The Estates Around Chiswick House

By James Wisdom and Val Bott

Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 6 (1997)

By the middle of the 19th century the Duke of Devonshire controlled over 655 acres centred on Chiswick House – more than half of Chiswick Parish. This article makes a first attempt at assembling the jigsaw puzzle of his property ownership, based on information taken almost entirely from secondary sources.

Rocque’s map surveyed 1741-5

Chiswick House
The property at the centre of this consolidated landholding was purchased by Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington, in 1682; his nephew, Lord Ranelagh, had owned it briefly in the 1670s. Boyle’s grandson, Charles, inherited in 1698 and added to this substantial Jacobean house, listed as having 33 hearths in the 1664 Hearth Tax, a new two-storey stable block, later known as the Grosvenor Wing (the old house and this wing have gone). His son, Richard, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, succeeded him in 1704. He designed and built the Palladian villa as an extension to the older house and laid out the grounds with the help of his friend William Kent. He began to add neighbouring lands to his estate.

On Burlington’s death in 1753 the property passed to his daughter who had by then married into the family of the Dukes of Devonshire with whom it was to remain until the 1920s. They not only added much more property over the next century but also began to sell it off for housing development from the mid 19th century. Chiswick House and its remaining grounds were purchased in 1929 by Middlesex County Council to prevent their demolition for house-building.

Sutton Court
Lord Burlington’s first acquisition, which he leased from 1728, was the Sutton Court estate, on the west bank of the Bollo Brook to the north-west of Chiswick House. The manor of Sutton Court already existed by the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066 and the earliest moated manor house was probably at the southwest corner of the junction between the A4 and Sutton Court Road. It was rebuilt in the middle ages on the site that was to become the mansion flats known as Sutton Court in the early 1900s. This house had 30 hearths in 1664.

The addition of this property to his Chiswick lands enabled Burlington to extend the design of the gardens at Chiswick by integrating and realigning the grounds of Sutton Court. Using the lake at Chiswick House, made by damming the Bollo Brook, as a landmark, it is possible to identify the Sutton Court land as that area which includes today’s cricket field.

A small fragment of a later orangery from Sutton Court survives in the round-topped windows of the Clifton Works. This former builder’s works beside the level crossing in Grove Park Terrace was erected by Arundell, the builder of much of the Grove Park Estate. He seems to have had the contract to demolish the mansion and the orangery in 1895.

Sir Stephen Fox’s House
This was the first of a series of purchases with which the 19th century Dukes enlarged their Chiswick estate. Part of Fox’s house, which had 18 hearths in 1664 and was rebuilt in 1682, can be seen at the right-hand side of Leonard Knyff s view of Chiswick of 1700. After Fox’s death in 1716 the property was purchased by the dowager Duchess of Northampton, whose son had married Fox’s younger daughter; it passed to her younger son, the Earl of Wilmington, after whom a local road is named.

Most of this property was added to the Duke of Devonshire’s holdings in 1811, with other small pieces in 1814 and 1838, to extend the grounds to the east. Fox’s house itself was demolished and replaced with the conservatory, (today’s camellia house), and the Italian Garden was laid out in front. About the same time Burlington Lane became a drive running past the front of Chiswick House and on over the cascade, while the public road was relocated further away towards the river.

Chiswick Common Field
This was the remainder of Chiswick’s open field system, stretching westwards from Devonshire Road (known on earlier maps as Chiswick Field Lane), over which common rights were extinguished by two acts of Parliament, one in 1806, relating to 68 acres, and another in 1814 for 141 acres. As the principal landowner in the parish, the Duke was a prime mover in the enclosure of the common field.

In the area closest to the riverside village at Chiswick Mall and north of Hogarth Lane land was sold off to build a new estate of small working-class houses – “Chiswick New Town.” Another parcel of land was allocated to the Vicar as a glebe field but by 1871 building was under way there and the 470 houses of the Glebe Estate were completed over the next 20 years.

The western part remained in the Duke’s hands and he leased 33 acres to the Royal Horticultural Society from 1821. The Society laid out exhibition gardens and trial grounds and began building a very substantial glasshouse of which half was completed. However, because of financial difficulties they reduced the area they leased after 1881. On the land which they vacated, running west from the northern part of Dukes Avenue, an enormous new house called Devonhurst was constructed in 1882, with the new Barrowgate Road running along the southern boundary. After 1903 the RHS was based at Wisley in Surrey and roads of good quality suburban houses, Alwyn, Hadley, Foster, Sharon and Wavendon – replaced their gardens.

Together with Fox’s estate, this acquisition provided an opportunity to lay out a new access route to the house from the north; an avenue of lime trees, now Dukes Avenue, was planted from the high road at Turnham Green, running south alongside the Royal Horticultural Society gardens and into Chiswick House grounds to link up with the old line of Burlington Lane. At the northern end substantial iron gates, purchased on the demolition of Heathfield House in 1836, were installed. These were later moved to Devonshire House in the centre of London and later to Green Park.

Corney House
To the south-east of Chiswick House lay the Corney Estate. The estate was assembled from a group of tenements held of Sutton Court manor and there was a house there by 1542 when it came into the hands of Lord Russell, later the Earl of Bedford. This was substantial enough to be used by his descendants for the entertainment of Elizabeth I in 1602; by the 1620s the then Earl of Bedford was one of the three highest ratepayers in the parish. In the 1660s the Russells moved to Bedford House on Chiswick Mall and Corney House was rebuilt or refurbished. This must be the house with a walled garden and an elevated summerhouse by the Thames in Jacob Knyff s wonderful painting of about 1670 (now in the Museum of London). Later owners continued to add to the Corney House lands which were sold to the Duke of Devonshire in 1830; the house was demolished two years later. Part of this land was sold to the Chiswick Improvement Commissioners for their most ambitious and expensive scheme, a sewage works, in 1888-9. The name of the house survives in Corney Road and this stretch of the river which is known as Corney Reach.

Grove House Estate
This estate comprised copyhold lands in the manor of Sutton Court and a house is first mentioned there in 1412. For a long period in the 17th century it was the property of the Barker family; in the 1650s Henry Barker was the largest ratepayer in the parish. When the estate was sold to Humphrey Morice in 1772 it had become a freehold property.

The Grove House estate was acquired by the Duke of Devonshire in about 1840. It covered about 84 acres of land of which 67 were in an enclosed park bordered by the Thames where Hartington Road runs today. The Duke had the house reduced from three to two storeys in height and rented it out. Meanwhile, he was beginning to lay out a new residential estate on its grounds between the new railway line and the Thames, to be called the Grove Park Estate.

Grove House, with greatly reduced grounds, was sold to Lieut.-Col. Shipway in 1895 and survived until his death in 1928. Then the land was sold off for suburban housing with the house in use as the builders’ headquarters until Kinnaird Avenue was laid out over its site. A fine 18th century fireplace and some decorative panelling from the house found their way to the United States where they can be seen today in the Huntington Art Gallery in California.

The farmland of this estate and neighbouring lands in the south of the parish were mainly pasture and meadow during Lord Burlington’s time. Totalling about 310 acres it represented nearly half the Duke’s Chiswick land holdings a century later. The Jessop family were the principal tenant farmers in the 19th century, employing 54 men according to the 1851 Census. They ran a mixed farm, with both pasture and market gardens and osier beds along the river, producing a crop of willow for the baskets in which local fruit and vegetables were sent to market. The farm buildings lay east of Grove House itself but the farm was later established as Grove Park Farm (also known as Smith’s Farm) near to Corney House, where the farmhouse became part of the local authority’s holdings, together with a market garden warehouse, and still stands today.

The then Urban District Council bought 200 acres of this farmland from the Duke in 1923 to prevent the construction of a controversial gas works beside the river. They landscaped it with promenades and a bandstand at Riverside Drive and Promenade Approach Road.

Little Sutton
First recorded in 1181, this appears on Rocque’s map and by the 1790s was a tiny settlement of about a dozen houses north of Sutton Court. Only a 17th century brick house, once part of a complex of almshouses, survives alongside the A4 near its junction with Fauconberg Road. Land was added to that of Little Sutton House in 1881 by purchase from the Duke of Devonshire but by the 1890s new housing was going up on this estate in St Mary’s Grove and Gordon Road and extended to Elmwood Road by 1905.

Chiswick Park Estate
By 1884 the Duke had drained and infilled the upper part of Chiswick House lake and was laying out roads and selling off building plots for housing development closer to Chiswick House. Development proceeded slowly at first. By 1915 Park Road was built; within twenty years Staveley Road and surrounding roads had been completed.

All that remained was 66 acres and Chiswick House itself. When the house and grounds were put on the market as development land there was anxiety about their loss. Middlesex County Council were able to purchase the property in 1929, with the help of public donations including some from the royal family, and Chiswick House and Grounds were saved for the public.

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