This summer, MoLAS has been carrying out an evaluation at Chiswick House, W4. The work is part of the ongoing investigation of the gardens prior to their proposed remodelling and reinstatement by English Heritage.
Previous archaeological investigations in the grounds of Chiswick House were carried out by MoLAS in 2005 and 2007. Evaluation this summer has focussed on several specific areas within the grounds, including the Northern Walled Garden and the Southern Walled Garden, or Kitchen Garden.
Chiswick House villa was built in the revived Palladian style by Richard Boyle, third Earl of Burlington, in 1727-9. He built the villa to the west side of the existing Jacobean mansion. In 1788, the 5th Duke of Devonshire had the Jacobean mansion demolished and substantial wings added to the villa.
In the 18th century, Moreton Hall stood next door to Chiswick House. Moreton Hall was built between 1682 and 1684 for Sir Stephen Fox. It was a substantial three-storey mansion with walled gardens and a large conservatory to the north-west. Moreton Hall was acquired by the 6th Duke of Devonshire in 1812, and he demolished the house soon after.
The recent evaluation trenches undertaken by MoLAS have produced evidence for a structure within the central eastern part of the Southern Walled Garden. It has been postulated that the structure may have been associated with a stove house in which fruit trees, exotics and early spring flowers are grown. It may also have been a conservatory of some sort, or a resting place in the surrounding “wilderness” where exotic plants were displayed. Further analysis is required to refine this interpretation.
Also in the Southern Walled Garden, a domed brick well capped with a shaped slab of Portland stone was recorded. The date of the well is not certain but is likely to be 18th-19th century.
Many of the evaluation trenches produced evidence for earlier planting beds cut into the natural substrate, and one showed evidence of a gardening practice called “subsoiling” or “trenching” in the 19th century. This involved digging and mixing top and subsoil deposits to create deeper planting beds. A few fragments of burnt and worked flint and prehistoric pottery were recorded within the garden soils associated with the earlier plant beds, but it’s possible these soils were imported from elsewhere.
This evaluation has shown that the potential for the survival of paths, brick-built structures and evidence of horticulture in the gardens is high. There’s excellent potential to learn more about 18th-century/early 19th-century activity, which would enhance the documentary record. In this way, the gardens of the past might inform and inspire the gardens of the future.
More information about Chiswick House can be found in Current Archaeology, volume 222.