Rothley High Lake, Wallington, Northumberland

This research works to provide a greater understanding of the origins and development of this landscape, in particular the role that Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown may have played in its design and creation.

  • Project Dates: June 2015 – present
  • Project Leader: Dr Caron Newman and Professor Sam Turner
  • Sponsors: The National Trust

Rothley Lake is made up of two separate lakes (High Lake and Low Lake) on either side of a road, created to give the impression of a single serpentine body of water. It is part of the historic Wallington Estate in Northumberland, though at a distance of 4 miles, north east of Wallington Hall. Most but not all, the historic Wallington Estate is now in the ownership of the National Trust, including the High Lake at Rothley. The Rothley High and Low lakes are part of a designed landscape which had associations with Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. The origins and development of the Rothley High Lake designed landscape are imperfectly understood; thus its true significance is not accurately appreciated.

The purpose of the work being undertaken by the McCord Centre is to provide a greater understanding of the origins and development of the landscape, in particular the role that Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown may have played in its design and creation. Brown’s involvement in Wallington is highly significant historically, because Brown was local to Wallington. He grew up nearby at Kirkhale and went to school in Cambo, on the Wallington Estate. It is likely that the Wallington Estate would have been influential in helping to form Brown’s ideas of landscape appreciation. It is known that Brown was the designer for Rothley Low Lake, and the High Lake is clearly in Brown’s serpentine style, but there is no definite link between Brown and the High Lake.

Staff from the McCord Centre undertook survey and limited excavation at Rothley High Lake in 2012 and 2013. This latest phase of fieldwork included further excavation and survey, in order to answer the following research questions:

  • How much of the 18th century designed landscape at Rothley High Lake survives as identifiable, and potentially restorable, features?
  • How many landscape features proposed by Lancelot Brown were implemented and, proportionately, how much of the designed landscape can be attributed to him or considered to be influenced by him?
  • How do Rothley Lakes relate to the wider Wallington Estate designed landscape, why were they originally constructed, what was their purpose, how did they develop and evolve?
  • How are Rothley Lakes linked to the wider, non-designed landscape, how was the Rothley Lakes designed landscape influenced by the pre-existing landscape and how did the lakes influence the development of the surrounding area?

The purpose of the work was to aid the National Trust’s decision making in the management of the Rothley High Lake area, in particular, appropriate conservation management appropriate to the historical character and significance of the designed landscape. The National Trust is concerned to make landscapes in their ownership available, stimulating and valued to a range of audiences, including the academic world. This is especially pertinent because of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s birth in 2016.


Dr Caron Newman

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