HUMPHRY REPTON (1752 - 1818)

Landscape Designer, Author 

Humphry Repton was one of the leading designers of the English Landscape Movement.  Repton was born in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk and at the age of 12 was sent to Holland to learn Dutch and prepare for a career as a merchant.  On his return to England he was apprenticed to a textile merchant and after his marriage to Mary Clarke in 1773 he set up in the business himself.  He was not successful and when his parents died in 1778 used his modest legacy to move to a small country estate at Sustead in Norfolk where his interest in botany and gardening was fostered by his friend James Edward Smith, founder of the Linnean Society of London in 1788.



With his capital dwindling, Humphry Repton moved from Norfolk in 1783 and rented a cottage in Hare Street, near Romford in Essex. He embarked on his career as a landscape designer in 1788 where he combined his artistic talents into landscape designing, uniting the powers of landscape painter and practical gardener. From the beginning Humphry Repton applied his skill as a water-colourist and writer in explaining his proposals to clients.  This he did in a ‘Red Book’, a volume handsomely bound in red leather. He devised a folded flap as an overlay which when lifted showed the scene as he had planned it. Repton carried on Capability Brown’s landscape garden designs, though Repton re-introduced separate flower gardens and introduced gravel walks.  He replaced earlier classical ornaments with romantic structures like grottoes and fake ruins. Repton’s most obvious deviation from Brown was in the treatment of the ground immediately surrounding a house. Whereas Brown brought the lawn right up to the house, Repton advocated a subtler link by means of a terrace or parterre.

There are six Red Books surviving for Essex (Claybury, Hill Hall, Highams, Stansted Hall, Stubbers, and Woodford Hall). Another eight are presumed to have been made but are now missing (Hylands, Langleys, Rivenhall, Saling Grove, Suttons, Wallwood House, Wanstead, Little Warley, and Puller’s House in Woodford). A further nine Essex properties are discussed and/or illustrated either in manuscript or in one of Repton’s printed works (Dagnams, Hare Street Cottage, Moor Hall, Riffhams, Rivenhall, Spains Hall, Wallwood House, The Warren and Wanstead).  Other Essex properties featured as engravings by Repton in The Polite Repository include: Albyns, Auberies, Belhus, Blake Hall, Down Hall, Felix Hall, Gilwell House, Gosfield Place, Guy Harlings, Hallingbury Place, Hare Hall, Langtons, Leyton Grange, Mark Hall, Rochetts, The Rookery, Stansted Hall, Stondon Massey Parsonage, Stubbers, Suttons, Thorndon Hall, Tourners and Woodford Hall.

Repton read widely and demonstrated his gardening theories with precise mathematical diagrams.  He produced several articles on gardening for the Linnean Society, and wrote several books on gardening philosophy and practice, including Sketches and Hints on Landscape Gardening (1794) and Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1803).  In Fragments on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1816) Repton used the example of his own cottage in Hare Street to emphasise the importance of establishing a foreground.   From 1790 until at least 1808 Repton supplied tiny drawings for The Polite Repository, an almanac or diary published by William Peacock.  Engravings were made from these drawings and used as illustrations at the beginning of each month.

Repton’s son, John Adey Repton, trained as an architect and became an assistant to John Nash and then joined his father at Hare Street, preparing architectural designs as adjuncts to landscape gardening.  In 1811 Repton suffered a serious carriage accident which often left him needing to use a wheelchair for mobility. He died in 1818 and was buried in Aylsham.


Taken from:  Twigs Way, Ed., Rooted in Essex (Essex Garden Trust, 2006).