The life and work of Humphry Repton are of interest to scholars and readers from a wide variety of historical sub-disciplines because his activities made an impact not only on architecture, gardens and the landscape but also on individuals, localities and Georgian society more generally. His surviving letters, manuscripts and published works of various types, which are housed in numerous repositories, have been drawn on by historians to reconstruct different aspects of Repton’s contribution to the English landscape and to Georgian society.
Whereas Repton’s landscape design books (known as his Red Books), his other designs and published printed works display his public side, as do his memoirs, the letters written by him held at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California, provide a different view. They shed light on some of his private thoughts and attitudes, at times somewhat negative, written as they were towards the end of his life, which, although successful in terms of renown, had been rather less successful financially. Commencing in late 1806 and continuing until 1816, the letters written by Repton himself provide insights not only into his later life, but also, amongst other topics, his opinions on the changing nature of local society, the impact of the war with France and the introduction of income tax.
It must be emphasised, however, that the letters in this collection were not only written by Humphry Repton, for commencing in June 1805 there are letters, or postscripts, from all of his immediate family. Humphry and his wife Mary, together with their two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, lived at Hare Street (Essex); three sons, Humphry, Edward and George, lived away from home, generally in London; William lived in Aylsham with his aunt Dorothy Adey née Repton, and her husband John, whose legal practice William eventually took over; the eldest son, John, seems to have lived at Hare Street but stayed frequently at Aylsham. The letters reveal a close-knit family concerned about each other’s well-being and gossiping about friends and acquaintances in Norfolk and Essex, such that they disclose much about local society in and around Aylsham and Hare Street. Generally the letters are affectionate and convey strong familial ties, the latter particularly obvious in times of crisis, for example, in bereavement and when Edward’s impending marriage apparently threatened to divide the family. Furthermore the family are well-informed about national and international events and their letters often convey the latest news.
There are also a number of business letters addressed to William, together with his draft replies to various clients and acquaintances, mostly in Norfolk: these shine a valuable light on the work of an early nineteenth-century country attorney.
Humphry Repton and his family: Correspondence, 1805-1816 is edited by Dr Heather Falvey (published 1st October 2020) and is available from the Norfolk Record Society.
This blog post was written by Heather Falvey