Romantic new garden for the cafe in Chiswick Park?

New garden landscape for the cafe beside Chiswick House

Evidently, English Heritage staff have become avid followers of this blog. In August 2010, we criticised the new cafe for being in a sea of bitmac. Now it is surrounded (top photo) by an attractive surfacing with the friendly name of ‘tar and chips’. We therefore urge EH to take another step and implement the proposal in the lower photograph.
But when I visited the park today a nice man came running towards me and advised that if seen on my bike again the fine would be £8. I should not have made this comment in August 2010: ‘I have always had a soft spot for Chiswick House and Park: my Mum used to play there; it is a key project in William Kent’s design progress; it is the only park or garden in the world where a uniformed official has told me that “you can ride your bicycle here if you want to”‘.

Plans of Chiswick House in 1729 and 2010 (EH plan; NE orientation). The canal would be below the drawing and the new cafe above the drawing

Chiswick House Park as it was and as it is

32 thoughts on “Romantic new garden for the cafe in Chiswick Park?

  1. Christine

    Water views are almost always appealing. The architectural statement seems to suggest English Heritage’s intentions were: [ ]

    “…[the cafe] a special place to gather, to enjoy the scenery and look out for your friends. The lawns around the café and the new adjacent playground provide outdoor playspace for more energetic members of the family…”

    If the wetland garden was implemented perhaps a boardwalk, alternative edge condition and other active areas could be added to allow the ‘more energetic members of the family’ to use up some of their excess energy. (Particularly if they are not keen on paying eight pounds for the pleasure of riding their bicycles.)

    The garden was restored almost a year ago. [ ] Does the wetlands you are proposing have a connection to the vistas or the trees and shrubs of the Northern Wilderness? [ ]

    Would it be a habitat for particular species of water bird etc? (Children do seem to like chasing birds [ ])

  2. Tom Turner Post author

    The Rysbrack paintings of the 1720s indicate that the enjoyment of water and grass was always one of the garden’s roles (eg ). I would like to know whether the eighteenth century grass was grazed or scythed. There is still a great deal of grass to enjoy but the water is no longer accessible. It has been fenced off from the public by the health and safety police.
    Of course there are details to challenge but the general restoration of Chiswick Park/Garden is proceeding well. It has been a depressing place for many years and is begining to resume its place as one of the key projects in English garden history. I do not think it would have taken nearly so long if UK politics were more-local and less-national.

  3. Stephen Harmer

    We drove up from Kent today to visit Chiswick House for the first time and found it a well used space with many people enjoying the picnic weather. I think the bike police would be better employed watching out for people dropping litter though.
    People visit parks such as this as an ‘entertainment space’ without I suspect understanding the history of the place, so maybe a little more interpretation material in the park would possibly cultivate a deeper interest in history and a desire to understand more, which in turn may lead to a deeper respect for the park.
    If you are thinking of a visit to Chiswick, don’t delay as some of the Rysbrack paintings will be returning to their owners at the end of this season and its an excellent chance now to see the collection as a whole. This collection and the other objects in the house are worth the visit alone.

  4. christine

    The text of the signage to the framed views says ‘Chiswick as it never was’?

    I am supposing that Burlington’s vision (the birthplace for the English Landscape Movement) for Chiswick House replaced the formal Jacobean Gardens?

    “The painter Peter Andreas Rysbrack, [it is said], was commissioned to paint a series of paintings to record the transformation of the garden from its formal Jacobean appearance to its largely informal picturesque form at the end of the 1750s.”


    “The painting will now join five others by Rysbrack that English Heritage has been gradually collecting since 1985. As a group they give a wonderful sense of the pride and energy with which Burlington was driving his estate and the new display in the Green Velvet Room will allow this painting to be seen together with its related views, capturing the last of the formal landscape, before it was swept away in favour of a more natural style.”

    This [ ] painting does not feature in the eight Rysbrack images in the Green Velvet Room Gallery?
    [ ]

  5. Christine

    Well the first thing I would consider is that the perspective (distance and angle of view) is not identical between the painting and the ‘plein air’ scene. So although there is a close similarity in the scenes there are also differences.

    Tom, my memory of Chiswick House and Garden does not provide me with a context for the terrace, so if you could enlighten me in that regard I may have an opinion on the relative merits of restoration.

    The Kip and Kynff drawing also seems to point to the Chiswick House of Lord Burlington being an amalgamation of existing properties? It gets more and more intriguing…

  6. Tom Turner Post author

    The view in the photograph is from above the cascade shown in this photograph
    The late seventeenth century was a time when medieval manors were being amalgamated under the ownership of ‘gentlemen’ who were often deriving their income from other sources (industry, mining, government jobs etc) and it is very likely that properties were amalgamated to form the Chiswick estate.

  7. Tom Turner Post author

    The viewpoint is in the lower right-hand corner of the plan, looking along the length of the canal, and the area between the viewpoint and the canal MAY have been the first part of any English garden to be converted from a ‘formal’ layout to an ‘informal’ layout [I put the words in quotation marks because the words do not have good definitions].

  8. stephen Harmer

    I think discussing restoring gardens or specific views and removing trees etc, opens up an interesting but old can of worms.

    Take Villa d’Este for example and the orignal paintings which show a completely embryonic landscape, but look at images now of the same garden and the orignal intended vista’s are obstructed by mature growth and the garden is not as it should be seen or was invisaged to be seen.
    To restore this garden to its orignal form would mean the removal for example of some of the orignal trees which are 500 years old!

    Should we restore gardens to a specific year or period, such has been seen at Het loo, and the period of time that is being aimed for at Versailles, or are the gardens progression into maturity part of the natural evolution and historical charm? Should the gardens be allowed to mature, if so you must remember that this would never have been intended and had the gardens always been maintained and managed correctly, managed regeneration would certainly have constantly taken place.

    It depends if you are striving to achieve an accurate historical document or simply ensuring the survival of the garden.
    There may be a case of a phased return to the intended orignal form over a protracted period of time and yes allow mother nature to undertake the restoration for you. An old debate I know but one that is still important.

  9. Tom Turner Post author

    I do not see the problems, and they are problems, as cans of worms. Rather, I see them as having a great need for expert professional advice. Decisions need to be based on(1) historical knowledge and judgement (2) horticultural expertise and judgement (3) design expertise and judgement (4) a consideration of the stock of historical gardens.

    In the case of the Villa d’Este, I can see a historical case for an accurate restoration to its sixteenth century condition – providing the result also looks beautiful. Alternatively one could decide that the Villa d’Este is so beautiful and so popular as is, that it would be better to find another, currrently ugly, sixteenth century garden – which merits a full-scale restoration.

    The particular view in Christine’s illustration is of outstanding historical importance as perhaps the first space in England which was converted from ‘formal’ to ‘informal’ – and this must he taken into account.

  10. Christine

    The garden plan (1736) and painting as far as I can determine seem to be of the garden in the period of transition. Was the proposed terrace in the painting located on top of the cascade?

    I now need to be able to locate Chiswick House in relation to the plan? [ ]

    And yes I agree there are many factors that need to be considered before making a decision on whether to restore a particular view, garden to a period of time etc.

    Because Chiswick House is not in private family ownership (unless there are other factors to consider), the historical importance of the garden is of greater concern than the contemporary evolution of the garden.

  11. Tom Turner Post author

    Yes, the proposed terrace was ‘on top’ of the cascade (ie in just outside the bottom left corner of [ ].
    Current ownership is an interesting consideration. English Heritage (1) owns a great many historic properties (2) wants to attract more paying visitors to them (3) wants to emulate the previous owners of historic properties in its patronage of the arts.
    One response was a programme of ‘Contemporary Heritage Gardens‘. I think the programme was misconceived: if the gardens are ‘contemporary’ then they cannot be ‘heritage’ – and the examples I have seen were neither ‘contemporary’ nor ‘heritage’. My classification of their design quality would be ‘mudgey’. As with ‘antiques’ I suggest something must be at least 100 years old before it can be ‘heritage’.

  12. christine

    This floor plan does not seem to match with the 1736 plans?
    [ ]

    Tom, I have now located the informal path from the entry leading to the cascade (where the terrace would have been located.[ ]

    Is the contemporary property boundary as extensive as this historic oil painting depicts?

    Heritage need not be age defined. The Sydney Opera House is an example of world heritage under 100 years of age. [ ]

    However, I do think it is difficult for Heritage organisations to patronise the arts in the same way because the projects they procure will not be ‘ipsofacto’ heritage. Rather they will be in the category of material heritage where the status of the garden is generated from the authority of patron rather than the merit of the work.

    Perhaps a safer strategy is to commission temporary gardens like Chelsea or the Serpentine Gallery. If a garden is extraordinarily popular (with both the public and the profession) then perhaps it could be permanently incorporated?

  13. Tom Turner Post author

    Yes (1) the floor plan has changed (2) the proposed terrace was at the end of the canal (3) the property has shrunk.

    I agree that Sydney’s Opera House is 99.9999999+% certain to become heritage but doubt if this was any part of the designer’s intention.

    My objections to English Heritage’s ‘Heritage gardens’ (1) they were not good clients [even though I was a judge for one of the competitions!] (2) they are not good designs [in my view] (3) in some cases [notably Richmond Castle] an intelligent re-creation would have been a vastly more appropriate use of the available funds.

  14. Christine

    Pursuing the original question of whether or not to restore the original intended vista to the Chiswick House – are you able to provide me with a 1720-1750 floor plan of the house as well as a 2011 floor plan of the house?

    What is the current extent of the property? How does it relate in extent to the 1720-1750 property boundaries?

    A quote by Utzon on his approach to design:

    “On the road from the first idea – the first sketch – to the final building, a host of possibilities arise for the architect and the team of engineers, contractors and artisans. Only when the foundation for the choice between the various solutions derives from the awareness that the building must provide the people who are to live in it with delight and inspiration do the correct solutions to the problems fall like ripe fruits.”

    Is it possible to recreate an historic garden at Richmond Castle? [ ] and [ ]. Also [ ].

    I am quite taken with the sketch concept [ ], but only if it was realised as crispy as [ ] Charles Jencks’ postmodern garden.

    A re-creation at Kenilworth is probably more doable? [ ] and [ ]? My vote is Kenilworth is a more appropriate choice for an Elizabethan garden re-creation than North Carolina or Washington! [ ]

  15. Tom Turner Post author

    I have added the plans to the blog post. See also:

    The signboard on the blogpost about Richmond Castle shows a convincing image (to me) of what the old castle vegetable garden was like. The Cockpit Garden, to me, is an unwelcome intrusion.

    Kenilworth is a genuine re-creation based on good evidence but not, in my view, well done. English Heritage have done a book about the Kenilworth restoration which is due to be published in 2012. It is possible that I will change my mind after reading it!

  16. Christine

    Thankyou! I can now compare gardens! [ ] and [ ].

    Amazing! There are some significant similarities and differences. Do you know if there is a drawing which exists which illustrates these?

    Given that the canal still exists in roughly the same form at the cascade and the building additions are on the opposite elevation of the villa recreating the view in the oil painting should be relatively simple. Potentially a marked up comparative plan would show whether this judgment is correct.

    Interesting. Fortifications and a food garden would certainly be a necessity if you were newly arrived Normans living amongst a hostile Anglo Saxon population. I would love to know more about castle vegetable gardens around this period…

    Perhaps at Kenilworth they lacked the necessary technical and design details to realise the plans more thoroughly?

  17. Tom Turner Post author

    I have added comparative plans of Chiswick Park as it was and as it is – sorry they have come out so lurid.

    There is good information about the vegetables grown near castles, though mostly from a few centuries after 1066. Since they lived on pottage, they grew leeks, onions, garlic, herbs, peas and beans. I think English Heritage should grow these vegetables in Richmond Castle Garden and serve pottage to visitors, included in the ticket price. It would attract far more visitors than a queerly modern garden. Or visitors could pay for their pottage and small beer with half a bucketfull of weeds, pulled from the garden.

  18. Christine

    ps. The career of the French Engineer and Garden Designer Salomon de Caus may be a good source for the influences on and evaluating of the Kenilworth Garden as well as the garden at Chiswick House (note his use of the cascade and an artificial water garden at Hatfield House). [ ]

    Sources for Anglo-Norman food are probably not that common or easy to find. See ‘Two Anglo-Norman culinary collections Edited from the British Library Manuscripts by Hieatt and Jones, Speculum (1986)'[ ]

  19. Christine

    Chances are the Anglo Norman’s ate venison (from deer parks) and beef and veal (possibly from Anglo Saxon cows). [ ] and [ ].

    Perhaps the Ha-Ha’s landscape origin’s date back to the gradual obsolescence of the Norman Castle as a means of defense? [ ] And the establishment of Royal Forests as deer parks? [ ]

  20. Tom Turner Post author

    Yes, see:
    The website explains: “The lake was originally a stream called the Bollo Brook which formed the boundary of Lord Burlington’s estate. After the estate was extended by the purchase of land the other side of the water in 1726-7, the Brook was widened and canalised and, in 1737, ‘naturalised’ by landscaping its edges to give the illusion of a river. The Bollo Brook itself is carried in a pipe underneath the lake.”

  21. Christine

    The canal and cascade, in this context, seems a rather strange design. If I am correct in my interpretation, the source of the brook is spring located in Action (Anglo-saxon village named for an oak farm), whereas the cascade (designed to represent the source of the water) is located downstream as the waters flow to the Thames?

    I am wondering (if this is the true interpretation) if this strategy would have been considered ‘good’ landscape design practice at the time or rather extending the bounds of artifice beyond propriety?

  22. Tom Turner Post author

    Your criticism is fair. William Kent is a really puzzling figure and his landscape design drawings are embarassing. One of his main ideas, for gardens, was to re-create the type of scenery he knew from his decade in Italy. Ridiculous though it may seem, the cascade at Chiswick may have been conceived as a homage to the falls of Teverone, Tivoli

  23. Christine

    Teverone is certainly very inspiring, but the landscape is very dramatic, unlike the pastoral scene of Chiswick. Do you think he would have been aware from his Grand Tour [ ] of the cascade at Villa Aldobrandini? [ ] and [ ] It is quite dramatic also, but perhaps has more structure to the garden? [ ]

  24. Tom Turner Post author

    William Kent lived in Rome for about 10 years and must have seen the Villa Aldobrandini, if only from outside its gates (there is a very good view of the Aldobrandini garden from the town square). Visiting the great houses of Italy was not difficult, if one tipped the servants, so he probably went round the back and saw the cascade too.
    One can’t be so confident of his having known about the Sacro Bosco at Bomarzo but he might have – and I would love to know! As a designer, Kent was not trying to go ‘back to the renaissance’. This had been done a thousand times. He wanted to go ‘back to Rome’ and ‘back to Greece’: to their landscapes, not to their gardens.

  25. Christine

    The ‘professional’ relationships of this era seem to be quite complicated, as is illustrated by the discussion of the design and construction of Holkham Hall.
    [ ]

    It is interesting to note that the grounds of Holkham Hall are not described as a garden, but rather a park. The inscription says:

    “THIS SEAT, on an open barren Estate
    Was planned, planted, built, decorated.
    And inhabited the middle of the XVIIIth Century

  26. Tom Turner Post author

    The distinction between park and garden is usually clear in England: parks are for animals and gardens are for ornamental plants. This is also the historic relationship. Things were however not so clear in the eighteenth century when parkland often swept up to the windows of the main rooms.


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