Egremont House: Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and a small London garden

Vanessa Courtney, LPGT Brown Research Group

The very name ‘Capability’ Brown (1716–1783) conjures up images of magnificent naturalistic parks surrounding the stately homes of the aristocracy. Less well known, however, are his London gardens, albeit for the selfsame grandees. Spawned on the back of Brown’s commission to landscape his 300-acre park at Petworth, Charles Wyndham, second Earl of Egremont (d.1763) engaged him to design a more modest garden at Egremont House, 94 Piccadilly, in London, now better known as the ‘In and Out’, the former home of the Naval and Military Club.

A Grand Palladian House

In 1756 Egremont bought an inn standing on a one-acre site overlooking Green Park, between White Horse and Half Moon Streets and backing onto Shepherd Market. The footprint shown by Rocque's map of 1746 has little changed since. [Fig.1] For this he commissioned the architect Matthew Brettingham (d. 1769) senior to build a grand Palladian house. [Fig.2] In 1765 Brettingham, who was in poor health, wrote to the Dowager Lady Egremont asking for the residue of his money to be paid to his son, adding that, ‘the Earl of Egremont’s House in Piccadilly, was begun in April 1756. The building and finishing it [the house] with stables and kitchens and offices, was the work of seven years, at the expense of about sixteen thousand pounds, [approximately £2.8m today] under my care and direction.’ [1] Brettingham’s fee was 5%. [2]

‘Capability’ Brown was paid the sum of £16. 13s 2d (£3000 today) for ‘the new making of the London garden’. [3] [Fig.3] Nothing remains of Brown’s original work, nor is there much archival evidence as to what it looked like. However, there are a few pointers in the accounts at the Petworth Archives that give a clue as to at least a part of the original planting plan.

Brown's Involvement

It would appear that Brown created a form of ‘parkland’, albeit on less than half an acre (the house and offices occupied the other half acre), as we know that he ‘paid for cutting of 1500 “Turffs” [4] and “to carriage of …Turf to the Earl of Egremont in Piccadilly from Wimbledon”. [5] £4. 13s. 4d. [Fig.4] If the turfs were a yard square, they would cover the majority of the garden. Another account from John Williamson, Brown’s nurseryman, was to supply: ‘3 large stand elms £0. 10s. 0d., 2 large stand almonds £0. 3s. 0d., 1 stand horse chestnut £0. 14s. 6d.’ [6] (£90 in total today). [Fig.5]

It is likely that the garden was not finished, for the Earl died in August 1763. According to Horace Walpole, death came ‘suddenly at home from an apoplectic stroke brought on by overeating and lack of exercise’ [7] just four months after the delivery of the trees and the turf. Brown submitted his account for £16 after the Earl’s death, which appears to be a small price for anything elaborate. It is possible that Brown imagined a garden more commensurate with Egremont’s position as Secretary of State and vast landowner, something more typical of an eighteenth-century formal garden, with lawns, walks, ornamental and standard trees – possibly a Chinese pavilion as well? The house and garden were inherited by his son, George Wyndham, third Earl of Egremont, (d. 1837), and there is a bill from Matthew Brettingham junior for ‘making Chinese Gate to fold at garden door £1. 16s. 8d.’, [8] but there is no evidence that ‘Capability’ Brown had anything more to do with the garden.

After Brown

In 1794 George Wyndham moved to Grosvenor Place [9] and the house was ‘purchased by a Mr Mills of Yorkshire, a man of business, in the clothing line’. [10] Mills spent a staggering £30,000 (£3.5m) on updating the house, and most likely the garden as well. Since 1999, when the Naval and Military Club moved out, the house and what remains of the garden have been in a sorry state. A decade on, the Reuben brothers bought the property with a view to returning it to a private house. At the time of writing, it is still uninhabitable. All that remains behind the house is an ungainly plane tree, totally overshadowing a dull courtyard [Fig.6] – a far cry from ‘Capability’ Brown’s tall, graceful elms, almond trees and grassy swathes.


  1. Brettingham, Matthew to the Countess of Egremont. 25 March 1765.
    Petworth Archives PHA 6618. MSS
  2. ibid
  3. Brown, ‘Capability’ to the State of the Earl of Egremont 7 Febuary 1765.
    Petworth Archives PHA 6616. MSS
  4. Mickle, Adam, Account of Workmen at the Earl of Egremont in ‘Pickaddilly’ 14 February to 26 March 1763
    Petworth Archives PHA 6616. MSS
  5. Mickle, Adam, Earthwork done for Mr. Brown by Order of Mr. Adam Mickle 10 March 1763 Petworth Archives PHA 6616. MSS
  6. Williamson, John, Bill for trees 14 March 1763
    Petworth Archives PHA 6616.MSS
  7. Scott, H.M ‘Wyndham, Charles, second Earl of Egremont (1710–1763)’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2008 Web
  8. Brettingham, Matthew, Carpenters work done for the Earl of Egremont 6 July 1779
    Petworth Archives PHA 6609. MMS
  9. Pearce, David London's Mansions, The Palatial Houses of the Nobility, ‘Political Houses’, p157 Batsford 1986
  10. Oracle and Public Advertiser, 8 April 1794: Issue 1867
    British Library
John Rocque's map
Fig.1 The future location of Egremont House on John Rocque's map of 1746

Engraving of Egremont House
Fig.2 Engraving of Egremont House
Petworth Archives PHA 12437

Account of work undertaken for the Earl of Egremonts [sic] house in Piccadilly
Fig.3 Account of work undertaken for the Earl of Egremonts [sic] house in Piccadilly
Petworth Archives PHA 6618. MSS image P1120674

Receipt for the carriage of turf
Fig.4 Receipt for the carriage of turf to Egremont House from Wimbledon at the order of Mr Brown
Petworth Archives PHA 1030143 or 1120679

Bill for trees to plant at Egremont
Fig.5 Bill for trees to plant at Egremont House 14 March 1763
Petworth Archives PHA 6616. MSS image 1030147

Photograph of courtyard today
Fig.6 Photograph of courtyard today
Vanessa Courtney

Photograph of facade today
The façade of Egremont House in 2016