Art at the Park – Braxted Park

5 minutes

‘I gave up farming 30 years ago and now concentrate on creating biodiversity’

Thirty years ago Duncan Clark and his father stopped farming. The European Economic Community (EEC) was paying farmers to set aside land in effort to deal with the costly surpluses produced in Europe under the guaranteed price system of the Common Agricultural Policy. 

Duncan admits ‘my family were not great farmers as the land at Braxted Park, near Witham, is a poor mix of clay and soil’.

He explains: “The decade-long set-aside scheme worked for us and in the following decade we did the same under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

“By then, many areas of our land had become a haven for wildlife such nightingales and turtle doves so these little pockets of rewilding have now fitted into the Biodiversity Net Gain policy, created to support farmers when the UK came out of Europe.”

Environmental stewardship is one of Duncan’s main tasks, restoring the parkland to its 19th century glory as well as protecting ancient oaks through a process called haloing (a gradual process to free the tree’s crown to give it more light).

A further 200 acres outside the brick wall will be taken out of production as Duncan diversifies from pure arable on all his land to a mixture between arable (80%) and biodiversity (20%).

Duncan said: “We now have sheep and cattle so the land is being lightly managed and soon we will have a stretch of 200 acres given over to biodiversity with managed scrub, trees, wild grasses and plants.

"There is another scheme in Essex called the Big Green Internet ( to plant wildlife corridors and hedgerow to connect isolated ancient woodlands that once ran 100 miles from Clacton to Epping. As I am making a corridor here, the idea is to get my neighbours to do the same – I am very excited about this and we need to get everyone talking and working together.” 

While visitors are charmed by Braxted Park’s tree-lined drive with sweeping views of a red-brick Georgian mansion with unusual octagonal-paned sash windows, Duncan and his wife Nicky work tirelessly behind the scenes to keep their country home up and running.

The house and parkland are of special historic interest, listed Grade II* with a Grade II four-and-a-half mile brick wall. Braxted Park has been home to the Clark family since Sir Allen Clark acquired the estate on behalf of the Plessey Company in 1947.

Originally, a deer park, the house was built by Peter Du Cane who commissioned architect Sir Robert Taylor in 1750. His son, Peter II, spent many years on the Grand Tour of Europe and when he inherited the house in 1802 he added features influenced by his travels including the lakes and a cave/hermitage (which was probably used as a game larder) modelled on Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli, Italy. His son, Peter III, took over the house in 1855 and was responsible for building the long brick wall.

After World War I, the house was sold to William Boulton in 1919, who then sold it to Sir Allen. Duncan’s father Michael Clark CBE DL bought the property as a private house in 1965 and Duncan inherited in 1994.

(Image: Braxted Park)

Duncan and Nicky run five businesses at Braxted Park and Duncan says: “Our business income has saved the estate, although I have to say that the four-and-a-half-mile brick wall is the bane of my life.”

He explains: “My budget for repairing the wall was £1.2 million. It is three courses thick and as soon as I have restored it, the wall falls down again. Salt that’s spread on the roads in bad weather doesn’t help as it fetches out the mortar.

“The coping stones have been the target of thieves so I have marked them on the inside so if anyone is found with them it will be obvious where they have come from – with a thick yellow painted stripe on them they have no value so no one steals them!

“However, that is nothing compared to the upkeep of the house. The events business brings in 50 per cent of our income through hosting 120-130 weddings a year as well as corporate parties, conferences and charity events.

“We have permanent marquee in the walled garden which has been up and running since 2005.

“We also have the farm, a nine-hole golf course which my grandfather Sir Allen created in the 1950s, office space, cottage rentals and a pheasant and partridge shoot which also contribute to our income.”

History of art

Duncan Clark’s father was a serious art collector and the house holds a collection of early 20th century drawings in the hall and a collection of 18th century English portraiture in the dining room. There is a collection of many contemporary pieces thoughtfully placed around the house.

Duncan says: “Visitors can view the art during our four-day Art at the Park event, in aid of Home-Start Essex; we are hosting an exhibition of more than 65 artists’ work that will be displayed throughout the house, supported by pub group Chestnut and Howden.

Meet the Artists

Art at the Park – Meet the artists: Lucy Lutyens

Art at the Park – Meet the artists: Sonia Coode Adams MBE

Art at the Park – Meet the artists: Nadia Koo

“It is a unique contemporary art show featuring many established and sought after names, such as Dominic Welch and Kate Boxer, alongside new and emerging talent. Original art, sculpture, prints, glass and ceramics will be professionally curated and on sale with all proceeds going to Home-Start Essex.

“Hosting the event was something we were naturally inclined to support as we have this family connection with art. My father won the art prize at Harrow and my son Fred won the art prize at Eton. Fred is now a professional artist and his wife, Claudia Legge, is a photographic artist. My wife Nicky is also an artist and exhibits her work under her maiden name Nicky Brown. All three will exhibit at Art at the Park.

“Our first event when we opened the marquee for events in 2005 was a ball in aid of Home-Start Essex so we are pleased to welcome back the charity and we hope to attract many new and regular visitors to Braxted Park where they will have a chance to buy original pieces of art and sculpture within the historic backdrop of Braxted Park.”

Art at the Park in aid of Home-Start at Braxted Park, Witham, runs from February 1-4, 2024, supported by Howden. Work will be on display in the grounds and Georgian house with prices expected to range from around £15 to £50,000.
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About Home-Start Essex

Home-Start Essex is a family support charity, which helps to give children the best start in life by helping to support parents and caregivers to feel less isolated, to build their confidence and find ways to manage the challenges they face. Home-Start Essex builds trusting, helpful relationships with families and delivers a range of support to meet their individual needs, including volunteer-led home visiting, family groups, wellbeing services, school-readiness and behaviour support programmes.