Audio Tour 1
1a) Mind the Carriage
1b) About Chiswick House
(Scroll down for second part of tour)
Ornamental oasis. Mental asylum. Much-loved public park. For nearly three hundred years, Chiswick House and Gardens have had a varied and sometimes surprising existence.
Largely the creation of the 18th-century aristocrat Lord Burlington, Chiswick is also a place of great significance in garden history. It was here that Lord Burlington pioneered a more natural style of gardening that was to spread worldwide. It became of one of Britain’s greatest contributions to European art: the English landscape garden.
Today that garden has been restored, with more than 1600 new trees and shrubs planted, original walkways cleared and vistas newly opened. On this trail, you’ll explore the gardens by searching out the Picture in the Landscape easels, which show historic images of the gardens at different points in its history. Ten writers have used these images as inspiration for poems, short plays, and sketches. Five of the writers are winners of the Chiswick Gardens audio trail competition, held in 2010. The other five are a mixture of established and emerging writers, including Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion.
The trail is easy to follow. Each easel is marked with two numbers which correspond to one of the tracks you downloaded. Numbers 1-10 are the fictional pieces. Numbers 101-110 are narrated tracks that tell you a little about the history of the gardens. You can listen to these after each fictional piece, on your way to the next easel.
Now, get ready to discover Chiswick gardens through the eyes of artists and writers. We begin with ‘Mind the Carriage’ by Robin Brooks, a writer of short radio plays for BBC Radio 4 who lives in Suffolk.
1a Mind the Carriage!
(Drawing a picture) Can you see what it is yet? I’ve got the new house, dead centre. Lovely columns, pediment, Palladian front, dome worthy of the Eternal City itself, very nice. I’m putting in the old house to the side, the right-hand side there. I’m making it smaller than the new house, which it isn’t, but that’s a little bit of artistic license on my part – Lord Burlington wants a drawing of his new house, not his old one, so keep the old one in the background…
I’m putting in lots of people. A couple on the left, down at the front, under the trees. There’s some sort of assignation going on there. Leave it to you to guess what’s going on. What shall I do on the other side? Put in a cow… Hmm… To be honest I’m happier drawing buildings than cows. Sometimes my cows turn out like horses, sometimes like large dogs. Tell you what, I’m going to put myself in, standing under a tree, looking at the cow and wondering how to draw him properly.
Now, I’m putting three chaps leaning on the gate looking at the new house, and one of them’s got his arm out, waving it at the house. You can hear what he’s saying just from the angle of that arm: “Oh, I say, chaps, look at this marvellous new house wot the Lord Burlington has built.” More people, just beyond them, also looking at the house. Can’t have too many people looking at the new house.
What else? A bit of smoke, coming out of the chimney, to show that his Lordship is at home, toasting his noble muffins on the fire. What else…? I know! A carriage, going in through the front entrance. Look, these important people are coming to visit, isn’t our Lordship a popular man, by goodness he is. Got to make it look busy, people coming and going, troops of friends.
One last thing, make it stand out. What…? Hmm… I’ve got it! The road! The road runs right past the front of the house. A main road! Right past the front of the house! What could be more exciting? What could be more up to date? I’ll put lots of traffic on it. Carriages, horses, carts, riders. When people see this, they’re going to think – “Golly, look at Lord Burlington’s house, right on the main road! I wish my house was on a main road!”
1b About Chiswick House
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.