Artists, Arts & Crafts, the boat race and beer; Judith Baker takes a refreshing lockdown walk in West London
My favourite lockdown walk starts at Chiswick House, once owned by Lord Burlington, Duke of Devonshire. (found on the A316 from London driving west) Burlington’s neo-Palladian Villa (1729) and Italian gardens welcomed many luminaries at lavish parties hosted by socialite Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Her son the Bachelor 6th Duke introduced exotic residents to the grounds including an elephant. There is a licensed café and toilets on the grounds.
From Chiswick House join the river Thames at Chiswick Pier, where the Chiswick RNLI is based, the second busiest rescue station in the UK and Ireland.
Walk to the left, spotting herons, cormorants, terns, lapwings, wagtails and woodpeckers and reach Chiswick Mall at the site of the ferry which was the only means of crossing the river until 1939. St Nicholas Parish Church here dates from the 1880s but the tower is 15th century. Pause at the tomb of artist William Hogarth who spent his last years in nearby Hogarth’s House and died in 1764. Also in the adjoining burial ground are the tombs of artist JM Whistler (1903) and Italian poet Ugo Foscolo (1827)
Old Chiswick grew up around the church in the 12th century. The Old Burlington (1550) on Church Street is now a private house but was once a busy inn still visited, story has it, by a ghostly presence. Digress briefly to turn left at the top of Church street to Chiswick Square, now facing the un-lovely Hogarth roundabout, but otherwise representative of how the area looked in Georgian times. It inspired the opening scene of Vanity Fair by W.M Thackray who completed the novel in Walpole House on Chiswick Mall
Back on Chiswick Mall pass several imposing Regency houses including Red Lion House, once a busy inn facing the dry dock. Eynham House and Bedford House were once a single property built in the 17th century and inhabited by a few famous names over the centuries including Sir Michael Redgrave.
Each house has its own story and if walls could talk would tell of many an aristocratic or political scandal. Walpole House was the home of Barbara Villiers, the mistress of Charles II and later passed to Hon Thomas Walpole (nephew of the PM Sir Robert)
This stretch of the river is loved by rowers and once a year the famous Oxford and Cambridge boat race passes by. By now you will have noticed a strong smell of hops as you approach Fullers Griffin Brewery, opened by Fuller Smith and Turner in 1845 and now owned by the Japanese Asahi Group. The adjacent Lamb Brewery was sold to Fullers in the 1920s. Mawson Arms here (now closed) was once the home of poet Alexander Pope.
There are regular tours of the brewery which include beer tastings and every autumn an Open Day sees majestic brewery dray horses make an appearance in their finery.
Chiswick Eyot is a three-acre island, the most easterly of the Thames islands and now a nature reserve accessible at low tide. The Old Chiswick Preservation Society collects withies or willow shoots here. Formerly used to make baskets they shore up the bank of the Thames to stop erosion.
On the other side of the river are The Swedish School and St Paul’s Boys school.
If you are in need of refreshment at this point, Mari’s Deli & Dining on Eyot Gardens sells good coffee and pastries, at the point where Chiswick becomes Hammersmith. A few yards farther the Black Lion pub (1754) serves pub food in a pleasant garden where there is a BBQ in summer.
This area was once a hotbed of artistic output, with William Morris and his mentor, Emery Walker both having homes here. Emery Walker’s house at number 7 Hammersmith Terrace is open to the public.
You now pass The Old Ship pub and grand Linden House, formerly an 18th-century merchant’s house and now the home of the London Corinthian Sailing Club.
The charming Grade II listed Dove pub at the end of Upper Mall is where Rule Britannia was written by James Thompson in 1740 and boasts one of the smallest bars in London. The list of drinkers here reads like a Who’s Who of boozers and includes Ernest Hemingway and Dylan Thomas. Stop for a drink on the terrace in summer or in the cosy lounge with a roaring fire in winter.
Next door was the Dove Bindery, later Dove’s Press, founded in 1893 by Thomas Cobden Sanderson who is credited with coining the term Arts & Crafts.
26 Upper Mall is Kelmscott House, once the home of artist, textile designer and socialist William Morris who lived here until 1896. The basement and coach house is now the headquarters of The William Morris Society and open to the public. Morris founded the Kelmscott Press next door.
Pause at Dove Pier to look at colourful houseboats and over to Hammersmith Bridge. The suspension bridge, currently closed for repair, connects Hammersmith with Barnes on the south of the river. Built in1825 and replaced in 1884 it is Grade II listed and one of a handful of bridges worldwide built to this design, one other being the Chain Bridge in Budapest. Hammersmith Bridge has survived three attacks by the IRA.
From this point, it is a short walk to Hammersmith Broadway for the tube (District, Piccadilly, Hammersmith & City lines). Or continue along the Thames Path to Putney Bridge and beyond.
Tell Me More About Walking the Thames Path From Chiswick To Hammersmith
This stretch of the river is prone to floods so to prevent causing the busy RNLI even more work, check the tides before you leave especially if wading out to Chiswick Eyot.
For more information see Thames Path
Read another of Judith’s Thames walks here: Strand on the Green at Chiswick to Kew