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At Chiswick House

November 7, 2020
by the gentle author

To lift your spirits, we are having a lockdown sale with all titles in the Spitalfields Life Bookshop at 50% until midnight on Sunday. Simply enter the code ‘LIFTYOURSPIRITS’ at checkout.




On the last day before lockdown, I decided to take advantage of the November sunshine by enjoying an excursion to Chiswick House. I have to confess that it is thirty years since I visited, in the footsteps of the writer Denton Welch who came here in the thirties with a picnic including a hardboiled egg and a piece of fruitcake.

On such a strange day – before London closed up for a month – it was a great consolation to encounter these gardens again, like a old friend that has not been changed by the years.

William Kent’s garden was inspired by the paintings of Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin, and seeing it illuminated by the perfectly crystalline autumn sunlight this week, I could not resist the feeling I was exploring an eternal landscape that was outside time. I half expected to turn a corner of a box hedge and discover Denton with his blanket spread out upon the grass, waiting for me with a picnic for two of hardboiled eggs and fruitcake.

I can think of no better place to lose an afternoon in London than these gardens, why did I take thirty years to go back?


The Doric Column with Venus on the top at the centre of the Rosary

Sculpture of a lioness by Pieter Scheemakers, 1733

The Ionic Temple and Obelisk, 1722

In the Excedra

Herm in the Excedra

A Sphinx beneath the Lebanon Cedar

Classical villa designed by Richard Boyle, third Earl of Burlington

Designed by Inigo Jones for Beaufort House in Chelsea in 1621, this gateway was acquired by Lord Burlington in 1738 from his friend Hans Sloan

Bust of Caesar Augustus

The Corinthian capitals on the portico were carved by John Boson

Andreas Palladio by by John Michael Rysbrack

Inigo Jones by John Michael Rysbrack

In the Italian Garden

The Conservatory was designed by Samuel Ware and completed in 1813

Geraniums overwintering

The Classic Bridge, attributed to James Wyatt, was built for the 5th Duke of Devonshire in 1774

The Ionic Temple

Bust of Napoleon in the Rustic House designed by Lord Burlington about 1719

The Eye Catcher installed in 1970

The Cascade by William Kent

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At Fulham Palace

12 Responses leave one →
  1. William cahill permalink
    November 7, 2020

    Upon the death of Lord Burlington, the creator, along with William Kent, of Chiswick House, this grand pile devolved upon William Cavendish, Fourth Duke of Devonshire, husband of Lady Charlotte, daughter of Lord Burlington.

    The Devonshires did not use Chiswick House often, and rented it out. In 1892, it became the Chiswick Asylum, a refuge for the the mentally compromised.

    One day, a Duchess of Devonshire decided to make the rounds of the gardens. She’d never seen them before, and was interested to see the work of her husband’s ancestor.

    As the dusk descended, she was approached by some staff.

    “Here, dearie, don’t you think you should be coming in now? Can’t imagine how you’re out here all alone. It’s a bit chill now, yes? Come on in, now.”

    “Hardly necessary, thank you. My car is nearby.”

    “Of course, ducks, let’s get in now.”

    “You don’t understand.I am the Duchess of Devonshire! And I am going home now.”

    “Well, of course you are, and you’ll be home just as soon as we get you inside!”

    It took some telephone calls before the asylum people realized their mistake. The asylum closed in 1940; nio idea as to the above had anything to do with that.

  2. William Cahill permalink
    November 7, 2020

    And it really is a wonderful place. Grandeur on a not massive scale. I hope to see it again, before I die.

  3. November 7, 2020

    Gentle Author, you have certainly lifted my spirits this morning taking me to this beautiful place. It has been on my list of places to visit for a while now and looks like remaining there for the foreseeable future……
    As always your photographs capture the essence of the scene, thank you for sharing your pre-lockdown trip with us all.

  4. Leana Pooley permalink
    November 7, 2020

    We’re so lucky to live within walking distance of Chiswick House and until lockdown we would regularly take our dog there. It is an inspirational place with its elegant Palladian building and formal yew lined walks combined with a canal (where we have seen terrapins sunning themselves) and those glorious greenhouses in which a wonderful array of flowering camellias can be seen in the spring. Our dog enjoys the more informal walks of shrubs and tall trees nearer the edge of the park. There’s a good cafe but I expect it’s shut at the moment. It’s been a pleasure looking at these photographs while we’re unable to be there in person.

  5. Sandra Jones permalink
    November 7, 2020

    I am lucky enough to live 10 minutes walk away from this beautiful place and go there several times a week. I am so glad that you made the journey there and were able to take these photographs. I have been going there since I was a child, so have grown to take these wonderful scenes for granted – your photographers have given me a fresh perspective.

  6. Ian Silverton permalink
    November 7, 2020

    Nice pictures GA nice to see, but as an expat,cannot help wondering why has this place got so much neglect decay going on, on buildings, statues, paths, is that me speaking out of turn? Before this and other lock downs you where a rich and vibrant country, so no excuses then,as now. Stay safe readers, its bad out there, but not as bad as your led to believe, people need to get out and see for themselves IMHO.Thanks again GA.

  7. Jill Wilson permalink
    November 7, 2020

    It looks like a fab place – lots of interesting architecture (are the strange uprights on the roof actually chimneys?) and loads of classical features to discover in the garden.

    And great photos as always – although I’m surprised you chose to use black and white in such a natural setting. One of the positive things about this lockdown are all the glorious autumnal colours in the trees and shrubs to be appreciated and enjoyed.

    Lets hope the weather stays as good as it was in the first lockdown…

  8. Helen Breen permalink
    November 7, 2020

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, I am glad you had an opportunity to venture to Chiswick House on a beautiful November Day before lockdown.

    I knew the name rang a bell – the site was one of many historical properties I wished to visit in London some day. I refreshed my memory by checking it out of line. Chiswick House had been associated with many luminaries in British history including the Cavendish family, the Dukes of Devonshire, Georgiana Spencer, Charles James Fox, and Prime Minister George Canning. The latter two worthies breathed their last while guests at the estate.

    Loved your black ‘n white photos of this classically designed property.

  9. November 7, 2020

    I used to spend many afternoons wandering around Chiswick House gardens when I lived in Chiswick. How lovely to see the gardens again, it’s been 30 years! Thank you.

  10. November 7, 2020

    One on my list to visit too. The list just gets longer….

  11. Miss Kerri Sharp permalink
    November 7, 2020

    How lovely to read someone referencing dear Denton. I spent this summer reading no one else. If he’d managed to give the rougher, more sporting boys the slip, one can clearly imagine him with a neat tartan blanket spread out, waiting to picnic with you, ready with a couple of fondant fancies. And tea? Leaf, of course, but served in elegant, plain bone china cups and saucers. As Mr Butler exclaims in Maiden Voyage: ‘Why will the Chinese, in spite of all their refinement, insist on putting yellow next to pink? Just look at those blowsy great peonies sprawling on the jaundiced side of my cup!’ The only other character I can picture saying that would be Billings, as played by Richard Wattis in ‘The Happiest Days of Your Life’.
    Love the photos. Reminiscent of Eugene Atget’s deserted St Cloud. I must to Chiswick House at the earliest opportunity. There to swirl about in a dream of more elegant times. Thank you.

  12. paul loften permalink
    November 7, 2020

    It is truly a beautiful place to spend an afternoon. I will keep a visit for the coming summer. I have been watching so much of the US election in these last few days that the bust of Napoleon seemed to have assumed the face of Donald Trump. I cannot imagine why.

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