History of Chiswick House
Explore the intriguing history and significance of Chiswick House.
The history of the house and gardens at Chiswick is long and complex, with successive owners adding their own architectural chapters to its story.
The third Earl of Burlington (1694-1753) designed the elegant Classical villa seen today, drawing inspiration from his 'grand tours' of Italy. It was originally located in a modest estate purchased by his grandfather, next to an existing Jacobean house.
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.
The villa itself was more a showcase for the arts rather than a home, and it provided a spectacular venue for entertaining. William Kent who designed the gardens and started the influential 'English Landscape Movement' also designed much of the building's lavish interior.
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.
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