The sun shone gloriously on the righteous as a select group of Free Gardeners from Lodge No.13 gathered at Chiswick House in west London on Sunday 4th October for our autumn outing. We were small in number ("We few, we happy few, we band of brothers") but we more than made up for that with our zeal and enthusiasm!
The house, designed for Lord Burlington in the early 18th century by the architect William Kent, is one of the finest examples of neo-classical architecture in Britain, and its extensive landscape gardens - so innovative and unusual at the time they were created, because of their more 'natural' style of gardening - have had a lasting impact on English garden planning ever since. In fact Chiswick House is hailed as "the birthplace of the English landscape garden".
As our group discovered on our guided tour, the gardens at Chiswick are a rare national treasure - a haven of peace of tranquillity despite their proximity to the hustle and bustle of the nation's capital city.
On an especially beautiful Sunday afternoon we were able to stroll around and enjoy the rich diversity of the estate's flora and fauna - not the least the wonderful Cedars of Lebanon - the numerous statues and follies so reminiscent of ancient Rome, and the cascading waters (more dramatic now than in the 18th century when they were dismissed as "Burlington's piddle"!).
Inside the house we were treated to more statues and sculptures, including a genuine Egyptian sphinx and a marble bust of Napoleon (introduced to the house by a later owner, the renowned society hostess, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire), stunning works of art including portraits of the Burlington and Devonshire families, and the most amazing and exquisite ceiling paintings incorporating masonic images such as square and compasses, level and plumb rule, and the architectural plans of King Solomon's Temple.
In addition to the masonic codes and symbols in the house design (both Burlington and his architect Kent were freemasons, as were many of the Burlington circle including the writers Alexander Pope and Horace Walpole, regular visitors to the house), other artwork included coded references to Lord Burlington's Jacobite sympathies. Most surprising of all was the revelation that the house was built purely to entertain friends (and masonic brethren) and to showcase Burlington's collection of fine art; it is not a 'stately home' as there are no bedrooms or kitchens in the house!
All in all, plenty of interest for members of the Order of Free Gardeners - and, with so much to see, a return visit in the near future is highly likely. Seeing the gardens in spring or summer would give us a different perspective, and our Worthy Master suggests we might on the next occasion combine it with a visit to the nearby Fuller's brewery!
On the last Sunday of June the sun certainly shone on the righteous as a group of members - and prospective members - of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon Lodge No.13 had an outing to Chelsea, south-west London, enjoying glorious garden surroundings and glorious weather (with one quick shower to cool us down at the very end of our day!). The aim was to provide a chance for Lodge members to get together informally and enjoy a day out in London, celebrating the Capital's garden heritage, with a particular focus on institutions that, like our own Order of Free Gardeners, date back to the 17th century.
First stop was the Royal Hospital Chelsea (home of the Chelsea Pensioners, and the venue, of course, of the world-famous Chelsea Flower Show). This was a wonderful opportunity for Lodge members to see inside the Royal Hospital, founded by King Charles II in 1682 as a home for army veterans, and to meet some of the scarlet-coated Pensioners themselves, joining them in the Wren-designed chapel of the Royal Hospital for their Sunday service, and having the rare pleasure and privilege of hearing the chapel's choir - undoubtedly one of the best church choirs anywhere in the UK - sing some of England's very finest church music.
After our morning at the Royal Hospital we enjoyed a pleasant stroll through Chelsea to the Chelsea Physic Garden, a walled garden alongside the River Thames - and one of London's hidden treasures. Founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries to further the study of medicinal plants, the Physic Garden has been a centre for the study of botany and in particular the medicinal qualities of plants. After a delicious lunch in the garden's restaurant (and a chance encounter with actress Cherie Lunghi - members may remember her performance as Guinevere in John Boorman's 1980 Arthurian epic 'Excalibur'), our group had a fascinating guided tour of the garden, learning about the medicinal significance of everything from yew trees, ferns and palms to poisonous plants such as deadly nightshade, belladonna and mandrake (reminiscent of the herbology class at Hogwarts!).
All in all a most interesting, educational and enjoyable day.
Bro. Andrew Smith
AddendumSeveral of us not wishing to end the day too early then returned to the Royal Hospital for Tea and Cakes and stimulating conversation.