When the Earl of Burlington bought the Manor of Sutton Court in the 18th century and used most of its land to enlarge his estate around Chiswick House, he not only acquired the medieval house but also a large landscaped park and gardens, some of which survives in Chiswick House Grounds.
Origins and the medieval manor
The origins of Sutton and Chiswick as a land-holding are first known to us as part of the gifts of lands made by Saxon kings to endow the Bishop of London and St Paul’s Cathedral. The Domesday Survey suggests that together Sutton and Chiswick had already been separated from the Bishop’s lands and were being used to directly support the cathedral. Soon afterwards, two-fifths of the landholding were allocated to one of the cathedral’s 30 new Prebendal priests to form the Manor of Chiswick and three-fifths were allocated directly to the Dean to form the Manor of Sutton.
Sutton was administered through courts held in its manor house. Here the lord and the villagers managed the farming, the land transactions and minor justice. The main purpose of the estate was to send, usually twice a year, money to the cathedral treasury and grain to its brewhouse and bakery, and the priests were issued with a weekly supply of loaves and ale (Hale 1858). The Dean also held the advowson of the parish church of St Nicholas and took the bulk of the income from the tithes.
Faith (2004) suggests that cathedral surveys indicated that the Dean and Chapter did not usually live in their manor houses and directly work their lands but let them to a lessee or ‘farmer’, retaining residential buildings for their court, bailiffs, stewards and for their visits. These manors would have had large barns, storing grain both for the cathedral and for the farmer and his workers. By the Tudor period the obligations to the cathedral were paid only in money, and the arrangement was more like a lease for fixed term, with the tenant acting as the lord of the manor.
The manor in 1590
The first really detailed description of the Manor of Sutton Court comes from a Survey of 1590. The manor appears to have been through a long period of neglect, and the Dean was taking stock and planning to recover some of the rights and privileges that the locals had come to ignore. The manor house was described as:
one Capital Messuage well mended in reparations of late, A long Malthouse joining to the street, a Stable, two Barns used with the Farm, a stall and a dove-house, and a Barn joining to the highway being used for the Parsonage barn, a Garden and Orchard containing in all 3 Acres.
John Lane, Yeoman Usher to the Kings Chamber, had a lease from 1537 to 1567, which was extended for 41 more years at £43pa. He farmed directly his manorial land (the demesne) and took rents from the customary tenants, as well as the manorial dues. This Survey describes a number of fields by the name and size, refers to ‘the common Sewer’, and states that George Burton held, amongst other things ‘A marey [marshy] plot by estimation a rood of land in the which a pleasant spring riseth boyling out of the ground and lieth Northward from the west end of Stronde’. This pleasant spring, and the common sewer it fed, will turn out to be significant for the Earl of Burlington.
The Manor during the Civil War
After the Civil War the victorious Parliamentarians abolished Deans, Chapters and Cathedrals, and sold their lands to pay the Army. These sales required preliminary surveys for valuation, and the Survey of 1649 describes the manor of Sutton:
All that capital messuage or farm commonly called Sutton Court or the Manor House, with the site thereof consisting of a large hall, half wainscotted, a parlour, wainscotted, a kitchen, a scullery, a pastern (sic), a little stone court, a chicken house, four cellars, a little bottle house, a wet larder, a pantry, a bake house, a wash house, a milk house, a dairy house.
In the entry between the kitchen and hall there is three lodgings chambers and a closet, one fair staircase and a closet, one fair living room, five lodging rooms and one closet on the same floor. Over the kitchen, three lodgings chambers, two garrets over the said chambers and seven lodging garrets and chambers over the living room. A brewing house, two lodging rooms next the brewing house, a coach house, three rooms over the brew house chambers. A hen house, four little rooms under the granary, one fair granary, two lodging rooms and two closets with one drying garret over the said granary. Three barns, a dove house, two oast houses, two cow houses, two stables, two large yards, a cow yard and a yard to dry clothes. Five gardens and orchards, a forecourt, a garden house and a summer room with two fish ponds in the said orchards.
Then in 1661 the land was restored to the Dean and a further survey was required for valuation and compensation:
The site consists of the great house, brewhouse, and several other houses, several barns, stables, a pigeon house, several gardens, orchards, yards, courts, all which contain 12 acres and do abut north upon the sewer or current of water and upon several grounds of Henry Barker’s, Esq, etc.
Thomas Belasyse, Earl Fauconberg
In 1675 the manor and its house was acquired by Thomas Belasyse, then Viscount Fauconberg. He had married Oliver Cromwell’s daughter, Mary, in 1657 and when he died in 1700 she carried on living there until her death in 1713. The house was inherited by his nephew, Thomas Frankland, who died in 1726. Soon after this it was acquired by the Earl of Burlington.
Thomas Belasyse invested heavily in expanding and laying out his garden and grounds. Mary does not appear to have made any significant changes in the 13 years she lived there alone. What we know of Frankland is that he concentrated his efforts on his Yorkshire estates and that five years after inheriting Sutton he was too infirm to work and was pensioned by the Crown. The land sales in the 1720s and the first map in the 1740s suggest that the work Belasyse did before 1700 was substantially the estate which Burlington acquired.
Amongst the Fauconberg papers is Arthur Palmer’s Account Book. Palmer was Fauconberg’s steward and kept an account of all expenditure on his Chiswick property. It starts in 1685 so, for example, it shows the expenditure on robes for his investiture as Earl in 1689, records the gifts and payments made on his death in 1700 and, in the hands of other stewards, runs until 1708. The account book records expenditure of £1,150 on the grounds. Using the retail price index (House of Commons 1999 and the Measuringworth website) this would be worth around £150,000 today. But using the price of hornbeam as a multiplier, as 2,000 whips then cost £1 and today cost £600, Fauconberg may have spent the equivalent of £690,000.
Fauconberg bought quantities of hollies, laburnum, prickwood, phillyrea, yew, juniper, laurel, hornbeam, Dutch elm, Dutch box, oaks, cedars, cypress and golden firs and lignum vitae mainly from Henry Wise of the Brompton Nursery and Nicholas Parker of the Strand on the Green Nursery.
He bought fruit trees, bay trees, many varieties of oranges and lemons, huge numbers of pots and baskets, hoops and mats. He purchased huge quantities of dung, gravel, lime, bricks and turf (6,500 turves in one purchase). He also acquired 50 green oaks, 120 Dutch elms, 500 hollies which at 1.5 foot spacing would have made a hedge of 250 yards in length. In 1694 he bought 1,300 hornbeam for 430 yards of hedge. He created a yard for white pheasants, and acquired 26 tame partridges.
He bought land from a neighbour, Jeremiah Keene, dug a pond large enough for a boat, built a wall and installed gates. He purchased statuary (amongst them Mars and Minerva, and Cain and Abel, both from Mr Osgood – who came after Fauconberg’s death to repair and paint them). In the walled gardens to the north-west of his house Fauconberg laid out the intricate walks and parterres with the expensive and rare trees and shrubs so extensively described by his visitors.
To the east and south-east, outside his walls, he moved Little Sutton Lane westward to get more space (this is the line of today’s Sutton Court Road). He laid out as parkland with avenues of trees all the fields from his house south to the road from Chiswick to the Strand (which we now know as Burlington Lane) and east to the boundaries of his neighbour, the 1st Earl of Burlington. The primary design (three avenues crossing in the centre) connects to the main entrance of the manor house but there are secondary avenues which link to the side entrance of his carriage yard. He would have walked in his formal gardens, but the avenues were long enough to ride.
And visitors came to admire, criticise and occasionally write about these grounds. In 1691, the Revd Henry Gibson wrote:
My Lord Fauconbergh’s Garden at Sutton Court has several pleasant walks and apartments in it; but the upper garden next the house is too Irregular and the bowling green too little to be commended. The green house is very well made but ill set. It is divided into three rooms, and very well furnished with good greens; but is so placed, that the sun shines not on the plants in winter, where they most need its beams, the dwelling house standing betwixt the sun and it. The maze or wilderness here is very pretty, being set all with greens, and a cypress arbour in the middle supported with a well-wrought timber frame; of late it grows thin at the bottom, by their letting the fir trees grow without their reach unclipped. The enclosure wired-in for white pheasants and partridges is a fine apartment, especially in summer when the bones of Italian bayes are set out, and the timber walk with vines on the side is very fine when the blew pots are on the pedestals on the top of it, and so is the fish-pond with the greens at the head of it.
John Macky must have visited a year or two before he published this in 1714:
From Brentford I passed by the pleasant village of Chiswick where the Earl of Burlington, Sir Stephen Fox and several other gentlemen of distinction have very agreeable seats; and in an Hour got to Sutton Court that celebrated seat of the late Earl of Falconbridge: and I must own that the House, Furniture, Pictures and Gardening are well worth the curiosity of a stranger. It belongs to Sir Thomas Frankland, Postmaster-General, to whom the Earl his uncle left it. I saw here a great and curious piece of antiquity, the eldest daughter of Oliver Cromwell, still fresh and gay though of a great Age.
Sir Stephen Fox’s house adjacent is a much finer outside and a regular Palace a-la-modern, with very extensive gardens; but Sutton-Court is une bijoux; it hath three Parterres, from the three Fronts of the House each finely adorned with statues. The Gardens are irregular; but that I think adds to their beauty; for every Walk affords Variety; the Hedges, Grottos, Statues, Mounts and Canals are so many surprising Beauties. In the House besides the Family Pictures are several very good Italian ones and a very neat Library, with Busto’s above the Bookcases.
The great and curious piece of antiquity, Mary, had died in 1713. Six years after her death the Revd George Harbin (1719) reported:
I saw at Sr Tho Franklin’s Garden at Little Sutton in Chiswick Parish the fairest and healthiest Orange and Lemmon Trees, in tubs, and the greatest variety of them viz Large China Oranges, Finger oranges etc and wch was most remarkable, some of these Orange trees were full of thorns and bore a great quantity of fruit, tho’ the Gardiner assured me they had never been grafted . . .
I saw there very tall and well-shaped Platanus’s of the oriental kind, also a great number of Cedars of Libanus and Ilex’s, wch grew very tall in a pyramidal-form. He shew’d me a White Poplar that had grown to a monstrous bignesse in less than 40 years. I tasted there a small bright red Plum wch he call’d the St Julian, of an excellent taste and the Condé Peaches wch are yellow within, were very good. The July black Grape had been ripe sometime there.
The geography of Chiswick
The pleasant spring which ‘rose boyling’ out of the ground at the west end of Strand on the Green forms a stream running across Chiswick in the small valley between the Strand and the rising ground around today’s Gunnersbury Station. Because the gardens of Sutton Court butted up to it, it remains as a property boundary between Sutton Court Mansions and the back gardens of Elmwood Road. We see it again today in the Chiswick House lake which was once much larger – the Chesterfield Road area is built on infill. Once across Burlington Lane the direction of this stream was originally towards St Nicholas Church and Corney House, where it entered the river.
The Bollo Brook has a more complex relationship with Chiswick. It is a long stream which ran down a steep hill through Acton (it carved a deep valley for itself). The land flattens out around the Chiswick Park Station area, where the brook divided. One branch ran eastwards across Acton Green and Bedford Park until it met the Stamford Brook and flowed into the Thames. The other branch flowed under and over today’s Chiswick High Road. In 1826 a Report on Public Bridges in the County of Middlesex noted a very small culvert there, so inadequate that ‘during floods, Acton Common and the neighbouring lands are frequently overflowed’. It then filled ponds on Turnham Green (one in front of what is now Arlington Park Mansions in particular) and continued down the Little Sutton Lane area until it met the stream from the ‘pleasant spring’, then followed the course to the Thames. In heavy rain, it would have flowed at great speed and collected a lot of sediment. The lowest and boggiest part of Chiswick before the drains and modern roads were built was the junction of these two streams (today’s western Barrowgate Road). This area was also the site of the moat which is visible on Potter’s map of 1818.
Jacques (1983) suggested this was described in Allen Brown, Colvin and Taylor (1963) as a royal residence between 1396-1415 which stood within a moat and contained a hall, chapel, two chambers with two solars above, and a cellar with two solars above. As late as 1818 the field was called Berry-gates. This helps explain the meaning of Barrowgate as a local word, for these gated and ‘fortified’ sites were sometimes described as a burh or a bury. The condition of this area depended completely on being able to maintain the watercourse to the Thames without blockages of any sort. The conjunction of heavy rainfall in Acton and a high tide in the Thames must have been threatening.
The Earl of Burlington’s acquisitions
The Surveys of 1590, 1649 and 1661 name the fields rented to the manor’s tenants, and give their size and position in relation to their neighbouring fields. In 1661 one of the fields in the low central area was called Gubbins, ‘a low, marish meadow wherein are two fish ponds, the water house and a small copse’. In the same survey, the 30-acre Holm field was divided into equal amounts of arable and meadow, one held by the lord of the manor and the other by a tenant. The engraving by Knyff, created in 1698 and published in 1707, shows the division clearly created by the steep sided common sewer with one half of the field being harvested separately from the other.
Burlington inherited Chiswick House in 1703 when he was nine years old. His earliest building work was the Bagnio in 1717. It was built in the corner of his estate, facing inwards along a new path and some distance from the stream suggested by Knyff. He laid out three new paths, which each had a building to terminate the view from the middle of his grounds. Buying additional lands in the 1720s gave Burlington most of what he needed. He was able to excavate a new, wider channel for the stream to create a lake nearer to the edge of his existing estate, moving the soil to the perimeter of his new land and laying new paths and avenues of trees to incorporate the landscape into his own (some trees from the earlier avenues may still be standing today). He reshaped the back of his Bagnio and his Temple to face his new lake and created a new channel to take the stream directly down to the Thames.
But what Burlington could not have was an ornamental water feature at the point where the stream entered his land. As the land just outside his property was level with or in part lower than his own, there was no fall which would give the opportunity for a naturalistic device, like a tumbling brook or a stream issuing from rock. If he excavated to get a lower water level, the Thames would rush in at high tide. His solution was to build and pump water through the Cascade, but at the ‘wrong’ end of his lake, where in reality the stream flowed out of his parkland.
The later history of Sutton Court
Having acquired the manor house and its estate, Burlington then leased the house and its immediate grounds to under-tenants. Major alterations were made by Thomas King before 1795.
Rocque shows the house in the 1740s as a T shape, Potter in 1818 shows an L shape, so it appears that King removed the front wing and created the pedimented facade which is shown on the advertisement for Tappenden’s boarding school. The house was demolished probably in 1904 and houses facing Sutton Court Road were built over its foundations. The Sutton Court Mansion flats were built in its grounds.
References and sources
Allen Brown, R, Colvin, R & Taylor, A (1963) The History of the King’s Works Vol 2: The Middle Ages, HMSO
Arthur Palmer’s Account Book: ZDV v 10 North Yorkshire Record Office
Faith, R (2004) ‘Estates and Income’ in Keene, D, Burns, A & Saint, A (eds) St Paul’s – the Cathedral Church of London 604—2004, Yale University Press
Gibson (1691) ‘A short account of several gardens near London, with remarks upon some particulars wherein they excel or are deficient, upon a view of them in December 1691 Archaeologia, Vol XII, (1794)
Hale, W (1858) The Domesday of St Pauls, Camden Society
Jacques, D (1983) Chiswick House Grounds Historical Survey – Development of the Grounds, Travers Morgan Planning for the Dept of the Environment
Macky, J (1714) Journey Through England in Familiar Letters
McGarvie, M and Harvey, J (1983) ‘The Revd George Harbin and his Memoirs of Gardening’, Garden History, Vol 11, No 1
Retail Price Index (1999) Inflation: the Value of the Pound 1750-1998, House of Commons Research paper 99/20
Survey of 1590: MS 20685 Guildhall Library
Survey of 1649: MS 11816 Guildhall Library
Survey of 1661: L21/31/3 Chatsworth Archives
James Wisdom is the Chairman of the Brentford and Chiswick Local History Society and in 1984 was one of the founding Trustees of the Chiswick House Friends.