victorian Upchers is
coming into flower and makes the park even more spectacular.
Labels: Georgian landscapes, Humphrey Repton, landscape architecture, Louise Allen, National Trust, Sheringham Park