London is replete with historic places and grand gardens for tourists and adventurers to explore. Chiswick House is among the prime examples of London’s historic heritage, with over 65 acres of meticulously planned gardens spanning behind it.
The place is beloved by local dog owners and the House Kitchen Garden out in the back grows delicious fruit and vegetables which are sold on Thursdays and Sundays. It’s also helpful to know that Chiswick House is only about a 5 minute walk down the road from Hogarth’s House, which is certainly worth a visit as well!
The History of Chiswick House
In the 18th century, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, Lord Richard Boyle, was a titan in the worlds of art, architecture, landscaping and the general cultivation of aristocratic culture. Boyle had large estates in Ireland and Yorkshire, and houses in both Chiswick and London. He had a successful political career during George I’s early reign.
In his early 20s he undertook the common tradition of a Grand Tour, visiting a number of classical sites in Italy and the rest of Europe.
He fell deeply in love with Palladian architecture, inspired by the Italian classical facades which he saw in Rome and Sicily, and made it his life’s mission to recreate a grand Italian Villa in London. He modelled much of Chiswick house on the Villa Capra, one of Palladio’s great buildings located in Vicenza, but took from many of the grand classical architectural oeuvres including the Pantheon.
Building the Home
The character of Chiswick House marked the dawn of a new era in British Architecture, and was at the vanguard of neo-classical revival of a style pioneered in Rome by Palladio, and by the British architect Inigo Jones, whose classical style had fallen out of fashion somewhat.
The building took three years to build, and was constructed between 1727 and 1729. It isn’t really fair to call Chiswick House a home, since there are conflicting accounts as to whether it was intended to be used as one.
Lord Burlington’s new villa became a great claim to fame for the Earl, attracting many noble guests as well as artists, printmakers, painters and composers who were inspired by the appearance of this grand structure outside of London.
Touring Chiswick House
Touring Chiswick House is self-guided, which is great as it allows you ample time to take in the fabulous art on the walls as well as the lavish interiors of the building. Given the nature of the self-guided aspect though, it’s best to try and book your trip ahead since the House likes to stagger entry to allow people to enjoy the rooms at their own pace.
While I generally liked the home, I was a little bit disappointed that they forbid photography in a number of the most impressive rooms, something which I have not experienced at any other comparable historic sites in London.
Nevertheless this is only in some of the rooms, and there are some grand halls where photos are permitted such as in the dome, which has possibly the most impressive ceiling I’ve ever seen in my life:
There is a robust audio-guide system throughout the house, and when you arrive you’ll be given a handset which scans each room you’re in and plays the appropriate guide. There are two guides, one for adults and one for children.
Each room has a set of beacons (for lack of a better word) that you can scan with your handset and will trigger the relevant portion of the audio tour!
In addition to the audio guides, there are human guides posted in most of the rooms, although they did not seem to be guides so much as chaperones left to watch out for people taking photographs in the wrong rooms.
I couldn’t get a very good explanation as to why photos were not allowed but that’s the last I’ll say of that one minor drawback, since the home really is phenomenal and the staff is clearly highly dedicated and professional despite the stuffy rules about photography.
The rooms that I was unable to take pictures of are the most incredible to look at, and feature entire monochrome silk wallpaper with incredible wall-hangings and classical oil portraiture scattered throughout. I highly encourage a visit in person if you find yourself in the area, as these photos only scratch the surface of the lavish interiors and collection found at Chiswick House.
Besides the architecture of the home itself, Chiwick house boasts an incredible collection of oil paintings, sculptures and masterwork furniture pieces collected over the course of its long history.
Like John Soane, and other contemporaries within the upper echelons of British society, Lord Burlington was inspired to collect during his Grand Tour of Europe and the home’s collection reflects the interests he developed while travelling around the Mediterranean basin.
This porphyry vase above was part of a pair that Burlington purchased while on the Grand Tour, and were some of the first entries in his collection. They are made from an extremely rare, hard, volcanic rock called Imperial Porphyry, which only found near volcanic sites in the Red Sea Mountain range of the eastern Egyptian desert.
These mahogany elbow chairs were originally part of a set of 16 and were designed by William Kent, an architect, furniture designer and landscaper who is often credited as ‘the father of modern gardening’.
This statue of Venus, the goddess of beauty and love was carved by a contemporary sculptor named Giovanni Battista Guelfi, whom Burlington brought to England after his first Grand tour.
Guelfi was charged with crafting many of the sculptures that stand at Chswick House, and historical accounts of the man indicate that he was ‘very opinionated’ and that when he returned to Italy in 1734, Lord Burlington parted with him ‘very willingly.’
In the year 1813, the 6th Duke of Devonshire commissioned the creation of the grand conservatory, and at the time it was the longest glass house in the world.
The Duke built this hothouse to protect his collection of rare camellias, which had been brought overseas by trade ships from China. Many of the plants in the conservatory now date back from the early 1800s. Below you can see some examples of the incredible flowers that grow here:
The glazed dome at the centre of the structure was a forerunner to the ones that would later be built at Kew, Chatsworth House, and like the dome at Syon House [hyperlink to article], and it was an absolute feat of engineering for the time.
The Kitchen Garden
The Kitchen Garden at Chiswick House dates back to 1682. It is currently cultivated using a ‘no-dig’ principle, meaning the soil is disturbed as little as possible.
This improves the soil structure and water retention properties of the soil and significantly improves plant health while reducing the incidence of weeds or invasive plants. It uses less water, less fertiliser and as the name suggests, zero digging.
The garden is divided into the Wildlife Quarter, the Vegetable Quarter, a Community Area, and the Flower Quarter. There is also an orchard out back, however it is not open to visitors (or at least wasn’t when I visited).
There is a very helpful audio tour of the gardens available for ticket holders and the garden volunteers are extremely helpful and happy to talk about their work here. I ended up chatting with one of them for quite a while about the whole ‘no-dig’ principle and learned a great deal
You’re encouraged to enjoy the gardens as you would your own, and there’s even a sign enticing visitors to take off their shoes and enjoy the feeling of grass between their toes! This is a great spot for the kids to run around.
Beyond just the kitchen gardens are the actual gardens of the house. This is ostensibly the most impressive part of Chiswick House. Orchestrated and designed by William Kent, these gardens are credited with revolutionising urban green space, and have influenced everything from Central Park in New York to the gardens at Buckingham Palace.
They were initially built to imitate the gardens found in Tivoli at Hadrien’s Villa Adriana. Originally they were laid out like normal Jacobean gardens, but once Kent got free reign to experiment he began to incorporate a variety of strange, new elements.
Blind fences, mock ruins, grand statues, a hedge maze, waterfalls and other diversions for the guests of Lord Burligton. One of the most striking of these is the Ionic Temple and Amphitheatre Pond, pictured below:
The waterways, ponds and lakes all flow from William Kent’s Cascade, (pictured below) a waterfall and symbolic grotto that feeds the meandering river on which a healthy population of water birds reside.
I even came across a very calm heron in the grass on my way through, and was amazed by how incredibly diverse the bird population was in the park. If you have kids with you, this park is an amazing opportunity for adventure and natural discovery within London, even if you decide to skip the villa itself.
It’s easy to imagine the grand parties that Lord Burlington held here, which would have been complete with giraffes and rhinoceri imported from the serengeti, roaming freely across the grounds and awing the guests.
If you have little ones with you, there is also a great cafe on the grounds right next to a fully equipped, award winning playground!
Getting to Chiswick House
If you’re travelling to Chiswick House by public transport there are 3 options. You can take the train to Chiswick station, which is then about a 10 minute walk to the gates, which takes you through the gardens.
You can also take the bus. Lines E3, 190, and 533 all stop within 2 minutes walk of the gates.
For those wishing to travel by tube, the nearest station is Turnham Green on the District Line, which is a 20 minute walk or a quick bus ride on the E3 which will drop you just outside the gates.
If you have a car and wish to drive there is parking available on site. It’s operated by the council and is paid, there are 60 spots and 3 disabled parking spaces as well. The car park is a 7 minute walk from the house, along gravel paths which are uneven so be aware that you may want to schedule a dropoff at the front gates if you are travelling with someone with mobility impairment.
Finally, for any intrepid cyclists, there are bike racks located near the cafe onsite.
Opening Hours and Ticketing
Chiswick House and the Kitchen Garden are open from Thursday to Sunday between 10am and 4pm during spring and summer. They will be closed from October 22nd until the spring re-opening, it’s best to check their website to verify opening dates if you’re visiting in the winter or early spring.
The gardens are open year round from 7am until sundown.
For the house and kitchen garden ticket prices are as follows:
Adults – £11.00
Family (2 adults, up to 3 kids) – £23.50
Family (1 adult, up to 3 kids) – £16.00
Students, Jobseekers or Children (between 5 and 17) – £5.50
Members of Chiswick House, the art fund, or English heritage are eligible for discounts ranging from free entry to £4.50.
There are also slightly discounted prices available if you only wish to visit the home, or the kitchen garden but it’s worth doing the whole thing if you can!
The house has an accessible entrance around the back to the ground floor, however unfortunately the first floor of the home (which comprises the main bulk of the place) is not accessible by lift.
There is an alternative access via the steps but staff will need to lift an individual to provide access so anyone requiring a wheelchair should be aware of these severe limitations to access. There is an accessible bathroom on site.
If arriving by car, it’s a good idea to schedule a dropoff, as the spots in front of the home need advance co-ordination with staff to access.
The conservatory and the gardens are fully accessible to wheelchairs. Assistance animals are welcome throughout Chiswick House and Gardens.