Chiswick House and Gardens, the imperious villa built by Lord Burlington in homage to his Grand Tour at the start of the 18th century and lauded as the birthplace of English landscaping, has reopened following an exhaustive £12 million project between English Heritage and Hounslow Council to return the picturesque site to its original splendour.
Thousands of trees from as far away as Lebanon, one of the rarest collections of plants in the world and a swish new café are among the highlights of the historic restoration, partly funded by a £7.9 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant.
Sphinxes and rare plants abound outside the 18th century villa
It had fallen into serious decline by the end of the 20th century, hampered by lack of funding and a lack of natural light to allow wildlife growth following the UK’s great storm of 1987. The regeneration scheme placed an emphasis on extolling the “cultural and natural heritage” of Chiswick when it was launched in 2005.
The development marks a full-circle journey for the 65-acre beauty spot, evolving from a nobleman’s mansion to a public park with thriving biodiversity and vastly improved and expanded public facilities and opportunities to explore.
A swanky new café acts as a central point, with the House opening to the public for four days a week until November
Ten Things to See at Chiswick
- The Western Lawn and Cascade: An “informal lawn” sloping down from the House to an ornamental river in a faithful copy of Lord Burlington and William Kent’s naturalistic 1730s design, including a waterfall descending rock steps inspired by Italian Renaissance gardens.
- The Avenue and the Exedra The Avenue is a flat lawn at the back of the house, cut off by the Exedra, a semi-circle of yew hedging and statuary dating from ancient Rome and the 18th century. Trees, urns and sphinxes lead the path, and Daniel Defoe attributed a trio of Roman statues to Hadrian’s Villa, near Tivoli.
- The Conservatory A Grade I listed centrepiece of the Gardens, full of camellias from the original 1828 space which contains one of only two specimens of the Middlemist Red in the world. English Heritage say the archaeological and historical effort to restore Samuel Ware’s 1813 design has been “painstakingly” accurate.
- The Italian Garden Chiswick's position, looking onto this decorative garden, set it out as one of the most unusual conservatories of the 18th century. The space is characterised by symmetrical lines and intricate flower bed patterns. Exotic Robinias, roses, hollyhocks, lilies and shrub roses have been planted, based on a detailed garden survey from the 1850s.
- Doric Column and Rosary The 1728 column and rosary have had an eventful past – the Column was originally surmounted with the Venus de Medici statue, which now sits in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The statue mysteriously disappeared in the 19th century, and the rose garden accompanying the statue, first officially recorded in 1811, fell into decline. Both have been restored to their mid-19th century pomp.
- Rysbrack Paintings in the Green Velvet Room A set of eight paintings recording the history of the English landscape garden, commissioned by the third Earl of Burlington, reunited for the first time in more than 50 years having been dispersed through auctions and private collections. Two sets of eight paintings were commissioned by Burlington from the Dutch painter Pieter Rysbrack.
- The Blue Velvet Room Ceiling The most sumptuously decorated room in the house, providing a study for the third Earl of Burlington, has had its curtains and wall coverings recreating. The striking ceiling, supported on huge curving brackets in a 16th century Italian design, is overlain with glitter decoration and figurative architecture. Some interpreters believe the space may have doubled as a secret meeting point for Craft Masons.
- Statues of Andrea Palladio and Inigo Jones Two full-length statues of Burlington’s favourite architects oppose each other on either side of an elaborate staircase leading to Chiswick’s neo-Palladian villa, credited to Flemish sculptor Michael Rysbrack – brother of Pieter. Burlington’s love of Ancient Rome’s architecture is encapsulated in these statues of two classical architecture masters.
- The Coffered Dome in the Upper Tribunal An imposing, octagonal central hall which was the first room visitors entered on arriving via the portico for formal occasions. The coffering was copied from the 4th century Basilica of Maxentius in Rome, one of the last buildings built Rome’s public law courts, the Roman Forum.
- Chiswick’s Sphinxes Sphinxes were considered creatures of wisdom, of protectorship and guardians of arcane and occult knowledge, so the gang of them at Chiswick may have been intended to act as guardians for the villa when they were commissioned in the early 18th century. Three are behind the villa, one is in the Link building and two new ones have been placed on the stone gate piers at the entrance to the villa.