Tour of Chiswick House
5th July 2023
Aldersgate Ward Club visit to Chiswick House
Wednesday 5th July 2023
Only six Aldersgate members ventured out to West London to join the Master for a tour of this Palladian villa and its gardens. But for those who made the effort to get here, it proved a really interesting visit. It was a blustery morning with threatening clouds, but mercifully we avoided most of the rain showers. Our visit was divided into two parts: first the house, then the garden, separated by refreshments mid-morning in the café.
Our guide for the house was Hans, a very entertaining and well-informed gentleman. He explained how in the early eighteenth century Lord Burlington, who already had a London home - Burlington House, now the Royal Academy - decided to purchase a Jacobean manor house near the River Thames in Chiswick, with land that could be developed into a country estate. He then set off on the Grand Tour, returning with no less than 80 crates of art treasures acquired around the Mediterranean from Egypt to Rome. To house this collection at his Chiswick estate, and provide enough space to entertain the guests he invited to admire it, he built the first neo-Classical villa in England. It was designed by William Kent and Inigo Jones in the style of Palladio.
The original manor house has long disappeared, so the villa with its characteristic dome now stands alone as the imposing Chiswick House. It still houses many of Lord Burlington’s art treasures, together with those added by the Dukes of Devonshire who married into the Burlington family. The ‘piano nobile’, including a reception hall under the dome, is luxuriantly decorated with painted ceilings, huge paintings and classical statues, which impressed us as much as it was intended to impress Lord Burlington’s guests in the eighteenth century.
After a welcome break for brunch, we were guided around the Gardens of the estate by Alison. She explained how William Kent, who had helped design the villa, persuaded Lord Burlington to have some of the formal gardens re-modelled into a more natural look. Chiswick was effectively the birthplace of the English country garden, a style developed and extended by the more famous landscape architects who followed, such as Capability Brown. Lord Burlington planted many trees, of which two magnificent yews still dominate the main avenue, three hundred years later.
Our sincere thanks are due to the Master for arranging this fascinating visit, which for me is a local landmark that I can walk to!
Ron Wood, Past Master.