White not Brown
Tuesday, 24th May 2022
Deborah Turnbull & Louise Wickham, Thomas White (c. 1736-1811): Redesigning the northern British landscape, Windgather Press, 2022, 272pp. ISBN 978-1-91442-700-8, £39.99
Everybody has heard of Capability Brown, but few are familiar with the name Thomas White who was the most prolific landscape gardener in northern Britain during the second half of the eighteenth century. This long-awaited and well-produced book, based on Deborah Turnbull’s excellent Hull University PhD thesis, is very welcome, not least to those interested in the landscaped parks of East Yorkshire. Some of White’s earliest commissions were here, for laying out the grounds at Burton Constable and Houghton Hall, Sancton in 1768 and Welton House in 1769. Then followed work at Sledmere 1776, Holme Hall, Holme on Spalding Moor, 1777 and Grimston Garth and possibly Kilnwick Hall in the 1780s. The attractive improvement plans by White, for all but the last two, are reproduced in the book. Described as ‘works of art ’in their own right the plans show what was intended, not always what was carried out. In the case of Sledmere the resulting landscape uses elements of plans produced by White and Capability Brown adapted by Sir Christopher Sykes. Other landscapes, such as at Houghton Hall, are much as White intended.
White, who was working for Capability Brown by 1759, set up in independent practice in 1765. He lived successively at Tickhill, South Yorkshire, West Retford, Nottinghamshire and near Lanchester, County Durham where he died in 1811. White produced designs for at least 32 sites across northern England, all described in detail in the book, and over 60 in Scotland. As the authors comment White was ‘never merely a “follower of Brown”, as he is often erroneously described, his designs for plantations in particular were much admired and influenced the later more informal styles of the picturesque movement.’