Chiswick House and Gardens: a hidden gem
Chiswick House, barely five miles as the crow flies from central London, is one of the capital’s hidden gems. Built in the 1720s as a summer villa, it is unusual in that it was actually designed by its owner, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, who was passionately interested in Palladian architecture. In 1714, the nineteen-year-old earl visited Italy for the first time. He returned with eight hundred and seventy-eight trunks full of paintings by the Old Masters, porphyry urns, statues etc., and a number of important treatises and drawings by Palladio himself.
He also brought back the architect William Kent who became a life-long friend. Kent acted as architectural tutor and adviser on the building of Chiswick House, designing the rooms, and helping his patron set out the gardens.
Chiswick House is curious in that it’s more of a summer house-cum-picture gallery than a house to be lived in; there were no kitchen facilities or bedrooms, for example. (For that, they used the old Jacobean house next door.) It was intended as a select venue for parties and picnics, and to house the earl’s library and pictures. Two Rysbrach paintings in the house, dating from the late 1720s, show beautifully-dressed ladies and gentlemen strolling around the grounds admiring the ornamental lake, the exotic birds and the Ionian temple, whilst busy gardeners go about their work to keep the place immaculate.
The house is a two-storey cube. Each storey has an octagonal room in the centre with rooms around it which are either galleries to show off the earl’s Italian acquisitions, or libraries. The ceilings are magnificently plastered, painted and gilded, many by William Kent, and the overmantels, chimneypieces and doors are equally splendid.
The sixty-five acre gardens have just been restored to reveal the original vistas and the numerous garden ornaments and buildings have been repaired. It’s a delightful place to wander round in – I just love sphinxes, and there are plenty for me to admire. There are also some magnificent trees, and swans sail majestically along the lake. And when you feel like a rest, there’s a very nice café where, if you wish, you can sit outside under a table with a parasol and admire the view.
The house itself is now managed by English Heritage and there is a charge for entry, but the gardens, which are owned and managed by the London Borough of Hounslow, are free for everybody to enjoy. And all this not much more than half an hour from central London. Why doesn’t everybody know about it?
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