Chiswick is a jewel-like, classically-inspired house set amid a beautiful garden on the outskirts of London.
It all began with Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington. Born in 1694, he inherited his father's title and estates when he was only ten. Lord Burlington used his position and wealth to pursue his interests in the arts. He was interested in music, collected paintings and antiquities but his greatest passion was for architecture.
One of the estates he inherited was a Jacobean house not far from London at Chiswick. Although Lord Burlington also owned Burlington House in central London (now home of the Royal Academy of Art), it was fashionable for the aristocracy and nobility to have a villa on the outskirts of London that would enable them to escape the inner city but which would not require a journey to one of their country estates. The area along the Thames west of London was especially popular because it was very convenient for attending court when the monarch was at Kew Palace or Hampton Court. In the 1720s, Lord Burlington decided to build a villa at his estate in Chiswick.
Lord Burlington was a great admirer of the 16th century Venetian architect Andrea Palladio He assembled a large collection of Palladio's drawings and his books and was very familiar with the work of Palladio's disciples such as Indigo Jones. Naturally, when it came time to build his villa, Lord Burlington, aided by his friend William Kent and the Scottish architect Colin Campell, produced a Palladian style design. The villa was completed in 1729.
The new house consisted of a series of beautfully proportioned rooms, which Lord Burlington could use to display paintings and other items he collected as well as provide a study. He also used the villa for gatherings of his friends. However, revealing its architect's priorities, the villa did not have such conveniences as a kitchen or bedrooms. To remedy the problems caused by these omissions, a “link” building was constructed connecting the villa to the old Jacobean mansion.
Following Lord Burlington's death, Lady Burlington made some changes to the villa including converting one of the rooms into her bedroom. When she died in 1758, the house passed to her son-in-law, William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire.
Chiswick once again became a center of high society under the 5th Duke of Devonshire. The Duke had married Lady Georgiana Spencer who became one of the most prominent and notorious hostesses of the late 18th and early 19th century. Although the Cavendishs also owned the spectacular Chatsworth estate in Derbyshire and Devonshire House in London, the Duchess found Chiswick an ideal venue because it was outside the urban center but close enough to London so that she could entertain and indulge her interest in Whig politics.
In 1788, the Cavendishs tore down the Jacobean mansion. In its place, two wings designed by architect John White were added to the villa turning it into a grand mansion.
Later generations of the Cavendish family were not interested in living at Chiswick and so the house was rented out to the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and various members of the nobility during the second half of the 19th century. By the turn of the century, it was being rented out as a private mental asylum.
The 9th Duke of Devonshire sold the estate to the Middlesex County Council in 1929. During World War II, one of the wings was damaged by a V-2 rocket. Both wings were torn down in the 1950s as they had deteriorated badly.
The villa may well have gone the same way but public outcry prevented its destruction. Instead, a plan was developed to restore the house and grounds as much as possible to the way they were during Lord Burlington's day.
This ongoing project has been successful. The interior of the house has been restored so that the decoration, much of it by William Kent, appears fresh. Although some of the treasures of Chiswick were moved to Chatsworth when the Cavendishs began to rent out Chiswick, copies have been made of many of them and period antiques purchased.
Along the same lines, the grounds surrounding the house have been restored into a gorgeous park. Even before he built the villa, Lord Burlington was designing architectural features for the park. Subsequent owners added features such as James Wyatt's classical bridge erected by Duchess Georgiana and the conservatory built by the 6th Duke of Devonshire. While a large section of the grounds reflect William Kent's view that gardens should be naturalistic, there are also sections of the grounds that are much more structured and formal.
In 1966, The Beatles filmed two music videos in the grounds at Chiswick. The films were done in connection with their songs Paperback Writer and Rain.
Chiswick can be reached from central London by train from Waterloo to Chiswick station. The estate is within walking distance from the station.
For mre information on visiting Chiswick, see the Chiswick House and Gardens website.
Above: The house viewed from the far side of the "river." William Kent is credited with creating this naturalistic vista.
Below: More formal lawns and gardens abut the back of the house .
Above: The classical bridge designed by James Wyatt and commissioned by Georgianna, Duchess of Devonshire.
Below: The view of the river. Originally a brook, this waterway was first transformed into a canal and then into a river in keeping with Kent's views on ornamental waterways.
Above: The conservatory built by the 6th Duke of Devonshire.
Lord Burlington inserted architectural features into the gardens to act as focal points. Above: A column marks the terminus of a path through a formal garden. Below: An Ionic temple in the Orange Tree Garden.
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Cruise destination - England - London - Chiswick House