The gardens, created in 1683, were originally the property of Sir Stephen Fox, Paymaster of the Army until 1680, and boss of Samuel Pepys. He owned Moreton Hall, which adjoined Chiswick House, and was reputed to be 'the richest commoner in three kingdoms.' Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, noted in 1725 that Sir Stephen Fox's House at Chiswick is the Flower of all the private Gentlemens Palaces in England, and described a satisfied King William wandering around the House and Garden, and then planting himself on the Terrace overlooking the gardens for nearly 'half a quarter of an Hour without speaking one Word,' before announcing, 'This place is perfectly fine, I could live here for five Days.'
At around the time of Fox's death in the early 18th century, the walled garden contained "4 Ceader hedges, five Esplies of Pears, Eight Perimid Ceaders , and Twenty One standard Apples & Cherrys". Elsewhere the documents refer to "two Espalies of Nonparels, One Espalie of Pears, twenty seven standard Apples Codlins Cherrys & Plums". The accounts also show a pear and a cherry tree purchased in April 1697: "Burey de Roy Pare tree bought for one shilling", and "Duke Cherry Tree" bought for sixpence. The Burey de Roy was a famous French pear described as being "of a dark brown colour, long form, and very good taste." The Duke cherry was reported as being "a very red colour", ready in June, and particularly happy grown along a wall. The account books also 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, and there is also mention of red roses and poppies, clove gillyflowers (a type of carnation) and double daisies. Gardeners were paid 16 pence per day. The mulberry, half way down on the left in the wooded part, may be a cutting from the famous ancient tree in Hogarth's nearby garden.
In 1812 the 6th Duke of Devonshire purchased Moreton Hall and demolished the house, adding its Kitchen Garden to Chiswick House Grounds. He commissioned Samuel Ware to design the new 300-foot conservatory for the cultivation of grapes, peaches, pineapples and flowers, and later to house an early collection of camellias and other exotics then thought tender - a couple of the plants still in the conservatory are thought to date from this period.
The axis that stretches from the now-destroyed Moreton Hall, through the Conservatory, through the Kitchen Garden, used to extend onwards (over the A4) to the Royal Horticultural Society's Gardens, which flourished in Chiswick on land leased from the Duke from 1823 until their move to Wisley in 1903.
From 1892 Chiswick House was used as a lunatic asylum, before coming under the ownership of the Council in 1929. In the 1960s the Beatles shot the promotional film for 'Paperback Writer' there.
During the 1980s and '90s the Kitchen Garden served as a nursery for Hounslow and rows of saplings were planted there for use elsewhere in the borough. Unfortunately, policies changed, and the nursery was no longer needed. The saplings became tall trees, though still in straight rows.
In January 2005, volunteers were allowed to start clearing weeds and debris, and take over cultivation of a small section to work with local children growing fruit and vegetables. By May that year the children were enjoying salad picnics from their own produce. As the children worked so successfully, the group was gradually entrusted with more and more land, a small greenhouse and a derelict shade tunnel. In May open sessions for the general public were introduced on a drop-in basis and proved popular.
In November 2005 the Chiswick House Kitchen Garden Association was established with the following objects:
Since then, the project has gone from strength to strength with many thousands of school children visits, and hundreds of volunteer visits at the Open Work Sessions.
In the course of 2008 the association incorporated as a "Company Limited by Guarantee" and registered as a charity.
From January 2009, as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund works carried out on Chiswick House Grounds, the Kitchen Garden is being restored - with the removal of the overgrown saplings, the laying of paths and restoration of the walls.
Sadly, there is no access for the public during this restoration and all activities have been suspended for the whole of 2009.
If you would like more information, or to be put on the mailing list and receive information about open sessions and general progress in the Gardens, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Historical information supplied by Sally Jeffery, "Sir Stephen Fox's 'extraordinarily fine' garden at Chiswick", Garden History, vol. 32, no. 1 (2004). We are very grateful to her for allowing us to summarise the article. Further information at http://www.gardenhistorysociety.org/publications/