Wesley's-ChapelIt’s a church with a difference for the final entry in our Georgian series. Known as the “Cathedral of Methodism”, the Grade I-listed chapel on City Road in the Borough of Islington was first opened in 1778 just over the road from Bunhill Fields graveyard and remains in use today.

Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, had already established a London base in a former cannon foundry close by known as the Foundery when the fact the lease was expiring and plans for residential development of the area led him to look elsewhere for a headquarters for the Methodism movement (which he still then considered part of the Anglican Church).

Wesley's-graveWesley approached the City of London for a new site and, following a massive fundraising effort, in April, 1777, the building’s foundation stone was laid. The architect for the new building was George Dance the Younger, then surveyor to the City of London, and the builder, a local preacher named Samuel Tooth.

The new chapel – which Wesley described as “perfectly neat, but not fine” – was opened on All Saints Day, 1778 – apparently Wesley spent the first 15 minutes of his sermon railing against the elaborate hats worn by female congregants.

The chapel last underwent a major restoration in the 1970s after it was found to be unsound and was reopened in 1978 in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh exactly 200 years after Wesley first opened it.

Inside the chapel – which features seats upon a gallery as well as the ground floor – features a ceiling said to have been the widest unsupported ceiling in England at the time it was built (the present one is a replica; the original had been damaged by fire in 1879).

The original pillars used in the chapel to support the gallery were ship’s masts from the naval dockyard at Deptford given as a gift from King George III – these were replaced during the centenary commemoration of Wesley’s death with pillars of French jasper in 1891 but a couple of originals can still be seen in the vestibule.

Memorials inside the chapel include those to John and Charles Wesley and early Methodists John Fletcher and Thomas Coke.

Next to the chapel is the house Wesley lived in during the last 11 years of his life (this can be visited – and we’ll cover it in more detail in a later post) and underneath it in the crypt is the Museum of Methodism – well worth a visit in its own right.

Wesley’s tomb (pictured) is located behind the east end of the church (accessed through the chapel) and outside the entrance to the chapel is a statue of Wesley. The grave of Susanna Wesley, mother of the Wesleys, can be found across the road in Bunhill Fields.

WHERE: Wesley’s Chapel, 49 City Road (nearest Tube station Old Street and Moorgate);  WHEN: 10am to 4pm Monday to Saturday (services Sunday – check website for details); COST: free but donations welcome; WEBSITE: www.wesleyschapel.org.uk.

In contrast to some of the grand homes we’ve featured as part of this series (and there are many more that we haven’t, meaning we might have a future series solely dedicated to them!), comes the rather more humble City home of lexicographer and renowned wit Samuel Johnson.

Gough-SquareThe brick townhouse at 17 Gough Square – which lies between Fleet Street and Holborn – was actually built in the late 17th century (before the Hanoverian accession) for wool merchant Richard Gough.

Johnson – who apparently had at least 17 different London residences – didn’t move in here as a tenant until 1748 and stayed for more than a decade until 1759 (seven years after the death of his wife – for more on Johnson, see our earlier ‘Famous Londoners’ post). It was during his tenancy here that he compiled his famous text, A Dictionary of the English Language. The first comprehensive English language dictionary, it was published in 1755.

The four level property, which is now a museum and has been set up as it was in Johnson’s day, was used by the writer as a residence as well as a workplace and the top floor garret is where six copyists worked transcribing the entries for the dictionary.

As well as the rather spectacular staircase, the property features furnishings from the period as well as portraits, prints and other Johnson-related memorabilia. There is a plaque which was placed on the exterior of the property by the Royal Society of Arts in 1876.

After Johnson vacated the premises, the property was used for various purposes including as a small hotel, B&B and a printer’s workshop. It had fallen into disrepair by the early twentieth century but was saved by MP Cecil Harmsworth who restored it and opened it to the public in 1914 (the small curator’s house was built after this). The house was damaged during World War II bombings – when it was used as a canteen by fireman – but survived. It is now operated by a charitable trust.

Outside the house in Gough Square is a statue of Johnson’s cat Hodge (see our earlier post here) and the property is only a short walk from the historic pub Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (see our earlier post here).

WHERE: Dr Johnson’s House, 17 Gough Square (nearest Tube station Chancery Lane, Temple, Farringdon and Blackfriars);  WHEN: 11am to 5.30pm (May to September); COST: £4.50 adults/£1.50 children (5-17 years)/£3.50 concession/£10 family; WEBSITE: www.drjohnsonshouse.org

Marble-Hill-HouseA Palladian villa located on the bank of the Thames between Richmond and Twickenham, Marble Hill House was built in the mid to late 172os for Henrietta Howard, mistress of King George II and later Countess of Suffolk.

The symmetrical property – seen as a model for later Georgian-era villas in both England and overseas – was constructed by Roger Morris. He, along with Henry Herbert – a friend of the countess and later the 9th Earl of Pembroke – was also involved in its design as was Colen Campbell, architect to the Prince of Wales and future King George II, who is believed to have drawn up the first sketch designs for the house.

As well as being familiar with the work of neo-Palladian Inigo Jones, Lord Herbert had travelled in Italy and there is it believed had directly encountered the works of sixteenth century Italian architect Andrea Palladio whose architecture the property emulated (see our earlier post on Chiswick House here).

Key rooms include the ‘great room’ – a perfect cube, this is the central room of the house and boasts a wealth of gilded carvings; the dining parlour which had hand-painted Chinese wallpaper; and, Lady Suffolk’s rather sparsely furnished but nonetheless impressive, bedchamber.

Marble-Hill-GrottoHoward, who as well as being a mistress of King George II both before and after his accession to the throne in 1727, was a Woman of the Bedchamber to his wife, Queen Caroline of Ansbach, and, as a result, initially spent little time at the property (which coincidentally was built using money the King had given her while he was still Prince of Wales).

But after she become the Countess of Suffolk in 1731 when her estranged husband Charles Howard became 9th Earl of Suffolk after his brothers’ deaths, Lady Suffolk was appointed Mistress of the Robes, and following the death of her husband in 1733, retired from court.

In 1735 following the end of her intimate relationship with the King, she married a second time, this time happily, to George Berkeley, younger brother of the 3rd Earl of Berkeley and an MP. Together the new couple split their time between a house in Savile Row and Marble Hill. Her husband died in 1746 and Lady Suffolk, who had come to be considered a very “model of decorum”, died at Marble Hill in 1767.

Among the visitors who had spent time at the property were poet and neighbour Alexander Pope (responsible for the design of the grounds along with royal landscape gardener Charles Bridgeman), writer and satirist Jonathan Swift, and, in Lady Suffolk’s later years, Horace Walpole – son of PM Sir Robert Walpole and builder of the Gothic masterpiece Strawberry Hill.

Following Lady Suffolk’s death, later residents of the property included another Royal Mistress – Mrs Fitzherbert, mistress to the future King George IV, Swedenborgian Charles Augustus Tulk and Jonathan Peel, brother of Sir Robert Peel (you can read more about Sir Robert Peel here).

Following the latter’s death, the house stood empty for many years before publication of plans for a redevelopment by then owner William Cunard caused a public outcry which saw the property pass into the hands of the London County Council around the year 1900.

The house opened to the public as a tea room in 1903 and remained as such until the mid-1960s when, now in the hands of the Greater London Council, it underwent a major restoration project and was reopened as a museum. In 1996, the house – which now stands on 66 acres and can be seen in a much lauded view from Richmond Hill – came into the care of English Heritage.

The grounds – Marble Hill Park – are open to the public for free and include a cafe located in the former coach house. Other features in the grounds include Lady Suffolk’s Grotto – pictured above – based on one at Pope’s residence nearby. It was restored after being rediscovered in the 1980s.

WHERE: Marble Hill House, Richmond Road, Twickenham (nearest Tub-e station is Richmond (1 miles) or train stations at St Margaret’s or Twickenham);  WHEN: Various times Saturday and Sunday – entry to the house by guided tour only; COST: £5.90 adults/£3.50 children (5-15 years)/£5.30 concession/£15.30 family; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/marble-hill-house/.

Somerset-House

Constructed on the site of the Duke of Somerset’s Tudor-era mansion, Somerset House as we know it today owes its origins to a national scheme aimed at creating public buildings in London which would rival those of Continental cities.

The campaign led to the passing of an Act of Parliament in 1775 for the construction of a new public building at Somerset House to house government agencies such as the Navy Office, Salt Office, Surveyor General of Lands, the King’s Bargemaster and the offices of the Duchy of Lancaster and Cornwall as well as various learned societies.

The former building – which had been worked on by the likes of Sir Christopher Wren and which had been used as a residence for the likes of King Charles II’s queen, Catherine of Braganza, following his death, had fallen into a state of considerable disrepair and was demolished in 1775.

William Robinson, secretary of the Office of Works, was initially given the job of designing the new building (much to the discontent of some) but after his sudden death the same year, the task was given to Sir William Chambers, comptroller of the Office of Works and one of England’s leading architects.

The basic design was as it appears today – four ranges built around a central court (now named the Edmond J Safra Fountain Court). The Strand Block, located to the north and the most highly decorated of the buildings inside and out, was built first and largely completed by 1780, the Embankment Building (home of the Navy Office) in 1786 and the east and west ranges two years later.

When Chambers died with the work unfinished in 1796, it was carried to completion by James Wyatt and declared complete in 1801, despite the fact elements of Chambers’ design were still outstanding. It had cost more than £460,000, in excess of three times Robinson’s original estimate.

One of the first new occupants – thanks to a decision by King George III – was the fledgling Royal Academy of Arts (it had been one of the last occupants of the former premises) and its focal point was the Great Exhibition Room where exhibitions were held until 1836. Others in the new building included The Royal Society (it remained until 1837 when, like the RA, it moved to Burlington House) and the Society of Antiquaries (it moved to Burlington House in 1874).

As well as being home to various offices of the Navy Board (the southern building, where it was housed, contains the stunning, now restored, Nelson stair), Somerset House was also home to the Inland Revenue.

New additions were made to the original design in the nineteenth century – the extension of the south block to the east and addition of a New Wing to the west – and the construction of the Victoria Embankment (see our earlier post here) meant the two watergates Chambers had designed became landlocked. Somerset House no longer rose directly from the water as he’d intended but from a roadway (as it does today – we’ve mentioned this before but you can see the original riverbank by looking through the glass floor of the building’s Embankment entrance).

Somerset House is these days home to a range of cultural and artistic organisations – from the British Fashion Council to the National Youth Orchestra and, in the north wing, the Courtauld Institute of Art. And as well as hosting various art installations, the central courtyard is host to an ice-skating rink over winter.

For more on Somerset House, see www.somersethouse.org.uk.

Bank-of-EnglandFounded in 1694, the Bank of England has been located on its current site – on Threadneedle Street opposite Mansion House – since 1734.

Known as the ‘Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’, the bank was originally situated there in a small, purpose-built building designed by George Sampson after it’s relocation from a rented property in nearby Prince’s Street (which now runs along the bank’s west side).

Its footprint was subsequently expanded by Sir Robert Taylor – this included covering a site to the west previously been occupied by the church of St Christopher-le-Stocks. Among Sir Robert’s design features were a centrally located rotunda.

In the late 18th century the bank underwent the start of a total transformation under the eye of architect Sir John Soane. Soane, who was Surveyor to the Bank of England between 1788 and 1833, saw the size of the bank more than doubled in a project which lasted well into the 19th century (indeed, such was the size of the bank that at its peak during Soane’s tenure more than 1,000 clerks were working in the building with some even having on-site residences).

Covering three-and-a-half acres on an asymmetrical site, Soane’s design was at least partly inspired by the ancient architecture of Greece and Rome and featured a complex arrangement of courts, halls and offices all surrounded by a high, windowless curtain wall. The buildings inside the wall were largely no more than three stories high and included public banking halls, offices for manufacturing banknotes, and a barracks housing the 30-strong Bank Guard. Given the great curtain wall around the site, the buildings were all either top-lit or faced into courts and light-wells.

Little today remains of Soane’s bank – it was demolished in the 1920s and replaced with a single building designed by Herbert Baker – but the exception is the dominating outer wall which surrounds the entire site (pictured above from the south-east corner).

You can see a reconstruction of Soane’s 1793 Stock Office in the museum (see our earlier entry here), which has just reopened its doors after a three month refurbishment, and it’s also possible to see some of the ‘caryatids’ which Soane had originally placed on the dome of the Old Dividend Office and which are now located on rotunda created by Baker. More of Soane’s work can be seen at the Sir John Soane’s Museum (see our earlier entry here).

WHERE: The Bank of England Museum, Bartholomew Lane off Threadneedle Street (nearest Tube stations are Bank/Monument and Mansion House); WHEN: 10am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (last entry 4.45pm); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.bankofengland.co.uk/education/Pages/museum/visiting/default.aspx.

WHERE: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Nearest tube is Holborn. WHEN:10am to 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.soane.org.

Horse-Guards1

Known around the world for the stoic mounted troopers which stand guard here, this rather fanciful building straddling a site between Whitehall and St James’s Park was built in the early 1750s on land which had previously served as a tiltyard for King Henry VIII.

In the 1660s King Charles II had a barracks built here for the guards manning the entrance to what was then the Palace of Whitehall, but in 1749 it was demolished and the present building constructed.

William Kent had apparently drawn up designs but it was architect John Vardy who oversaw construction of the neo-Palladian building after Kent’s death in 1748. The windows on the St James’s Park side of the building are said to have been based on a drawing by Lord Burlington (he of Chiswick House fame – see our earlier post here).

While the site previously marked the entrance to the Palace of Whitehall, it is now considered the formal entrance to St James’s Palace (although the palace is located some distance away) and, as a result, only the monarch can drive through the central archway without displaying a pass.

Horse-GuardsUntil 1904, the Grade I-listed building housed the office of the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces but the title was then abolished and replaced with Chief of the General Staff, who relocated to the War Office Building. Horse Guards subsequently became the home of the army commands of London District and the Household Division, a role it still fulfils.

As well as being the site of the daily Changing of the Queen’s Life Guard (this free event takes place at 11am every day; 10am on Sundays), Horse Guards is also now home to the Household Cavalry Museum.

Among treasures in the museum are two silver kettledrums presented to the regiment in 1831 by King William IV, a cork leg used by the first Marquess of Anglesey after his real leg was amputated following the Battle of Waterloo (and subsequently became a tourist attraction in its own right) and silverware by Faberge. Visitors to the museum can also see into the working stables via a glazed petition.

The parade ground behind the building is the site of the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony which officially celebrates the Sovereign’s birthday. Although the ceremony has only been held since 1748, it’s interesting to note that some of the birthday celebrations of Queen Elizabeth I were held in the same place.

WHERE: The Household Cavalry Museum, Horse Guards, Whitehall (nearest Tube stations are Westminster, Embankment, St James’s Park and Charing Cross); WHEN: Open 10am to 5pm (November to March)/10am to 6pm (April to October); COST: £6 adults/£4 children (aged 5-16) and concessions/£15 family ticket; WEBSITE: www.householdcavalrymuseum.co.uk.

This iconic church on the edge of Trafalgar Square, known for its musical associations, is another of the works of architect James Gibbs and, as with St Mary le Strand, the current building was constructed in the first half of the 18th century to replace an earlier building.

St-Martin-in-the-fieldsThe first references to a church on the site of the present building date back to the 13th century when, constructed upon a Roman burial site, it was apparently used by monks from Westminster. It was replaced by King Henry VIII around 1542 and enlarged in 1602 before finally being demolished in 1721.

Gibbs’ apparently first suggested the design feature a round nave with a dome over the top but the proposal was rejected as too expensive and a simpler, rectangle-shaped church was subsequently agreed upon and eventually completed in 1726. Part of the design inspiration comes from Sir Christopher Wren, although Gibbs’ integration of the tower into the church was a departure from Wren’s designs (the church spire rises 192 foot into the air).

Among the features of the interior are ceiling panels in the nave which feature cherubs and shells and are the work of ceiling experts Giuseppe Artari and Giovanni Bagutti. Other items of interest include Chaim Stephenson‘s sculpture, Victims of Injustice and Violence, remembering all victims during apartheid in South Africa (it was dedicated by Desmond Tutu in 1994), a statue of St Martin and the Beggar by James Butler, and, on the porch, Mike Chapman‘s sculpture marking the millennium, Christ Child. Paintings include one of James Gibbs himself by Andrea Soldi and dating from 1800.

Among those buried in the church are furniture-maker Thomas Chippendale, sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac and notorious robber Jack Sheppard (he’s buried in the churchyard). The crypt also contains a life-sized marble statue of Henry Croft, London’s first pearly king, which was moved there from St Pancras Cemetery in 2002.

As well as being the location of the first religious broadcast, its musical heritage includes performances by Handel and Mozart and being the location of the first performance of its namesake chamber orchestra, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.

Since the early 20th century, the church has been noted for its work with the homeless (thanks in particular to the work of Vicar Dick Sheppard). Meanwhile, its connections with music – which date back to its rebuilding – continue in the concerts held in the crypt cafe. The crypt also hosts art exhibitions.

The church underwent a £36 million renewal project in the Noughties. Additions included the new east window by Shirazeh Houshiary.

WHERE: St Martin-in-the-Fields on the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square (nearest tube stations are Charing Cross, Leicester Square and Embankment); WHEN: Open weekdays and weekends – times vary, see website for details; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org.

This oddly located church on the Strand is the work of acclaimed architect James Gibbs – the first public project he embarked upon after returning from Italy where he had trained.

St-Mary-le-StrandWhile the history of St Mary le Strand goes at least back to the Middle Ages (and it initially stood just south of the current churches’ position on land currently occupied by Somerset House), the construction of the current church – the first of 50 built in London under a special commission aimed at, well, seeing more churches built in the capital to meet the needs of the growing population – began around 1715 (the foundation stone was laid on 25th February, the year after the accession of King George I.)

While building was briefly delayed by the Jacobite rising which broke out in 1715, the church was finally consecrated for use on 1st January, 1723.

Gibbs, who trained under a baroque master – a style which contrasted with the Palladian-style favoured by Lord Burlington and others, had apparently originally intended the church to be in the Italianate style with a campanile over the west end instead of the steeple  but this scheme also included a 250 foot high column surmounted by a statue of Queen Anne located to the west of the church which would celebrate the work of the commission (it’s also worth noting that the churches built by the committee – and they didn’t get close to building 50 – were known as “Queen Anne Churches” despite their construction taking place largely after her death).

However, plans for the column were abandoned on the queen’s death on 1st August, 1714, and instead Gibbs – a Roman Catholic who thanks to his supposed Jacobite sympathies apparently finished the project without pay, was ordered to use the stone which had been gathered to build the steeple and, thanks to that, amend his plans for the church into an oblong form rather than the square form he had initially intended. The work shows the influence of Sir Christopher Wren as well as churches in Italy.

The interior has been remodelled several times since its creation. The white and gold plastered ceiling was apparently inspired by the work of Italian sculptor and architect Luigi Fontana on two Roman churches and other features include paintings by American artist Mather Brown (these were put in place in 1785 and are located on panels on the side walls of the chancel – they were restored in 1994), while the crucifix behind the altar was presented by parishioners in 1893.

It the late 1800s, the London County Council proposed demolishing the church so it could widen the Strand for traffic but this plan was abandoned after an outcry led by artist Walter Crane (although the graveyard was removed).

Famous faces associated with the church include Charles Dickens’ parents, John and Elizabeth, who were married here in 1809, and there’s a story that during a secret visit to London in 1750, Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart) renounced the Roman Catholic Church by receiving Anglican communion here. The parish currently includes that of nearby St Clement Danes after the church was bombed in 1941 (it’s now central church of the Royal Air Force).

WHERE: St Mary le Strand, Strand (nearest tube stations are Temple, Covent Garden, Holborn, Charing Cross and Embankment); WHEN: Usually open 11am to 4pm from Tuesdays to Thursdays and 10am to 1pm Sundays; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.stmarylestrand.org.

Now the home of the Royal Academy of Arts, the origins of Burlington House on Piccadilly go back to the 1660s but it was Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, who had the property reworked into the Palladian building it is today. 

It was Sir John Denham, Surveyor-General of the King’s Works for King Charles II, who first began building a red brick mansion on the site in the 1660s before he sold the still unfinished building to Richard Boyle, the 1st Earl of Burlington, in about 1667. He completed the house the following year.

Burlington-HouseThe property next underwent major changes during the minority of the 3rd Earl (also Richard Boyle, 1612-1698) – his mother, the 2nd Countess, Lady Juliana, had architect James Gibbs carry out some alterations including the addition of a semi-circular colonnade at the front of the house and reconfiguration of the main staircase.

But around 1717-1718, the 3rd Earl (1694-1753), who himself was something of an architect, commissioned architect Colen Campbell to take over from Gibbs. The property was then reworked to a Palladian design – particularly the southern front of the building and William Kent was summoned to redesign interiors – the surviving interior of the Saloon is credited as the first ‘Kentian’ interior in England.

Lord Burlington soon shifted his attention to Chiswick House (see our earlier post here), and on his death in 1753, the house passed to the Dukes of Devonshire before it was eventually purchased by the 4th Duke’s younger son, Lord George Cavendish, around 1812. He had some of the interiors reworked by Kent admirer Samuel Ware, keeping them sympathetic to the Palladian vision.  Four years after the purchase, Burlington Arcade was built along the western side of the premises.

In 1854, the property was sold to the British Government who initially intended demolishing the structure and using the site for the University of London but after strong opposition to the plan, it was occupied by the Royal Society, the Linnean Society and the Chemical Society while the Royal Academy – which had been founded by King George III in 1768 – took over the main block on a 999 year lease in 1867.

The building subsequently underwent further alterations – among them Sidney Smirke added a third floor to the main building – the Diploma Galleries – and the Main Galleries and the Art School on a garden to the north of the house. Later, three story ranges were raised around the courtyard and the three aforementioned learned societies moved into these and were later joined by the Geological Society of London, the Royal Astronomical Society and the Society of Antiquities.

The Royal Society left in 1968 and the British Academy moved in but this august institution moved out in 1998, leaving the building now home to the Royal Academy and the five learned societies, the Geological Society of London, the Linnean Society of London, the Royal Astronomical Society, the Society of Antiquaries of London, and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

More recent works at the property – the last survivor of four townhouses built along Piccadilly in the 1660s – have included a 1991 remodelling of the Diploma Galleries by Norman Foster – now known as The Sackler Wing of Galleries – and the restoration of the former state rooms including The Saloon, reopened as the John Madejski Fine Rooms.

WHERE: Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly (nearest Tube stations are Piccadilly Circus and Green Park);  WHEN: 10am to 6pm Saturday to Thursday/10am-10pm Friday (opening times for the John Madejski Fine Rooms may vary); COST: Varies depending on the exhibition (there are free guided tours of the John Madejski Fine Rooms – check the website for details); WEBSITE: www.royalacademy.org.uk

PICTURE: Installation by Ãlvaro Siza, part of the Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined exhibition which runs until 6th April. Photo: Royal Academy of Arts. Photography: James Harris/Ãlvaro Siza 

Chiswick-HouseAn icon of the Georgian era, Chiswick House in west London is one of the pre-eminent examples of neo-Palladian architecture in Britain and exemplifies the elegance of the time.

Designed by Richard Boyle, the third Earl of Burlington (1694-1753), the two storey, domed villa was inspired by what Lord Burlington had seen of ancient and sixteenth century architecture during his tours of Italy – in particular the work of Andrea Palladio – as well as the work of Palladio admirer, famed English architect Inigo Jones (his statue along with that of Palladio can be seen outside),

Chiswick-House2It was constructed in the 1720s, most likely between 1727 and 1729, on a site which had been purchased by the first Earl of Burlington (his grandfather) in 1682 and which was already occupied by a Jacobean-era house (this property, which the third Earl significantly renovated, was eventually pulled down in 1788). The interiors were designed by William Kent in collaboration with Burlington and feature luxurious rooms with velvet-covered walls such as the magnificently restored Blue Velvet Room.

The exact purpose of the property remains something of a mystery – it’s been suggested it was built to as a pavilion for private contemplation, grand entertainments and to house the Earl’s art collection and the fact it had no kitchen is supportive of such a conclusion. But there is evidence it was also used as a functioning house – the fact Lady Burlington died in her bedchamber in the premises in 1758 and the link which was eventually built by Lord Burlington between it and the older property on the estate are suggestive of this.

Chiswick-House3Whatever its purpose, the architectural and artistic masterpiece was complemented by formal gardens which Lord Burlington, again, along with the aid of Kent, extensively altered to create a highly planned but naturalistic-looking landscape. Known as the “birthplace of the English Landscape Movement”, the gardens have influenced everyone from ‘Capability’ Brown to the design of New York City’s Central Park.

Following Lord Burlington’s death in 1753, the house passed into the hands of his grandson, the fifth Duke of Devonshire (his wife was the rather infamous Duchess Georgiana). He extended the house into a large mansion, adding new wings (these weren’t removed until the 1950s) and improved the gardens, adding the stone bridge (pictured) that still stands over the lake.

Upon the fifth Duke’s death in 1811, the house passed into the hands of the sixth Duke, known as the ‘Bachelor Duke’. He made considerable use of the property and guests included Tsar Alexander I of Russia, King Fredrick William III of Prussia, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and Tsar Nicholas I (again, of Russia). The Bachelor Duke also extended the grounds and brought a range of exotic animals into them, including an elephant, kangaroos and emus.

Upon his death in 1858, he left the property to his sister and after her death only four years later, it was subsequently let to some rather high-brow tenants including the Prince of Wales who received the Shah of Persia there in 1873,

The estate was eventually sold by the ninth Duke to the Middlesex County Council and after the war, gifted to the Minister of Works. In 1984, care for the house was transferred to English Heritage. The gardens are now owned by the London Borough of Hounslow.

Along with the Chiswick House and Gardens Trust, English Heritage recently completed a £12 million restoration of the gardens which, this year will host the fourth annual Camellia Festival next month. But this stunning property is well worth a visit any time of the year.

WHERE: Chiswick House, Burlington Lane, Chiswick (nearest Tube station is Turnham Green/nearest train station is Chiswick);  WHEN: 10am to 4pm Saturday and Sunday (until 31st March); COST: £5.90 adults/£3.50 children (5-15 years)/£5.30 concession/£15.30 family; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/chiswick-house/ or www.chgt.org.uk.