Romford’s Humphry Repton
PUBLISHED: 12:05 27 May 2014
Humphry Repton (1752–1818) was a landscape gardener who lived in Hare Street near Romford from 1786. Born in Bury St. Edmunds to an excise collector, Repton received his education in Suffolk and Norfolk before being sent abroad and learning to mix with high society in the Netherlands.
After several failed business ventures, and inspired by the small but beautiful gardens he had witnessed alongside the Dutch canals, Repton turned to landscape gardening. Combining his love of sketching with his talent for writing, his expertise was in small areas, with minor changes creating striking transformations. Using the contacts he had made in Norfolk, Repton was able to both start his career and mix with landed society, on occasion staying with the families he worked for. However, Repton’s theories that gardens should be used rather than viewed caused controversy that had refused to die down by the turn of the century.
Repton was known for his ‘red books’, with hinged pages that could be lifted to show views before and after his suggested alterations. Essex Record Office looks after Repton’s red books for the gardens he worked on in our county including Claybury Hall in Barking, Stansted Hall, Theydon Mount and Stubbers.
In the early 19th century Repton and his son developed the Queen Elizabeth Gothic style and by 1805, by his own admission, he had reached the peak of his career. He had a long-term contract with the Duke of Bedford and was confident enough to try (unsuccessfully) for royal patronage. However, previous partners undermined him and within six years, with work scarce, he began to worry about his financial situation. With failing health, he wrote of the decline of landscape gardening and the society that had supported it.
Repton died suddenly in his Hare Street home on March 24, 1818. His legacy remains one of treatises and theories rather than gardens themselves.