Lord Burlington designed the villa we know as Chiswick House in about 1725. It’s one of the most important examples of Palladian architecture in the country, a style named after the work of 16th-century Italian architect Andreas Palladio. Palladio was inspired by the classical buildings of ancient Rome and he tried to recreate the formality and proportions of those buildings in his designs. The Palladian style was later adopted in England by the celebrated architect Inigo Jones – which explains why so many older English buildings look like Roman temples.
Lord Burlington, also known as the ‘Architect Earl’, was inspired to design his own building in the Palladian tradition here at Chiswick. The house was intended as both an architectural exercise and a residence – although most of its owners never lived inside. During the 18th century, it was fashionable for the wealthy to build retirement and holiday retreats on the banks of the Thames. Today’s house is the lone survivor of these retreats: it originally served as an annexe to an early 17th century manor house, but this was later demolished.
Like the House’s Classical style, the gardens were also inspired by ancient Rome. Burlington wanted to create the sort of garden that would have been found there, as featured in classical mythology and literature: a mixture of greenery and water, groves and woods — all adorned with statues and highlighted by spectacular vistas.
The waterfall you see descending a series of rock steps through three archways is known as the Cascade. It was one of the later additions to Burlington’s garden, created in about 1738 and probably designed by his friend, the designer William Kent. A hydraulic system pumped water to the top of the falls. However, the system kept failing and the Cascade remained dry until more modern technology was installed. The Cascade flows into what appears to be a ‘river’. It was originally a stream but was widened by Burlington, first into a formal canal and then into a more naturalistic lake. The terrace walk behind the cascade was formed from the earth excavated to create the lake.