Why we love Repton's Red Books

Asked to name an 18th Century landscape architect, as so many of us are, the answer is almost always Capability Brown. As the mastermind behind over 170 parks, including Blenheim Palace, he is celebrated as the visionary that gave the English country estate the parkland look with which it is now synonymous.

His successor Sir Humphry Repton is, by contrast, rather overlooked, to the point that his name is almost always misspelled. Dear old Repton may not have enjoyed either the fame or the wealth of Capability Brown but he was incredibly influential, not only on the landscape architecture of the late 18th Century but also over the more intricate and eclectic styles in garden design of the Victorian era.

An avid sketch artist, he combined this skill with his almost non-existent understanding of practical horticulture and attempted to fill the gap left in upper class gardening circles by the death of Capability. But while Brown worked entirely with plans, Repton brought his ideas to life for clients in a ‘Red Book’, so named because of their red binding. Repton’s Red Books used sketches and paper overlays to show the gardens and estates before and after the works that he planned, thus convincing patrons to invest in his vision for their property.

One of Repton’s principal patrons was the Duke of Bedford for whom he completed work at the family seat of Woburn Abbey, and in Russell Square which has the centrepiece of the Bedford’s development of Bloomsbury. He also created the gardens and grounds of the Bedford’s fishing lodge on the Tamar River between Devon and Cornwall, now brought back to life as Hotel Endsleigh.

And sitting proudly on a desk in one of the hallways at Hotel Endsleigh is a facsimile of Repton’s Red Book for the estate. It shows precisely how the grounds looked before and after the implementation of his ideas and was an invaluable resource for the hotelier Olga Polizzi, Endsleigh’s current owner, in restoring the gardens to Repton’s original vision.

It is from the Red Book at Endsleigh that our monthly Bleak House newsletter now takes its name. It reflects the way in which Repton inspired his customers and clients by showing how their homes and lives could look and feel, something we are eager to do at Bleak House. And it also honours the unique role that Endsleigh has played in the genesis and evolution of Bleak House, being the place we first settled on our rather unusual name and the place to which we retire twice a year to plot and plan the future of the business.

And as well as being the name of our newsletter, it’s also a monthly reminder of the often overlooked Repton and his influence on many of the spaces and gardens across the country that we are all now able to enjoy.

Read our last post on Hotel Endsleigh here.


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September's Bleak House Guide is walk through the City of London featuring medieval buildings, atmospheric alleys and some of Britain's most impressive modern architecture.

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