Skip to main content | High contrast version

Next Issue

 Meet the Rev. John Mainwaring and Mr. Lancelot Brown

As Ian Dormor explained in last month’s Focus, it is not suggested that Capability Brown designed the
Church Stretton Rectory landscape. However, we do know that Brown was a friend of Revd Mainwaring, arising from his commission at St John’s College in 1772, and that some correspondence took place between the two that year, when Mainwaring was expecting a visit from Brown who was delayed at Oakly Park with Lord Clive. However, he certainly visited the Rectory on at least one occasion, since that is recorded by Cradock. Furthermore, we know that a lot of landscaping was undertaken by Revd Mainwaring, which was reported by the Archdeacon Joseph Plymley in the record of his visitation on 23rd November 1792 …He resides during the summer months, and at a very considerable expense has made the parsonage house elegant and convenient and laid out the ground that is contiguous with great taste. He has also planted and adorned an adjoining valley with much propriety. We also know that, such was his enthusiasm for this project, he inspired his colleague, the Revd Dr William Powell, Master of St John’s College, to leave him a bequest of £200 specifically for landscaping – a sum apparently equivalent to about £25,000 today.

Mainwaring certainly had a personal interest in landscape design, which is reflected in several letters he wrote to his friend Sir Edward Littleton during his travels on the continent in 1750. It is not the buildings that he commented on but the vast avenues within the forests around Spa where he had gone to take the waters for his health. He wrote that the wild Woods of vast extent, rugged Rocks, & steep high Hills with frequent Falls of Water, afford many charming Scenes, and some big with Horror. He also enjoyed the social life and was thankful to be able to borrow from his sickly travelling companion his Sword, lace & Ruffles etc. embroidered Waistcoat (which exactly fitted me) as it is indispensably necessary to act ye Swaggerer at such a Place as Paris. I saw every thing, which ye length of my Stay and ye Depth of my pocket would allow of …

The Rev. Mainwaring was not unusual in his enthusiasm for landscaping, a fashion which had developed through the 18th century and caught the attention of poets, pamphleteers and cartoonists too. It was also not uncommon for private individuals to design their own properties, one of the most significant examples being The Leasowes near Halesowen (then in Shropshire), created by William Shenstone on a modest income, and inspired in part by his coterie of Oxford friends. Amongst Mainwaring’s friends, Joseph Cradock was designing his park at Gumley in Leicestershire, whilst at the same time publishing his own views on landscape design in his Village Memoirs. Cradock’s friend David Garrick, the celebrity actor/director of his time, was also designing the surroundings of his own little property at Hampton Court. Faced with the challenge of concealing a road through his property, Garrick took advice from Brown, whose recommendation was not a bridge but a tunnel, entered through a grotto. This feature was to provide an unexpected challenge for his friends including Robert Adam, the architect, who arrived with their golf clubs! It seems likely that Mainwaring similarly might have consulted Brown on aspects of Rectory Wood, and certainly Brown would not have resisted the temptation to point out its capabilities.

We know little of the setting of the Rectory itself, except that the house was altered substantially in the early 1800s with the entrance being moved to the western side. By the 1830’s a new gateway was created opposite the churchyard with a drive sweeping round the lawn and under a rocky outcrop to the new entrance. A painting of 1810 shows already mature trees flanking the house, including some conifers – perhaps the cedar of Lebanon admired by both Brown and Mainwaring, who requested one to be planted over his grave. By 1824 another watercolour shows a ha-ha across the front lawn, protecting the garden from the livestock in the field where there are also two newly planted single trees protected by metal hurdles. A few trees on the line of an ancient field division still frame the view of the Rectory from the south.

After his appointment as Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity in 1788, described by a contemporary as a ‘lucrative professorship’, Mainwaring was able to resign his Fellowship and with it the restriction on marriage. That same year he married Anne Wilding, the sister of Richard Wilding, who had been his curate for 10 years by then, so this was not as hasty as the dates might suggest. However, he was 64 and she just 25, reminding us of the desperate need of women to marry for financial reasons, repeatedly illustrated by Jane Austen in her novels. A glimpse of their life together is quoted by Cradock: he regularly takes his nap after dinner, and in the evening is trotting about the hall for exercise, whilst his accomplished lady is singing… with a musical party in the parlour. The partnership was short-lived as Mrs Mainwaring died of consumption in 1795. It seems that Mainwaring’s household may also have included two unmarried sisters, Elizabeth who died in 1797 and Charlotte whose burial was recorded in 1809. Revd John Mainwaring died in 1807, after a remarkable tenure of almost 58 years.

Belinda Cousens

This introduction to the Rev. John Mainwaring will be followed next month by an exploration of his landscape. Those interested in finding out more about his role as Rector are recommended to read ‘A History of St. Laurence, Church Stretton’, by Douglas Grounds.

Editor's Pasteboard

Find out more about the next issue of Focus

read more >