Chiswick House and Gardens with its neo-Palladian style villa and 65 acres of exquisite park makes for a wonderful day out in west London. Explore Lord Burlington’s house, visit the Kitchen Garden, meander around the lake teeming with birdlife, marvel at the 18th century landscaping by William Kent, and stop off for coffee or lunch in the Chiswick House Café. A visit to Chiswick House and Gardens means you’ll be stepping in the footsteps of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Handel, Queen Victoria and the Beatles. This London landmark really needs to be on your must-see London list.
A Potted History of Chiswick House
The history of Chiswick House is a complex one, but it centres predominantly on Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington. He was a mere ten years old when he inherited the estate at Chiswick House. He was dubbed the ‘Apollo of the Arts’ due to his passion for architecture, landscaping, music and art.
Burlington House (now the Royal Academy of Arts) was also the brainchild of Richard Boyle. He was also involved in the founding of the Foundling Hospital, now the Foundling Museum.
Burlington, armed with designs by 17th century architect Inigo Jones and his passion for all things Andrea Palladio from his travels in Italy, started building his own house in Chiswick in 1726. Chiswick House was designed as a show house and repository for the many objects Lord Burlington acquired during his Grand Tours. He never meant to live here and did not even have a kitchen installed.
Lord Burlington may have been a closet Jacobite. Some of the interiors in Chiswick House such as the Study were painted in red, blue and green, the trademark colours of those who supported James II’s return to the throne.
Lord Burlington went on three Grand Tours and met the English landscape architect and painter, William Kent on one of these. This friendship would last a lifetime and result in the creation of Chiswick House and Gardens.
William Kent is the man behind the magnificent King’s Staircase and Cupola at Kensington Palace and the Queen’s Staircase at Hampton Court Palace. He also designed Prince Frederick’s Barge at the National Maritime Museum.
Kent introduced the Palladian style to Britain with his designs at Chiswick House. He was one of the first in the country to introduce a naturalistic style of garden. His designs also helped mould Central Park in New York.
William Kent’s rustic cascade was fed by the Thames via a Victorian water system. It was referred to as a “Piddle” because it rarely worked effectively.
Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire
Fast forward to the 5th Duke of Devonshire and his wife, Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire. The pair were responsible for extending Chiswick House into the property we see today, adding two wings and a rose garden. Georgiana was a great celebrity her day, famous for her gambling and consequent debts, her fashion sense and for her close friendships with Whig politicians. She called Chiswick House her “earthly paradise” and would spend more and more time here, throwing grand old parties for her Whig bosom pals here.
Georgiana was the great-great-great-great aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales. She was (unhappily) married to William Cavendish.
The bridge which connects both sides of the gardens was built for Georgiana in 1744 to the designs of James Wyatt.
Over the years, guests would come pouring into Chiswick House. These included the likes of Handel, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Russian Tsar Nicholas I, Alexander Pope and Queen Victoria. In 1966, the The Beatles shot a video in the Conservatory and in the walled garden.
Elizabeth Bennett also visited Chiswick House in Pride and Prejudice, admiring the taste of the proprietor, (the then sixth “Bachelor” Duke of Devonshire). She also notes his eligibility, but predicting he would become a steadfast bachelor.
The 6th Duke of Devonshire and Sadi the elephant
The 6th Duke of Devonshire, known as “The Bachelor Duke” had quite an exotic menagerie of animals in the grounds of Chiswick House. These included monkeys, elks, emews, kangaroos and a celebrity Indian elephant named Sadi. Sadi was famous for opening a bottle with her trunk and for sweeping with a broom. She had her own paddock and a well-ventilated large house in which to live. Although she was buried in the grounds in 1829, her bones are yet to be found.
In June 1844, the Duke would hold a lavish party for 700 guests in the grounds of Chiswick House. Four giraffes were also guests at the party.
Chiswick House Gardens
Chiswick House Gardens are Grade I listed and form the blueprint for the English landscape movement. The designs of Chiswick House gardens include classical structures and statues, trees, topiaries, a lake, a fountain, a cricket green, a ha-ha and winding walks.
The rose garden in Chiswick Gardens is thought to be the first of its kind in the country. Roses would have traditionally been used for creating potions and oils, but following a visit to Empress Josephine’s Malmaison rose garden, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, went on to install the rose garden in Chiswick. Today, it contains some 120 David Austin roses.
These statuesque Cedars of Lebanon frame the rear of the house. Planted in 1745, neither Kent not Burlington could have predicted how massive these trees would become. The lawn leads down to the lake to the right of the house. Once upon a time, there would have been a maze here.
Move over William Kent, Rosie Fyles is in town. This extraordinary woman worked in marketing and ditched in all in for a career in gardening. She joins Chiswick House after a tenure at Ham House and Garden. Rosie is breathing new life into the corners of the gardens, clearing vistas which had long become overgrown, and she has all sorts of exciting plans for the future.
The Kitchen Garden
The walled Chiswick House Kitchen Garden is 350 years old and counting. Once a Pleasure Garden, it now grows food for sale as well as for donations to local food banks. You can sample edible flowers as you walk around, admire the humming of happy bees in the hives and buy fresh produce in the pop-up shop in the Conservatory.
Chiswick House Conservatory
We have the 6th Duke of Devonshire to thank for the Chiswick House Conservatory completed in 1813 and a whopping 300 feet long. Initially, the Conservatory was filled with exotic fruits such as peaches, figs and pineapples, but the Duke became more interested in an a new import from China: the camelia.The Conservatory holds the oldest collection of camellias in the country. Four to five of these are thought to the original ones planted by the 6th Duke of Devonshire. Due to the fragile state of the Conservatory, access is closed to the public. You can, however, visit this space by purchasing a ticket to the Kitchen Garden.
Chiswick House Opening Hours
Entry to the main Chiswick House Gardens is free all year. The gardens are open from 7am to dusk.
The Kitchen Garden is open Thursday–Sunday, 11am–4pm, until Sunday 29 October. Adult tickets: £4.50
Chiswick House is open from Thursday to Sunday 11am to 4pm until 1 October. It’s also open for half-term from Monday 23 to Friday 27 October 2023. Entry to the house is £8.50 (adult) or £11 with combined entry to the Kitchen Garden.
When touring the house, make sure you grab the excellent audio guide which is narrated by Downton Abbey’s Elizabeth McGovern.
Dog Walking in Chiswick House
Chiswick House is one of West London’s most popular places for dogs to walk their humans.
In fact, dogs have been a part of the house for centuries. Located in front of the Ionic Temple is a tomb where Lilly the dog is buried. It is believed she belonged to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.
More recently, the historic home pays host to the Chiswick House Dog Show, a popular annual event which takes place in September.
Dogs need to be on a short lead in some areas including the Chiswick House Café, but they can be off the lead in most areas of the park. The café supplies drinking water for dogs. Thanks to the Dog’s Trust charity you can also get free poo bags when walking in the gardens.
There are many exciting events throughout the year including Gifford Circus, London Open Gardens, Luna Cinema and Pub in the Park.
Chiswick Book Festival
The 15th Chiswick Book Festival launches with an ‘in conversation’ event between acclaimed garden writer and broadcaster Alan Titchmarsh and Rosie Fyles, Head of Gardens on Thursday 7 September. More information here.
Getting to Chiswick House and Gardens
Address: Burlington Lane, Chiswick, London W4 2RP
The nearest tube station is Turnham Green or Chiswick Park station (21-minute walk). The nearest mainline station is Chiswick (13-minute walk).
You can also park at Chiswick House using postcode W4 2QN. Parking in resident pays outside the grounds is also possible but check the parking restrictions (normally there is restriction between 10am and 12pm on weekdays).
Always check the website for opening hours as the house (but not the garden) does close during the winter months.