The history of the house and gardens

The house and gardens at Chiswick have a fascinating history. Discover how the estate's successive owners have left their mark, adding chapters to its story.
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For the first few years Burlington’s villa stood alongside an old Jacobean house purchased by his grandfather in 1682. This separation soon proved impractical, and in about 1732 a two-storey link was added. After the earl’s death in 1753 the estate passed by marriage to the Dukes of Devonshire, and in 1788 the fifth Duke decided to demolish Old Chiswick House and make a proper mansion of the villa by adding substantial wings. Both the fifth and sixth Dukes remodelled Burlington’s gardens. From the 1860s onwards the Devonshires let the house and gradually moved the historic contents to Chatsworth House, where many items remain today. In 1929 the reduced estate was sold to Middlesex County Council. In 1948, ownership of the house passed to the Ministry of Works, which embarked on a restoration campaign aimed at returning the villa to its original size and design and the gardens to their original layout. The house and the gardens are now under the stewardship of an independent trust, Chiswick House and Gardens Trust who work with the London Borough of Hounslow and English Heritage Trust to preserve this important heritage site for the benefit of the nation.

History and Stories

The third Earl of Burlington (1694-1753) designed the elegant Classical villa seen today, drawing inspiration from his ‘grand tours’ of Italy. The villa reflected the influence of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio and his English follower Inigo Jones, and its ‘neo-Palladian’ style soon spread across Europe and America.

Burlington’s Legacy

By the 1770s Chiswick had passed to the fifth Duke of Devonshire who initiated a series of major changes to both house and garden. These included building the stone bridge over the lake, demolishing the earlier Jacobean house and adding new wings to the villa, turning it into a substantial mansion. These were subsequently removed in the 1950s in a move to restore the villa to something approaching its original appearance. As the home of successive members of Lord Burlington’s family, including Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Chiswick House has welcomed scores of significant guests over the years, including the musician Handel, the politician Charles James Fox, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Georgiana’s son, the ‘Bachelor’ sixth Duke, purchased the adjoining property to the east, extending the grounds and creating an Italian garden. He also introduced some new and exotic residents including an elephant, elks, emus, kangaroos, and an Indian bull. During the second half of the nineteenth century the house was occupied by a series of eminent tenants, including the Prince of Wales, but by 1892 the building had become a mental institution and entered a prolonged period of decline.

20th Century

In the 1950s Chiswick House was passed to the Ministry of Works, via Middlesex Council, and a much needed restoration campaign was undertaken. The villa has been cared for by English Heritage since 1984, who, with the Chiswick House and Gardens Trust, set up in 2005, embarked on a major restoration programme for the gardens which is now complete.

Image courtesy of Apple Corps Ltd

Rock n Roll

Music has always played  a big part in the House’s history. The rock ‘n roll call of stars who have played in the grounds includes The Hoosiers, Tom Baxter, Sophie Ellis Bextor, Keane, All Saints,  Will Young, The Kooks  The Sugarbabes,  and The Feeling.  In 1966 The Beatles filmed one of the world’s first ever promotional videos for their No. 1 single Paperback Writer in the grounds.  Other bands followed, including The Jam who posed by the stonework for their single Absolute Beginners in the summer of 1981.

Restoration Project

The restoration of Chiswick House Gardens was one of the most ambitious garden regeneration projects ever undertaken in the UK.

Drawing on detailed research by English Heritage, the project restored the key focal points of the garden to their mid-18th century glory.

Important buildings and views have been re-established, a new café and play area created, miles of paths renewed and over 1600 new trees planted.

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