‘Downton Abbey’ setting included in new Royal Mail issue honoring landscape designer Capability Brown
By Denise McCarty
One of the stamps in Great Britain’s new Landscape series is inscribed “Highclere Castle,” but it may be more familiar to many as the main setting of the television drama Downton Abbey (2010-15), shown in the United States as part of the PBS’ Masterpiece series.
The stamp is one of eight issued by Royal Mail Aug. 16 to celebrate the 300th birth anniversary of landscape designer and gardener Lancelot “Capability” Brown.
The exact date of Brown’s birth is not known, but he was baptized Aug. 30, 1716. Before his death in 1783, he had designed more than 200 landscapes.
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Reportedly, he often told his clients that their gardens had “great capability,” and received the nickname “Capability.”
He was commissioned to work on the 1,000 acres of gardens and landscape at Highclere Castle in 1771.
The website for the castle says that Brown “was commissioned to create the ‘genius of the place’ from the earlier, more formal gardens and woodlands surrounding the house. To this day, his vision and passion for the beauty of landscape is evident at Highclere. Lakes were extended, hills created and contours smoothed.”
As for its connection to the fictional Downton Abbey, the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon (the family has lived at Highclere since the 17th century), said: “Many of the rooms and vistas will be familiar to viewers of Downton Abbey — both the Drawing Room and Dining Room forming the backdrop to the dryly withering put-downs delivered by Maggie Smith, as the Dowager Countess to some poor unfortunate relation.
“The distinctive gardens and park designed by Capability Brown, offer interest and enjoyment throughout the year and gratifying growth and change, as the seasons turn.”
A handful of postal administrations represented by the new-issue agency Inter-Governmental Philatelic Corp. have issued stamps featuring the fictional characters of Downton Abbey.
For example, a pane of four stamps issued by Grenada April 7, 2014 (Scott 3961) show Robert, Earl of Grantham (played by Hugh Bonneville); Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith); Lady Rosamund Painswick (Samantha Bond); and Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton). Cora, Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), is pictured in the selvage.
The stamps in Great Britain’s Landscape series were printed in se-tenant pairs. The other first-class stamp shows Compton Verney in Warwickshire., where Brown’s redesign in 1768 included replacing the formal gardens with grassland and trees and adding a new south drive that “revealed the house from the bridge,” according to the Capability Brown website.
Royal Mail called Brown England’s greatest gardener, adding that he “is celebrated for landscape on an immense scale, creating entire vistas not only gardens and parkland — it is often said that the images Brown created are as deeply embedded in the English character as the paintings of Turner and the poetry of Wordsworth. “
The two nondenominated second-class stamps show the landscapes of Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, and Longleat.
Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill, described the landscape at Blenheim as “the finest view in England.”
The website devoted to Brown’s 300th birth anniversary, CapabilityBrown.org, said of this landscape, “The 2000-acre park delivers beauty across all seasons; with lawns brimming with daffodils in spring, greens of the trees transforming into a myriad of warm tones from summer to autumn, and the twinkling blanket of frost and mist rising from the lake in winter.”
Brown worked on the grounds of Longleat, home to the Marquis of Bath, between 1757 and 1762.
A visitor during that time said: “There is not much alteration in the house, but the gardens are no more. They are succeeded by a fine lawn, a serpentine river, wooded hills, gravel paths meandering round a shrubbert, all modernised by the ingenious and much sought-after Mr Brown.”
The pair of £1.05 stamps feature Alnwick Castle and Berrington Hall.
The home of the Percy family for the past 700 years, Alnwick Castle in Northumberland also has been the setting of many television shows and films, including some episodes of Downton Abbey and the first two Harry Potter films.
Alnwickcastle.com says of the landscape designed by Brown in 1769, “The view across the River Aln from the castle is both serene and spectacular, enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year.”
The landscape for Berrington Hall in Herefordshire was the last one completed by Brown. His son-in-law, Henry Holland, designed the neoclassical mansion.
The stamp shows the hall, trees and sheep reflected in the lake, which was designed by Brown.
The landscapes depicted on the £1.33 pair pay tribute to his early career. The stamps show Stowe in Buckinghamshire and Croome Park in Worcestershire.
Brown began working as Stowe’s head gardener in 1741. He left a decade later to begin a career as an independent garden designer.
The website of the National Trust says, “Rising through the ranks, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown learnt his trade experimenting at Stowe, making his mark on the landscape before moving on to transform the English countryside and many aristocratic estates.”
Croome was Brown’s first large-scale project as an independent garden designer. But his work there didn’t stop at the landscape. The Capability Brown website explains: “He not only designed the park, but was the architect chosen to remodel Croome Court into the fashionable Palladian style house. Brown directed the creation of many of the mansion’s interiors, plasterwork and decorative schemes, bringing the natural world inside by using flower and fruit motifs.”
Robert Maude and Sarah Davies designed the stamps, and International Security Printers printed them by offset in sheets of 60 (sold in panes of 30 at most postal outlets). The stamps measure 41 millimeters by 30mm and are perforated gauge 14.5 by 14.
The two first-class stamps also are available in a booklet with four first-class Queen Elizabeth II Machin stamps.
The current first-class rate is 64 pence, and the second-class rate is 55p.
The stamps denominated £1.05 pay the rate for mail to Europe up to 20 grams and to international countries up to 10 grams, and the £1.33 stamps pay the rate for international mail up to 20 grams.
Royal Mail’s other products for this Landscape set include first-day covers; a presentation pack with mint examples of the stamps and text by Laura Mayer about Brown and his gardens; and postcards reproducing the designs of the stamps.
Ordering information is available from Royal Mail, Tallents House, 21 S. Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB, Scotland. Purchase them online here.
Royal Mail’s two agencies in the United States are Interpost, Box 420, Hewlett, NY 11557; and the British Stamp Service in North America, 1 Unicover Center, Cheyenne, WY 82008.
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