'Definitive' Book on Chiswick House and Gardens Published

Dr David Jacques on 300 years of creation and re-creation

Exterior view of the front elevation of Chiswick House, before demolition of the wings, 1947
Exterior view of the front elevation of Chiswick House, before demolition of the wings, 1947. Source: Historic England Archive

A new book on Chiswick House Gardens, by Dr David Jacques, entitled ‘300Yyears of Creation and Re-creation’ has been published.

Dr Jacques, a landscape architect and planner by profession, has had a lifelong passion for the gardens of Chiswick House. In 1982 he was asked to carry out an historical survey of the gardens for the Department of the Environment. He continued to be associated with the gardens as consultant, then became the Inspector an English Heritage responsible for the grounds, went back into consultancy, and then became a Trustee in 2005 serving until the end of his term of office in 2019. During all that time, despite a varied career, he kept returning to Chiswick and amassed a huge amount of information on the history of the house and its grounds which he determined to use to produce a definitive history.

Originally the book was going to be published by Historic England but in 2019 it closed its publication arm. This left Dr Jacques needing funds to meet publication costs which he covered partly through a crowdfunding appeal which raised over £6,000. He points out that the method was quite an old-fashion one, despite initial appearances, because if you opened any architectural book from the eighteenth century you would find a list of subscribers who had paid up-front.

The book charts the development of the estate starting when the Sculpture garden and the Palladio-inspired Villa catapulted Chiswick House and Gardens into national, and international, awareness when they were created in the early 1730s. The Villa may well have been the prototype for Montecello in Virginia and the gardens a harbinger of the ‘English Landscape Movement’ which greatly influenced garden design throughout the UK and overseas.

Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, and a noted arbiter of fashion, had been inspired to re-introduce classical style into his (relatively small) West London estate.

He introduced a very formal garden with classical references - a Hemicycle, Patte d’oies, Obelisks and formal planting on the 25 acre site. He employed William Kent to enrich the Villa, then an extension of the original Jacobean house, with fine decoration and exquisite furnishings in which to display his art and books - and to entertain the cream of Society. Kent also ‘naturalised’ and softened Burlington’s original, rather austere Classical garden, adding more rural features.

Chiswick House Gardens 300 years of creation and re-creation

In the 18th and 19th centuries the fifth and sixth Dukes of Devonshire extended the estate by acquiring adjacent land on either side and at the front of the House. The fifth Duke added the Classic Bridge - suitably arched to allow his barge to sail beneath. His wife Georgiana created perhaps the earliest Rosary in Britain, using new rose varieties from France.

The sixth Duke enthusiastically sent plant hunters around the world seeking unknown and rare plants, shrubs and trees. His Conservatory, then the largest in Europe, was filled with hitherto alien specimens - pineapples, melons, camellias and other wonders. Today the Conservatory houses an important collection of heritage camellias.

He leased out and sponsored the Royal Horticultural Society’s first gardens in the area between Hogarth Lane and Turnham Green and established Chiswick House and Gardens as a prime site for high society by hosting elaborate and spectacular events - for Tsar Nicholas of Russia, Queen Victoria to name but two.

Following the death of the sixth Duke’s sister in 1888 the property was let out - for a long time to the Tuke family, early adopters of modern psychiatry, who ran an exclusive mental asylum. They encouraged the local community to enjoy the property on open days and facilitated cricket matches.

When their lease ended the estate was eventually purchased by Middlesex Council in 1929.

The declining condition of House and Gardens became a cause for concern and post WWII there was national agony about the protection of ‘built heritage’ and one of the outcomes was a restoration of the House and Gardens in 1950 and the demolition of ‘wings’ added to the Villa.

Chiswick House Gardens are owned by the London Borough of Hounslow and the House by English Heritage. In the early 2000s a further effort was made to enhance and sustain the site by creating Chiswick House & Gardens Trust to manage these two important assets together for the benefit of the nation, the local community, scholars and tourists.

A further ‘restoration’, funded largely by the Heritage Lottery Fund highlighted and conserved particular features of the Garden’s evolution over the centuries.

The Director of the Trust, Xanthe Arvanitakis said, ‘David’s book provides not only a comprehensive history of the House and Gardens but also a fascinating insight into the twists and turns to restore and keep these extraordinary and inspiring Grade I listed House and Gardens for future generations.’

The book is now available in Chiswick House and Gardens Shop at the rear of the House or at Waterstones on Chiswick High Road or can be purchased on Amazon.

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May 26, 2022