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Humphry Repton (21 April 1752 – 24 March 1818) was the last great Englishmarker landscape designer of the eighteenth century, often regarded as the successor to Capability Brown; he also sowed the seeds of the more intricate and eclectic styles of the nineteenth century. His first name is often incorrectly rendered "Humphrey".


Early life

Repton was born in Bury St Edmundsmarker, the son of a collector of excise. In 1762 his father set up a transport business in Norwichmarker, where Humphry attended Norwich Grammar Schoolmarker. At age twelve he was sent to the Netherlandsmarker to learn Dutch and prepare for a career as a merchant. However, Repton was befriended by a wealthy Dutch family and the trip may have done more to stimulate his interest in 'polite' pursuits such as sketching and gardening.

Returning to Norwich, Repton was apprenticed to a textile merchant, then, after marriage to Mary Clarke in 1773, 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 Susteadmarker, near Aylshammarker in Norfolk. Repton tried his hand as a journalist, dramatist, artist, political agent, and as confidential secretary to his neighbour William Windham of Felbrigg Hallmarker during Windham's very brief stint as Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Repton also joined John Palmer in a venture to reform the mail-coach system, but while the scheme ultimately made Palmer's fortune, Repton again lost money.

Landscape gardener

His capital dwindling, Repton moved to a modest 'cottage' at Hare Street near Romfordmarker in Essex. In 1788, aged 36 and with four children and no secure income, he hit on the idea of combining his sketching skills with his limited experience of laying out grounds at Sustead to become a 'landscape gardener' (a term he himself coined). Since the death of Lancelot 'capability' Brown in 1783, no one figure had dominated English garden design; Repton was ambitious to fill this gap and sent circulars round his contacts in the upper classes advertising his services. His first paid commission was Catton Parkmarker in 1788.

That Repton, with no real experience of practical horticulture, became an overnight success, is a tribute to his undeniable talent, but also to the unique way he presented his work. To help clients visualise his designs, Repton produced 'Red Books' (so called for their binding) with explanatory text and watercolours with a system of overlays to show 'before' and 'after' views. In this he differed from Capability Brown, who had worked almost exclusively with plans and rarely illustrated or wrote about his work. Repton's overlays were soon copied by the Philadelphianmarker Bernard M'Mahon\ in his 1806 American Gardener’s Calendar.

To understand what was unique about Repton it is useful to examine how he differed from Brown in more detail. Brown had worked for many of the wealthiest aristocrats in Britain, carving huge landscape parks out of old formal gardens and agricultural land. While Repton worked for equally important clients, such as the Dukes of Bedford and Portland, he was usually fine-tuning earlier work, often that of Brown himself. Where Repton got the chance to lay out grounds from scratch it was generally on a much more modest scale. On these smaller estates, where Brown would have surrounded the park with a continuous perimeter belt, Repton cut vistas through to 'borrowed' items such as church towers, making them seem part of the designed landscape. He contrived approach drives and lodges to enhance impressions of size and importance, and even introduced monogramed milestones on the roads around some estates, for which he was satirised by Thomas Love Peacock as 'Marmaduke Milestone, esquire, a Picturesque Landscape Gardener' in Headlong Hall.

Capability Brown had been a large-scale contractor, who not only designed, but also arranged the realisation of his work. By contrast, Repton acted as a consultant, charging for his Red Books and sometimes staking out the ground, but leaving his client to arrange the actual execution. Thus many of Repton's 400 or so designs remained wholly or partially unexecuted and, while Brown became very wealthy, Repton's income was never more than comfortable.

Early in his career, Repton defended Brown's reputation during the 'picturesque controversy'. In 1794 Richard Payne Knight and Uvedale Price simultaneously published vicious attacks on the 'meagre genius of the bare and bald', criticising his smooth, serpentine curves as bland and unnatural and championing rugged and intricate designs, composed according to 'picturesque' principals of landscape painting. Repton's defence of Brown rested partly on the impracticality of many picturesque ideas; as a professional, Repton had to produce practical and useful designs for his clients.

Paradoxically, however, as his career progressed Repton drew more and more on picturesque ideas. One major criticism of Brown's landscapes was the lack of a formal setting for the house, with rolling lawns sweeping right up to the front door. Repton re-introduced formal terraces, balustrades, trellis work and flower gardens around the house in a way that became common practice in the nineteenth century. He also designed one of the most famous 'picturesque' landscapes in Britain at Blaise Castlemarker. At Woburn Abbey, Repton foreshadowed another nineteenth century development, creating themed garden areas including a Chinese garden, American garden, arboretum and forcing garden. At Stoneleigh Abbeymarker in 1808, Repton foreshadowed another nineteenth century development, creating a perfect cricket pitch called 'home lawn' in front of the west wing and a bowling green lawn between the gatehouse and the house.

Success at Woburn earned him a further commission from the Duke of Bedford. He designed the central gardens in Russell Squaremarker, the centre piece of the Bloomsbury development. The gardens have been restored with the additional help of archaeological investigation and archive photographs, to the original plans and are now listed as Grade II by English Heritage. The square was to be a flagship commission for Repton and was only one of three within the central London.

Buildings played an important part in many of Repton's landscapes. In the 1790s he often worked with the relatively unknown architect John Nash, whose loose compositions suited Repton's style. Nash benefited greatly from the exposure, while Repton received a commission on building work. Around 1800, however, the two fell out, probably over Nash's refusal to credit the work of Repton's architect son John Adey Repton. Thereafter John Adey and Repton's younger son George often worked with their father, although George continued to work in Nash's office as well. It must have been particularly painful for Repton when Nash secured the prestigious work to remodel the Royal Pavilionmarker at Brighton for the Prince Regent, for which Repton had himself submitted innovative proposals in anIndian style.

In 1811 Repton suffered a serious carriage accident which often left him needing to use a wheelchair for mobility. He died in 1818 and is buried in the Churchyard at Aylshammarker.

Three roads close to the vicinity of his cottage at Hare Street (now renamed Main Road) in the Gidea Parkmarker area of Romford have been named after him; Repton Avenue, Repton Gardens and Repton Drive respectively.A small plaque was unveiled in his memory on 19 April 1969 on the site of his cottage, now rebuilt as a branch of Lloyds TSB, situated on the junction of Hare Street and Balgores Lane.


Repton published three major books on garden design: Sketches and Hints on Landscape Gardening (1795), Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1803), and Fragments on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1816). These drew on material and techniques used in the Red Books. Several lesser works were also published, including a posthumous collection edited by John Claudius Loudon.

List of gardens

Repton produced designs for the grounds of many of Englandmarker's foremost country houses:




  1. Library Company of Philadelphia

Further reading

  • Stephen Daniels, Humphry Repton: landscape gardening and the geography of Georgian England (Yale, 1999)
  • Dorothy Stroud, Humphry Repton (London, 1962)
  • Tom Williamson, Polite landscapes: gardens and society in eighteenth century England (Sutton, 1995)
  • André Rogger, Landscapes of Taste: The Art of Humphry Repton's Red Books (Routledge, 2007)

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