A Visit to Chiswick House, Part One

Victoria here, taking you today to the London suburbs to see a benchmark in the evolution of English architecture. Chiswick House was built by Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington (1694-1753) in the second quarter of the 18th century. Not only is it a lovely jewel-box of a structure, it had a widespread and lasting influence on subsequent buildings in Britain.

First we must step back a century or so to Inigo Jones (1573–1652), architect of the Queen’s House, Greenwich (left), the Banqueting House in Whithall (below), and many other neo-classical buildings in London and the countryside.

 The neo-classical style, however, temporarily was overtaken in most building projects by baroque influences such as the styles of Sir Christopher Wren, John Vanbrugh, and Nicolas Hawksmoor.  However, the style would return and dominate British architecture in the late 18th century and onwards, largely due to the influence of a young nobleman.

Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, 4th Earl of Cork and Baron Clifford (1694–1753), inherited a great deal of money and property upon the death of his father, Charles Boyle, in 1704.  A few years later, young Richard made several Grand Tours of Europe during which he became especially interested in the designs of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio (1508–1580). Lord Burlington also met William Kent (1685–1748),  a painter born in England, who also took up architectural, furniture, and garden design.

When he returned from Italy, Burlington set about building Burlington House in Piccadilly in London. At right, the elevations by architect Colen Campbell, of 1725. Today’s Burlington House, the home of the Royal Academy of Art, looks quite different, having been greatly modified in the 19th century, though some of the original work can be seen, particularly in the John Madejski Fine Rooms inside.

Lord Burlington was an eager amateur architect, meaning no disrespect, in the same way the aristocrats of his time encouraged and participated in music, the arts, and sciences. One of his first projects, now demolished, was the Bagnio or Casino in the gardens of Chiswick, left.  He designed and built it with Colen Campbell in between his trips to Italy, where he studied the buildings of Palladio. It had several rooms, but was in the nature of a garden folly or decoration.

At right is an 18th century view of the allees of Chiswick’s gardens with the Bagnio as the focal point of the central walkway. At the end of the right path is a small temple Lord Burlington  built as another part of his formal garden, and still remains. It is pictured at the end of this post.

Palladio’s La Rotunda (left) in the Veneto Region of Italy is a prime example of his work, a direct influence on Burlington, Kent, Campbell and many others who soon championed their own versions of Palladianism.

The popularity of the style spread quickly through artistic and wealthy aristocratic circles in Britain.

Among the many properties inherited by Lord Burlington was a medium sized Jacobean mansion west of the city used as a summer retreat to get away from the heat of London. After a fire in 1725, Lord Burlington redid the house, adding a villa with a connecting structure. The mansion itself was pulled down
in 1788 leaving the villa, part of the connecting link, and the gardens.  The villa now known as Chiswick House was used as an office, gallery and rooms for entertaining. In Part Two, we will explore the actual building and its garden.

Lord Burlington (left) used his great wealth in sponsoring the work of many artists, architects and musicians. Handel was first a guest at Chiswick in 1712, and came back many times. The English Heritage Guidebook to Chiswick comments on the character of Burlington’s work: “Lord Burlington’s principal objective was to recreate the architecture and gardens of ancient Rome (and) re-establish its meaning…which told a story or painted a moral. Chiswick House incorporates an allegorical exposition of the polite arts; its garden includes reference to political liberty.”


Another house greatly influenced by Palladio and perhaps by Burlington is Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia.  Jefferson was also a gentleman architect and there is no doubt that his tastes and those of the American founding  fathers resembled the tastes of those British aristocrats who also loved Palladianism and the neoclassical styles of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The 3rd Earl of  Burlington married Lady Dorothy Savile, daughter of the 2nd Marquess of Halifax, an heiress who brought additional estates to the family. She became a lady in waiting to Caroline of Anspach, wife of George II. Burlington held many important government posts before resigning all offices in 1732 over his oppositions to an Excise Bill. From then on, he occupied himself with improving his properties, scholarship and promoting the arts. He had no sons; his only surviving daughter Charlotte (1731-1754) inherited his properties; she was the Marchioness of Hartington, married to the eventual 4th Duke of Devonshire. Note that Charlotte had a very short life; her son William Cavendish (1748-1811), above, was born when she was a mere 17. But through her the possession of Lord Burlington passed into the hands of the Cavendish/Devonshire family. The Cavendish family frequently stayed and entertained at Chiswick.
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, wife of the 5th Duke, often entertained at Chiswick, particularly her friends in Whig politics.  In the 1860’s, the Cavendish/Devonshire family rented the villa to a number of prominent persons, but by the early 19th century, it had become an asylum, then a fire station. Eventually, it was sold to Middlesex County and taken over by a trust to preserve the house and gardens.

In Part Two, we will explore the specific design of Chiswick House, which incidentally is prounced Chis-ick, with a silent W.

For more information on Chiswick, click here.

For an interesting article on recent developments, click here   

Victoria (Magazine) at Holker Hall

I guess I have a “thing” about Victorias — writers, queens, magazines, whatever. I loved the first Victoria magazine, published from 1987 to 2003, and I love the new version, published since 2007.  When it arrives every other month, I put it aside until I have a couple of quiet hours in which to enjoy it uninterrupted.

So in this busy summer, it took me a long time to get around to the September-October issue, which arrived a few weeks ago. On pp. 40-45, I found a lovely photographic story about Holker Hall, a stately home in the English Lake District which I have visited.  How delightful to experience the house and its gardens all over again.  Here is a link to Victoria magazine and here is a link to the Hall’s website.

The Holker estate belongs to Lord and Lady Cavendish, a branch of the family of the present 12th Duke of Devonshire. It has been in the Cavendish-Devonshire family for many years, coming into their possession by marriage.  Largely  rebuilt in red sandstone after a fire in 1871,  its style is  neo-Elizabethan. one of the popular recreated architectural fashions of the Victorian Era.

The 7th Duke of Devonshire left Holker to a younger son (in 1908), and thus it passed out of the direct control of the dukes themselves.  That younger son was a grandfather of the present Lord Cavendish.

Of particular interest are the gardens, which have been designed carefully to bring out the best in seasonal plantings.  These spring time rhododendrons must be amazing.


The newer wing of the house, built in the 1870’s contains many outstanding features in woodworking, plaster designs, lighting and furnishings.  If you look at the pictures in the magazine article, it is almost possible to think of yourself sitting in one of the comfortable armchairs, waiting for tea or reading one of the 3,500 books in the library.  The cantilevered staircase pictured at left was carved by estate workers of local wood.

In the Blue Guide to Country Houses of England, Geoffrey Tyack writes of Holker Hall, “Few houses open to the public convey better than Holker the sense of late-Victorian aristocratic life and tastes.”
The estate is a busy commercial concern, including forestry, lumbering,  and slate cutting businesses as well as agricultural produce, tourism, hunting and fishing, and many special events such as festivals, concerts, and exhibitions.  The fallow deer herds are maintained for their traditional beauty as well as for their meat. 

By the way, in the September-October 2010 issue of Victoria magazine, there are also excellent articles on the Lake District and its benefactress, the late author Beatrix Potter, who created Peter Rabbit and all his friends.

I hope Peter is still at Mr. McGregor’s House and not stirring things up at beautiful Holker Hall.

Sezincote: Inspiration for Brighton Pavilion

Victoria here. Almost all of us who have read about the English Regency period know what Brighton Pavilion looks like (right). The wildly over-the-top architecture was the result of a notion of the Prince Regent’s, after he saw the Cotswold estate known as Sezincote.

Sezincote (left) surprises the English countryside in Gloucestershire near Moreton-in-Marsh. A house that might look customary on the Indian sub-continent instead is fit into beautiful gardens and surrounded by the Cotswold Hills.

The name Sezincote is a modern version of Cheisnecote, meaning home of the oaks, a combination of French and Old English names. The property is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086; it was an independent estate and parish until the Civil War when the church was destroyed by Parliamentary troops.

In 1795, Colonel John Cockerell bought the estate from the 3rd Earl of Guildford. Cockerell was a wealthy nabob, recently returned from makihg a fortune in India. He may have purchased the property to be near his good friend Warren Hastings, who had been governor of Bengal. Hastings had numerous connections with the Austen and Hancock families.

Upon Colonel Cockerell’s death in 1798, his youngest brother Charles inherited Sezincote. Charles was created a baronet in 1809 and was a Member of Parliament from Evesham. He asked his brother, Samuel Pepys Cockerell, an architect of no small reputation, to build him a new house in the Indian style. From the architect’s name, you might guess that the family was related to Samuel Pepys – and you would be right, though it was distant.

S. P. Cockerell had been a surveyor to the East India Company and was a colleague of Regency architect John Nash. (1754-1835) as apprentice to Sir Robert Taylor. S. P. Cockerell collaborated with artist Thomas Daniell, another recent returnee from India, to draw up the plans. The exterior is a combination of Hindu and Moslem influences (mostly Persian in origin), while the interior is purely neoclassical.

The architecture is based on Indian styles in the period of Akbar, Moghul Emperor from 1556-1605, who had attempted to integrate the two great religions of India through merging their characteristic design elements. You can see in today’s conflicts between India and Pakistan that Akbar had no more success than his successors on the subcontinent.

The main rooms face south on the garden, and the Orangery curves gracefully outward to the Pavilion, once the home of exotic birds. The house was completed in first decade of the 19th century, after which the Prince Regent visited. Here he got his ideas about further alterations to his Brighton house, the Marine Pavilion. The baronetcy given to Charles Cockerell years leads one to assume Cockerell and Prinny saw more of each other.

The Cockerell family owned Sezincote until 1884 when it was sold, then sold again in 1944 to Sir Cyril Kleinwort whose daughter and husband now live in the house.

Cockerell’s plans included many Eastern ideas in the garden, including the Temple to Surya, a Hindu sun god, overlooking the pool. The current residents have restored and extended these gardens, on which Humphrey Repton was once consulted (remember references to Repton in Mansfield Park). Mrs. Peake, daughter of the Kleinworts, was out in the garden in her Wellies, digging away, when I toured the estate. She is a gracious lady and loves to welcome visitors to her incredible home. You can see more about Sezincote here.  I think Sezincote is lovely and I can understand why the Prince Regent wanted to have his own version.
However, this is how his Marine Pavilion looked in 1815, right, before Prinny got John Nash working on it.  I think it is beautiful, quite nicer than the eventual hodge-podge of the finished structure.

Someone said of Prinny’s folly, “It looks like St. Paul’s Cathedral moved to Brighton and whelped.” I have spent time in the Pavilion, but give me Sezincote any day! Well, if only someone would…

Hatfield, a Prodigy House in Hertfordshire

Victoria here, peeking into another great country house, this one the home of the Cecil family, the Marquesses of Salisbury, Hatfield House. 

When I took the course on English Country Houses at Worcester College, Oxford University, our don, Geoffrey Tyack, took us to a number of historically significant houses, beginning with medieval manors and carrying into the Tudor houses, the most lavish of which are known as Prodigy Houses. These were the estates acquired by the “new” men who served the crown because of their intelligence,  education, and ability rather than by familial ties and nepotism. Once these “new” men got into positions of power, however, they did all they could to advance the interests of their families, particularly at court. One part of this quest was to have a large, profitable and magnificent estate at which to entertain, impress, and achieve strategic partnerships, whether by friendship, marriage or intrigue.  These houses, naturally, had to be large and luxurious enough to accommodate both royalty and its entourage.

One of the most important of the men who served Elizabeth I was William Cecil, Lord Burghley (1520-1598), who was Lord High Treasurer. He built Burghley House (above) between 1555 and 1587 in a more-than-grand scale. His eldest son, 1st Earl of Exeter, carried on the family at Burghley.
Robert Cecil (1563-1612), a younger son of Lord Burghley, made his own way in the world and did a bang-up job of it, becoming a chief minister to Elizabeth I and Lord Treasurer to her successor, James I. As Professor Tyack has written, Robert Cecil “also inherited his father’s taste for magnificent building.”

Robert Cecil was made the 1st Earl of Salisbury and took over, by exchange with the King for another house called Theobalds, the estate at Hatfield. The Old Palace there, above and right, had been the childhood home of Elizabeth I. The building you see in the pictures was only part of the huge complex, most of which the Earl demolished. The Old Palace now serves as a tourist attraction and a venue for meetings, conferences, banquets and weddings.

Lord Salisbury created for himself the foremost example of Jacobean architecture in Britain. Carpenter and Surveyor (the profession of architect was barely in its infancy) Robert Lyminge laid out the house to the earl’s preferences, incorporating familiar Tudor features (e.g. the capped cupolas at the corners and the oriel windows), and newer styles such as the classical loggia on the south front.

Entering the Marble Hall, I could see that the 1st Earl had indeed achieved his goal of creating a gathering place of incomparable and extravagant richness. It could not fail to impress friends or enemies, retainers or royalty. The ceiling is original though enhanced in the Victorian era with more colorful paintings. Tapestries from Brussels cover the walls, illustrating stories from mythology. This room has always been used for entertaining whether banquets, balls or masques.

Left is the rainbow portrait of Elizabeth I, which contains the motto Non sine sole iris, translated as “no rainbow without the sun.” The anonymous painter was heavily into flattery, one imagines. The portrait hangs in the Marble Hall, where no visitor could mistake its significance.

The Grand Staircase is a fine example of Jacobean wood-carving expertise. Finished in 1611, it includes gates at the bottom step to keep the dogs from lounging around in the state rooms upstairs. One of the figures carved into a newel post is John Tradescant (c.1570-1638), the great plant collector on behalf of Robert Cecil and his new garden. Tradescant brought back from his world travels many fruit trees, vines, seeds and bulbs, greatly expanding the scope of English gardening, all of which enhanced his employer’s prestige.

On the first floor (what we in the U.S. would call the second floor), the magnificent State rooms are divided into two apartments, one each for the king and queen. In King James’s Drawing Room a life size statue of the king stands above the fireplace. The walls are hung with old master paintings.
Long galleries were required in all Jacobean houses but few are as splendid as this one, with its fine cabinetry holding treasured gemstones and its gilded ceiling. Two gigantic fireplaces heated the gallery, where one could enjoy a morning stroll without combating the elements.

Many more rooms are open to the public, including a chapel with fine old stained glass, some of it more than 400 years old.

The house is much the same today as it was when first built, though one wing was destroyed by fire in 1835, taking the life of the first Marchioness of Salisbury, nee Emily Mary Hill, then age 85. The dowager, as she was known, was writing by candlelight, it was said, and her hair caught fire, eventually engulfing the entire west wing of the house.  Emily (1750-1835), wife of the first Marquess, portrayed here by Sir Joshua Reynolds about 1780, was a famed Tory political hostess and sportswoman.

Her son, James, the 2nd Marquess, married Frances Mary (1802-1839), known as the Gascoyne Heiress, and changed the family name to Gascoyne-Cecil. The story of Frances, often known as Fanny, is told in the book The Gascoyne Heiress: the Life and Diaries of Frances Mary Gascoyne-Cecil by Carola Oman, published in1968 by Hodder & Stoughton in London. These diaries are full of exciting political news, for Fanny became a close confidante of the Duke of Wellington, who had long been a family friend. Hatfield House is home to much Wellington memorabilia; both with her husband and children or solo, Fanny often visited Wellington, listened to his every word and recorded most of them for posterity.
This black and white reproduction of Fanny’s portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence does not do justice to her charm.

Like many country houses, Hatfield is also a business enterprise. Many events takes place here and no doubt you have caught a glimpse of the house or garden in one of the doszens of movies which shot scenes on the premises, such as Shakespeare in Love (1998), The Importance of Being Earnest (2002), or The Golden Age (2006).

The current dowager marchioness is well-known as a gardener, though she claims to be entirely an amateur. Not only did she redo entirely the gardens at Hatfield, she also has designed gardens for many others, including the Prince of Wales at Highgrove.  She has been associated with a number of books on gardening, though she no longer lives at Hatfield.

I took so many pictures in the Hatfield Garden that I could almost do a book myself. But have you ever come home and realized that your pictures completely failed to capture the essence of the subject matter? Below is a shot of a rose against the brick of the Old Palace followed by some lovely wisteria blossoms. Somehow it was all so much more beautiful on site!

                              Finally, an aerial view of Hatfield House.

Results of the "Althorp Attic Sale" Christie's, London

It seems as though Earl Spencer has been cleaning the tat out of his attics, and oh, what tat it is. Here are just a few of the items sold last month at Christie’s Auction Room, King Street, London.


Mrs. Dora Jordan (1761-1816), mistress of William IV. Acquired at a sale of her effects by Frances Isabella, Lady Clinton (d. 1875) who placed it in the Dining Room at 28 St. James’s Place. By descent to her niece Lady Sarah Spencer (1838-1919) and by descent to Albert Edward John, 7th Earl Spencer (1892-1975), by whom removed to Althorp, Northamptonshire, in 1923.

Price Realized £775 ($1,178)

Silver-mounted tapering Doccia porcelain étui of round section, the porcelain body decorated with antique scenes moulded in relief, the cover decorated with sea shells and rocaille in relief, within hinged brown fitted leather case; together with, another porcelain étui of round section mounted in gilt-metal, the porcelain body decorated with painted flowers; together with, another gilt-metal mounted porcelain étui of oval section, the porcelain body and lid decorated with foliage and masks, centred with circular cartouches containing bows and arrows, the cover cartouche painted with ‘Souvenir’ and, on the body, with ‘d’amitié’, gilt borders and swags to both cover and base, together with, another gilt-metal mounted enamel étui of rounded reeded body decorated with diamond pattern with a flower depicted at the centre of each (4)

Price Realized  £5,625 ($8,550)


Undergown of cream silk taffeta applied with a heavily embroidered silk satin front panel, a short sleeved robe of crimson silk velvet, fitted and trimmed in miniver and embroidered with stylized ‘S’ shapes in gilt, and a train of crimson silk velvet with a short ermine capelet and gilt cordons to the shoulders; together with the remains of a peeress’ coronation train.

Possibly worn by Charlotte, Countess Spencer (1835-1903) wife of John Poyntz, 5th Earl Spencer (1835-1910) to the coronation of Edward VII in 1902.

Price Realized £6,250 ($9,500)

The later arms on the doors are those Spencer accoll with Spencer impaling Baring for Charles, 6th Earl Spencer, K.G., (1857-1922) and his wife Margaret (d.1906), daughter of Edward, 1st Baron Revelstoke, whom he married in 1887. These arms were possibly applied for the coronation of King George V on 22 June 1911, at which Earl Spencer presided as Lord Chamberlain.

Price Realized  £133,250 ($202,540)

Each comprising salmon pink breeches, scarlet tailcoat and salmon pink waistcoat, all set with silvered metal buttons embossed with the Spencer cypher, scarlet wool caped greatcoat and tricorn hat

Price Realized £4,750 ($7,220)
With two tiers of four bells dependent and bright-engraved with bands of trailing leafage, coral teething stick, engraved later with a viscount’s coronet below initial ‘A’, in later fitted box Brothers, 22 Old Bond St.

The initial is almost certainly that of Edward John Spencer, Viscount Althorp and later 7th Earl Spencer.

Price Realized £3,000 ($4,560)
You can see all 24 pages of the sale results at the Christie’s site.
In all, the sale realized just over two million pounds.