It’s a rare pleasure to be a tourist in your own city. But this week I was able to properly explore Chiswick for the very first time. As a resident of West London I have had various brush-ins with this illustrious hamlet, but never become properly acquainted.
So I set of on my Bobbin bike, with a list of recommendations, on a grey Wednesday morning.
My first port of call was the Old Cinema, an antiques, vintage and retro department store on the High Road. It was a real Aladdin’s cave of knick-knacks and treasures nestled away in dark corners, aching to be discovered. They had a particularly good selection of jewellery (if you are in the market for reasonably priced rings or earrings, then this is for you). I was particularly impressed by their selection of lamps, which had been constructed out of anything and everything – including cricket bats, tennis racquets and even a gas mask! Just for the snooping value alone, I would highly recommend.
Next I went for a stroll along Turnham Green Terrace. I popped my head into Foubert’s Ice Cream Parlour – which I am reliably informed by a local is the ONLY place to indulge in this neck of the woods. I pottered down the terrace, impressed by the independent shops who still seem to dominate. Yes, Chiswick has a Sweaty Betty, Pho and Honest Burger but there is also Borough Wines, Natoora Fruit and Vegetables and Chris’s Fish Bar all of which retain their independent feel and give Chiswick the air of a regional town, rather than a bustling metropolis.
Exhausted by my extensive ramblings, I sought revival at Tamp Coffee. A pleasing local coffee shop, that is ‘edgy’ without being offensively hipster. It had a very rustic feel with exposed brick and a variety of trendy lamps cascading from the ceiling, but the man who served me was very nice and I particularly enjoyed meeting his large dog who seemed comfortably in residence. My flat white was a reasonable size and not criminally expensive – I was happy and post caffeine, ready for more exploring.
Having seen most of the commercial face of Chiswick, it was time to conquer the cultural. I set off for Chiswick House and Gardens, which was around a ten minute cycle from the heart of Chiswick. It is one of my favourite places in London – I don’t think I will ever get bored of it (and entry to the grounds is free #winning). The juxtaposition of the gritty city, with this oasis of sprawling green and Italian architecture is completely unique.
For those of you yet to discover this utter delight, I will give you a brief history (some stolen from the Chiswick House and Gardens website – soz!) The house and grounds were created by two Georgian trendsetters, the architect and designer William Kent and his friend and patron Lord Burlington. Influenced by their travels on the Grand Tour, they rejected the showy, Baroque style, fashionable in England, in favour of a simpler, symmetrical design, based on the classical architecture of Italy. They championed the work of the Venetian architect, Andrea Palladio and Chiswick House was one of the earliest English examples of what is called “Neo-Palladian” style.
The house is set in a rambling 65 acres of gardens, featuring everything from classical vistas to an 18th century wilderness. And all of this just in Zone 3! The further into the gardens you venture, the greater the rewards – as it is ripe with treasures such as the Orange Tree Garden & Ionic Temple, an Inigo Jones Gateway, bridges, waterfalls and a huge greenhouse designed by Samuel Temple that is bursting with their prize Camellia collection.
Feeling sufficiently cultured, I was about to head home – when I passed a sign to Hogarth’s House. Just off a very busy, and quite frankly hideous round-a-about (and opposite a spanking new Tesla garage) lies the country refuge of the English painter, printmaker and pictorial satirist William Hogarth. It’s not your standard tourist hotspot, and the lady holding down the fort seemed genuinely shocked to see me. After the initial surprise of seeing an actual visitor, she ushered me in and pointed me in the direction of the (free) exhibition.
The Museum contains one of Hogarth’s best-known images, ‘Gin Lane’, that has come to represent the worst aspects of slum life in 18th century London; its lesser-known counterpart, ‘Beer Street’ is also in residence and shows the peace and prosperity which might result if beer, rather than gin, became the staple drink of the poor. These, as well as a plethora of other works are on show, including ‘The Four Stages of Cruelty’. There is also a great emphasis on his work with Captain Coram’s new Foundling Hospital for orphaned and abandoned children, which effectively became London’s first public art gallery through his efforts. I thoroughly enjoyed my unintentional private tour of the gallery and was impressed by the efforts to restore the house, and the collection it is home to.
Just a short walk from the house is St Nicholas’ Church, where you can see Hogarth’s final resting place.
I hopped back on my bike and peddled the twenty minutes back to Hammersmith feeling culturally enriched, and planning on moving to Chiswick — when I win the lottery.
It really is rather nice.