Fox’s ‘Extraordinarily Fine’ Chiswick Garden

By Sally Jeffery, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal, 15, 2006

‘The Flower of all the private Gentlemens palaces in England’ is how Daniel Defoe described the estate of the politician Sir Stephen Fox in his Tour thro’ the whole Island of Great Britain (1725). Fox’s estate (later known as Moreton Hall, see Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal No 9, 2000 for its history) was incorporated into the grounds of Chiswick House in 1812 but three of Fox’s four walled gardens remain, together with a handsome pair of gate piers which led into the second garden. The gate piers can be seen from the back of the later Chiswick House conservatory and the kitchen garden itself is being brought back to horticultural life through the Chiswick House Kitchen Garden Project. Sally Jeffery has been researching Fox’s garden and what follows is an extract from her paper which appeared in Garden History vol 32, no 1, 2004.

Sir Stephen Fox (1627-1716) was a loyal courtier to Charles II and continued in public life through the succeeding reigns until his death. He became immensely wealthy – ‘reputedly the richest commoner in three kingdoms’. He lived in Scotland Yard, Whitehall when in London but also owned country estates, including one in Chiswick which he acquired in 1663 with two acres of garden. He initially retained the old house but about 20 years later had it demolished and a new one built, with a fine garden. Sir Stephen consulted Hugh May as arch­itect for his house and it is probable that May was also involved with the garden since it would appear from a conversation reported by Samuel Pepys that he was knowledgeable about garden design.

Birds-eye view of old Chiswick House (c 1698) by Leonard Knyff and Johannes Kip. Sir Stephen Fox’s house is on the extreme right hand side, with its offices and greenhouse to the left.

Design and layout
It is not entirely clear from the accounts for Chiswick whether the walls of the garden were new built for Fox, or whether some or all of them remained from an earlier garden, but the gates and piers were certainly part of the new work. There are two records of the same payment to the joiner, Mr Alexander Fort: £100 ‘for making Severall Modells for Chiswick and for the Great Gates att the end of the Garden & for Severall Journeys &c’, and £40 more on 3 September 1683; and £140 ‘For Severall Modalls, a pr of Gates, with Worke don at ye Green House & Surveying att Chiswick’.

The surviving brick piers supporting the gates leading into the walled gardens at Chiswick, 2015 (photo Val Bott)

The surviving pair of fine brick gate piers is datable to the 1680s. Furthermore, in the set of accounts for 1682-84, there are items that indicate not only that work was being done on the greenhouse – Henry Margetts, plasterer, submitted ‘A Bill of worke don in the Green House £23.14.4’, Benjamin Thropp, a payment as ‘Smith for the Green house’ – but also on the garden. Thomas Board was ‘Carpenter for the Garden’; Richard Witts was paid ‘for his Disbursements relating to the garden commencing in September 1682 as Appeares by the House Booke’; and Richard Yalden was paid for digging an ‘ice well’ in January 1683.

May is not referred to by name, and we do not know exactly for how much of the design he was responsible. It seems highly probable that he had overall responsibility for laying out the various gardens in a regular manner and also designed the greenhouse. This is reinforced by an entry in John Evelyn’s diary for 1682:

I went with my Lady Fox to survey her Building, and give some direction for the Garden at Chiswick. The architect is Mr May, somewhat heavy & thick; & not so well understood: the Garden much too narrow, the place without water, neere an high way, & another greate house of my Lord Burlingtons; little Land about it; so as I won­der at the expense; but Women will have their Will.

This entry emphasizes the collaborative nature of the undertaking for Evelyn clearly had a say in the way things were done at Chiswick. The plot was narrow and cramped, as he remarked, with very lit­tle scope for the planting of trees in any number, or for the kind of extensive gardens and parkland May and Evelyn designed for other houses.

A small section of Sir Stephen Fox’s house is shown on Kip and Knyff’s engraving of Lord Burlington’s house. The old Chiswick House (Chiswick Villa was not yet built) with a large stable block to its right is shown. Sir Stephen’s property is on the edge of the engrav­ing. To the left of Fox’s house is a separate build­ing containing the offices, and a very large green­house to the north with a pediment over its full width, decorated with a coat of arms and garlands. In front of the greenhouse is a row of plants in tubs and a terrace, with a crosswise division, possibly a hedge. There may be an embroidered parterre on the left. Immediately behind the service building there is a wall with espaliers and grass plants. Part of an avenue of trees runs down from the front of the house towards the River Thames. This partial view is complemented by a description in J Gibson’s A short account of several gardens near London (1691):

Sir Stephen Fox’s garden at Chiswick being but of five years standing, is brought to great perfection for the time. It excels for a fair gravel walk betwixt two yew hedges, with rounds and spires of the same, all under smooth tonsure. At the far end of this garden are two myrtle hedges that cross the garden; they are about three feet high, and covered in winter with painted board cases. The other gardens are full of flowers and salleting and the walls well clad. The green­house is well built, well set, and well furnished.

The carefully shaped ’rounds’ and ‘spires’ must be those shown behind the house on the engrav­ing. The garden seems to have been arranged as a ‘walking garden’, and exhibited the kind of ‘fair gravel walk’ that May considered to be the best in the world. Gibson was particularly interested in the cultivation of exotics and their accommodation. He included Fox’s garden because it had matured in a short time, and because of its large greenhouse and its myrtle hedges with their painted board cases.

John Rocque’s map of 1741-6 shows the estate some years later but is far from accurate because of the small scale. What is clearly seen, however, is the avenue of trees towards the river aligned with the central axis of the house, and the walk through the garden on the same axis.

The house and gardens were described when they came up for auction on 12 June 1812. Apart from the ‘Capital Mansion’ there were:

Pleasure-grounds, Paddocks, Flower-Garden, Conservatory, Extensive Walled Kitchen-Gardens, Melon-Ground, Hot-House . . . convenient Out-Buildings, And Two Fields or Closes of rich and productive Meadow Land, in Front of the Mansion.

The convenient ‘out-buildings’ included ‘An Ice House, Piggery and Drying Ground’ and ‘detached Farm-Yard’ and ‘Cow-Shed’. The grounds were laid out behind the house in lawn, walks, walled paddocks, a flower garden and a ‘large Range of Walled Kitchen Gardens, cropped in succession, and the Walls…clothed with numerous choice and healthy fruit trees’. Further details are given of ‘An Extensive Conservatory in the Flower-Garden, about One Hundred and Twenty Feet long and proportionally high; and there is a small Hot-House in the Melon-Ground’.

Samuel Ware’s 1812 survey and plan of Moreton Hall and gardens. (Devonshire MSS, Chatsworth, L52/12)

The survey and valuation of the property included a coloured plan which gives much useful information on both Fox’s house and garden as it was at the end of the 18th century. The plan was drawn up by Samuel Ware, the architect and surveyor employed by the Duke of Devonshire who was to purchase the property which was by then known as Moreton Hall after later owners. The Duke demolished the house, though not the offices or greenhouse, and constructed a new conservatory and an Italian Garden on the southern part of Fox’s garden.

Ware shows a sequence of walled gardens stretching back from the house. By his time, two of these were being used as paddocks, but we know that they had been cultivated, and the rules of symmetry would suggest that the ‘Copyhold Paddock’ shown by Ware was divided length-wise in Fox’s day, so that a central walk could be created on the main axis in the western half. The other half of the paddock was, perhaps, hidden behind a hedge. It is known there was a walk on the central axis of the house leading from the terrace right through to the most northern enclosure, because there was a reference in 1718 to ‘ye Walke from ye front Gardin through the middle Gardin to ye Wilderness’.

An undated document, probably drawn up after Sir Stephen’s death gives acreages of the different parts of the gardens, with their names: ‘House, out buildings and courts’; ‘The first Garden & Tarris’; ‘The parts made use of for the kitchen’; ‘The Angles’; ‘The Walk in ye Garden’; ‘The Barbadoes Ground’; ‘The kitching garden’; ‘The Grove Walk & Wilderness’.

Another document gives the contents of parts of the garden under slightly different names including the ‘first Gardin next to the house where the Terras is’, ‘the second Gardin’ and ‘the Angles’. These two documents and Ware’s plan can be partially matched to identify certain areas fairly securely. Therefore, the ‘first Garden’ contained: ‘two Laurel Ovels, two Large Mulberry Trees, 1 Arbutus, 25 Ceadars, 3 Bays, 11 Yews, 22 Holleys, 11 Philarays’, all described as ‘large stands’. The kitchen garden behind this is shown by Ware with two gate piers at its entrance exactly as they survive today. If this is the ‘second Gardin’, as seems likely, it contained ‘4 Ceader hedges, five Esplies of Pears, Eight Perimid Ceaders, and Twenty One standard Apples & Cherrys’. ‘The Grove Walk & Wilderness’ was the furthest walled area, called ‘Paddock’ by Ware, and probably continued the central walk through all the gardens.

‘The Angles’ or angled walls are clearly shown by Ware in the walled area to the east of the kitchen garden. Some of the fruit trees are identified: ‘two Espalies of Nonparels, One Espalie of Pears, twenty seven standard Apple Codlins, Cherrys & Plums’.

The ‘Barbadoes Ground’ is the most intriguing name on the list, conjuring up images of exotic plants believed to originate in the West Indies. Where was the ‘Barbadoes Ground’ and what was grown there? The greenhouse was surely used for growing plants needing protection and, perhaps, heat, so it seems likely that the Barbadoes ground was an open area nearby used to set out tender plants in the summer months. A document refers to painting ‘Pallisadoes in ye piece of ground (call’d Barbadoes) 3 times in oyle’, again suggesting protection for plants. There is no record of how, or indeed whether, the greenhouse was heated, but hot-beds were certainly used, either there or in separate stoves, since many loads of hot dung were paid for over the years.

Plants listed as coming from Barbados in the 17th century include citrus trees, bays, cherries, dates, figs, cucumbers, melons, pomegranates, pineapples, the aloe and the red and white lily.

Fox and his lady certainly acquired a number of orange trees for Chiswick. Six trees costing about 13s each were purchased from John Hill in April 1693; and in March 1696 the ‘Oring ground at Chiswick was being paved with brick’. Tubs and ’10 Great Potts for Oring Trees’ were purchased in 1697. At the same time, the Foxes also bought fifty tuberoses from John Hill, these tender plants native to Mexico, perhaps also occupied the Barbadoes ground. Although it is not possible to say exactly what was grown there, the fact that exotics were grown by the Foxes is not in doubt. John Bowack, in his Antiquities of Middlesex (1707) described the gardens as ‘extraordinarily fine, and the collection curious and costly.’

Apart from the tuberoses there are only a few other indications of the flowers cultivated in the gardens. Hundreds of red roses and poppies, clove gillyflowers (a type of carnation) and double daisies were bought, but there were evidently quantities of other flowers grown from seed, or not individually recorded, since ‘3,000 sticks for Flowers’ were purchased in May 1693. The account books contain details of purchases of seeds and plants for the garden, such as strawber­ries, melons, asparagus, peaches, white figs and raspberries, sometimes from well known nurs­eries. For the garden’s upkeep a number of men and women were employed on a daily basis at 16d per day. The gardener in 1709 was George Field, who was paid 6s for four week’s board wages.

After Fox’s death, the estate was acquired by the Countess of Northampton and went through a succession of owners until purchased by the Duke of Devonshire. The garden continued to be cult­ivated and was still in a flourishing condition when it was described in the sale particulars of 1812.

The Fox Strangways Papers at the Dorset Record Office; the Devonshire Archive at Chatsworth House and contemporary accounts.

Sally Jeffery is a garden and architectural historian who has published extensively and is tutor for the Birkbeck University of London MA in Garden History.


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