Saxby Church and Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown – Fact or Fiction
We have good reason to believe that Lancelot Capability Brown may have had some involvement in the design/building of the classical style building – St. Helens Church at Saxby in Lincolnshire whilst he was working for Richard 4th Earl of Scarbrough. Saxby was the ancestral home of the Saunderson family who became Earls of Scarbrough (family seat Sandbeck Park, South Yorkshire) and it was where they rebuilt St. Helens church as their family mausoleum between 1760 and 1780.
Brown worked for the 4th Earl on 2 separate occasions between 1760 and 1780
Historic England reference 1001161 indicates payments to Brown totalling £1280.00 between January 1762 and February 1768 (the time of the first contract), recorded in the 4th Earls account book. It is not clear for what they were for and may refer to work on his Lincolnshire estates and might indeed have included a design for the mausoleum/church.
Over the past 50 years several people have researched who the architect and builder of the church may have been. We think the builder may have been Thomas Lumby (who replaced the Chapter House roof at Lincoln Cathedral) and is known to have worked at Burghley House at the same time as Brown. No plans or sketches or records or accounts have been found to date relating to the building.
Several notable architects including John Carr and James Paine were thought to have designed the building but then been proved not to have been involved.
‘Capability’ Brown, is known to have designed around 6 churches(including Compton Verney in Warwickshire and Croome D’Abitot in Worcestershire) in the classical style as well as houses and garden buildings whilst carrying out his landscape commissions on estates around the country.
St. Helen’s church is a wonderful example of the classical style so it is perfectly possible that he could have produced some drawings for Thomas Lumby to work from.