Chiswick House and Gardens

One of my most favourite places to visit in west London is Chiswick House, a small-ish villa surrounded by a 65-acre garden. 
 

Both the villa itself and these gardens were ground-breaking in their time; most who saw it would never have experienced anything like it before.

 

First off, it was built in a very new architectural style of the time known as Palladian. 

 

Palladianism was a philosophy of design based on the writings and work of Andreas Palladio, an Italian architect of the 16th century who tried to recreate the style and proportions of the buildings of ancient Rome and one of its key champions in England was the architect Inigo Jones

 

 

The villa was one of the first buildings to have Palladian features which included a perfectly symmetrical building with strict proportions, plain looking exteriors, imposing entrances with Corinthian columns, triangular pediments over doors and textured blocks of stone (called rusticated) at the base.

 

When you walk around inside, the room size and layout feel very contemporary although it was considered too small to ever be lived in (erm, you should see my flat?!) and probably designed as a place to display the owner's art collection and generally show off.

 

Another key feature is the way the house looks out along several vistas into the spectacular gardens and it's that which really makes it such an incredible space for me.

 

 

 

These grounds recently underwent a £12m renovation and went onto be THE blueprint for the English landscape movement, influencing landscapes throughout Britain, Europe and the World.

 

To this day, they are one of the most significant and stunning gardens in London.

 

  

 

Sweeping laws bordered by 300-year-old Cedar of Lebanon trees (aren't they just the most graceful and elegant of trees?) lead down to a lake complete with waterfall cascade and grotto at one end and a classically styled bridge at the other.

 

 

 

Along its length you can see a huge variety of wild and waterfowl just doing their thing, including swans, herons, tufted ducks and coots with their nests standing as sturdy sentinels against some of the most lovely breeds of well trained dogs who splash around in it. 

 

 

Dotted amongst the 1600 trees that make up the grounds are follies or small garden buildings such as the Ionic Temple with its portico and small pond in front.

 

One of my faves is the tall Doric column that forms a centrepiece of a gorgeous rose garden with a statue of Venus popped on top. Who knew that alongside being the goddess of love and beauty, she was also associated with gardens and cultivation. 

 

 

Other features of the gardens include a Ha-Ha, which is a type of sunken fence that gives the viewer of the garden the illusion of an unbroken, continuous rolling lawn, whilst providing boundaries for grazing livestock, a patte d'oie (literally 'goose foot') which is a pathway design whereby several straight paths radiate out from a central point, so called from its resemblance to a goose's foot, obelisks and scores of statues, busts and objects such as funerary urns dotted around the place and symbolically evoking the mood and appearance of ancient Rome with a not insignificant nod to ancient Egypt.

 

 

 

Flanking the main entrance to the villa are life size statues of Andrea Palladio and Inigo Jones, who alongside the garden designer William Kent were the pioneers of this new movement and I love that it this main entrance was built near to the main road and which exists to this day, perhaps with the intention of passers-by staring in awe at the wondrous creation that stood before them.

 

 

 

Winding walks, cricket pitches, bowling greens, walled and Italianate gardens surround a whopping 300 ft long glass conservatory which houses a rare and historically important collection of Camellias - said to be the oldest collection under glass in the Western world.

 

During Spring, this is covered by one of the most spectacular displays of wisteria.

 

 

 

Over the years, Chiswick House has served as an fun weekend retreat for its original owners, the Earls of Buckingham, and a party palace especially for the fun loving 6th Duke of Devonshire with his collection of exotic animals he kept there including an Indian bull, a Neapolitan pig, a Peruvian llama and an Indian elephant, whose tricks included using her trunk to sweep with a broom and to uncork a bottle. (She also gave rides around the lawn and is buried somewhere in the grounds; her bones have not yet been found).

 

 

 

It has also served as a psychiatric institution a fire station and a backdrop to one of the very first pioneering music promos by The Beatles - the song is Paperback Writer and you can see the fab four in amongst the statues and inside the conservatory. Check it out here.

 

 

When I first started visiting over a decade ago, there was only a very small and uninspiring cafe but this has since been replaced by a very cool building designed by Caruso St John Architects which blends in perfectly with some pretty reasonable fare.

 

 

 

So much more to see at this relatively undiscovered gem of a place and if you are a dog lover, then this really is a piece of paradise.

 

 

And the chances are, if you have travelled to Heathrow airport from central or west London, you have shot right past this place without ever realising and if ever you did fancy one last knockout stop before boarding your plane, give yourself an hour or so and drop in.

 

It really is amazing. 

 

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