Alan Titchmarsh at Woburn Abbey this week to open exhibition celebrating work of Humphry Repton

Renowned gardening expert Alan Titchmarsh MBE will open a new exhibition at Woburn Abbey on Wednesday (March 21) at a press launch which celebrates the bicentenary of Humphry Repton and his influential work for the Dukes of Bedford.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 19th March 2018, 4:06 pm
Updated Monday, 19th March 2018, 4:10 pm
Alan Titchmarsh
Alan Titchmarsh

Recognised as the first person to invent and use the title ‘landscape gardener’, Humphry Repton regarded himself as the rightful successor to Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.

Repton produced over 400 designs and schemes for gardens great and small, but of these, he stated, “none were more fully realised than at Woburn Abbey”.

He published his theories in two influential books, Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1803), and Fragments on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1816). In these, he promotes his style and references his important work for the Duke of Bedford.

Woburn Abbey Gardens Cone House. Photo:Bridget Davey

Open to the public between March 23 and October 28, the new exhibition explores the relationship between Repton and one of his greatest clients.

On public display for visitors to see for the first time will be his most elaborate and comprehensive ‘Red Book’, his famous presentation document of proposed designs.

His Red Book for Woburn was commissioned in 1804 and illustrates his innovative plans for the Pleasure Grounds and Park, many of which were subsequently realised by the 6th Duke of Bedford.

In addition, the exhibition will give guests the opportunity to discover Repton’s other works for the family including at the picturesque Devon estate of Endsleigh, Oakley House and Russell Square in London. Never before seen unexecuted designs will feature alongside works of art and archival treasures, which bring to life the creative legacy of Repton. There will also be Repton-related family trails, activities and events throughout the year.

The Rockery and Pavilion at Woburn Abbey Garden. Photo:Bridget Davey

The Duchess of Bedford said: “I am very happy to welcome Alan Titchmarsh to Woburn Abbey. The Abbey will be a major player in the national celebrations, supporting the work of The Gardens Trust and giving Humphry Repton the prominence he deserves.”

Alan Titchmarsh said: ‘I am delighted to be opening an exhibition which celebrates the work of a man whose prime object was to beautify the land surrounding a fine country house and to help house and garden work in harmony. Repton and his ‘Red Books’ well deserve their place in the history of British landscape gardening.”

Having explored Repton’s legacy in the exhibition, visitors need only step outside to discover Repton’s beautiful landscape designs. Since 2004 the present Duke and Duchess of Bedford have been restoring many of Repton’s features in the Woburn Abbey Gardens. These include the folly grotto, the Cone House, the menagerie and the striking Chinese-style pavilion, which was completed in 2011 and went on to win a Hudson’s Heritage Award.

In 2013, Woburn’s project to restore the 19th Century Humphry Repton landscape won the “Best Restoration of a Georgian Garden” at the Georgian Group Architectural Awards.

Woburn Abbey Gardens Cone House. Photo:Bridget Davey

Martin Towsey, Estate Gardens Manager said: “I am proud that Woburn Abbey is marking the bicentenary of Humphry Repton with this captivating exhibition, which represents the culmination of 14 years of hard work by the Woburn Abbey Gardens team to restore the gardens to their former glory.”

Matthew Hirst, Curator of the Woburn Abbey Collection said: “Never before has the Red Book for Woburn been on public display, nor has there been an opportunity to show it alongside his other designs for the Duke of Bedford. This exhibition will give a fantastic insight into one of the nation’s greatest gardening influences.”

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The Rockery and Pavilion at Woburn Abbey Garden. Photo:Bridget Davey