Looking out for Art

Chiswick Timeline: A history in Art and Maps

Sally Williams, Keeper of the Inventory


I only found out about the Chiswick Timeline after its official launch on 28 January 2018, by all accounts a vibrant and well-attended event. Installed under the railway bridge at Turnham Green station, this remarkable new work of public art takes the form of a mural on vitreous enamel panels, which graphically tells the story of this interesting patch of London through sixteen maps, accompanied by carefully selected works of art showing local views, topics and landmarks.

Chiswick has been home to much creative talent over the centuries and many of these illustrations are the work of artists closely associated with the area, including William Hogarth, Johann Zoffany, Camille Pissarro, Charles Voysey and Eric Ravilious. Sir Peter Blake, who officially opened the mural, and Jan Pienkowski are among the contemporary artists who participated in the project, and each contributed a specially commissioned picture, of the Chiswick Empire and the Russian Orthodox Church respectively.

Once a riverside village, the rural fields and market gardens that covered much of the land here by the eighteenth century gradually gave way to suburban development, particularly after the arrival of the railways, although even today in the loop of the river that is known as Duke's Meadow a significant tract of green space endures. But even within densely built-over areas the past is discernible, and public parks mark the site of ancient common or fields of battle. It is this history that the Chiswick Timeline lays bare, in a most accessible manner.

The sequence of maps starts with John Norden's 1593 Map of the County of Middlesex, which is accompanied by a painting by Jacob Knyff showing Chiswick from the River, Corney House (with St Nicholas Church) of 1676-80. An engraving by Johannes Kip of Leonard Knyff's The House at Chis Wick of 1698-9 precedes a map of 1700 by William Knight. Following this are John Rocque's always fascinating surveys of 1746 and 1754, and then Thomas Milne's Land Use Plan of 1800, which charts the area in colour blocks that delineate 'Arable Land' of various types, 'Market Garden Ground', 'Meadow and Pasture', 'Marsh Land', 'Nursery Ground', 'Orchard and also Osiers', 'Paddock or Little Park' and finally 'Wood'. Ordnance Survey maps from 1822 to 1914 show the changing topography, as do a series of A—Z Maps from 1938 to 1994. Social history is further illuminated through the Chiswick Parish Map of 1847 showing the ownership of agricultural land for the purpose of calculating tithes, and the 1945 Bomb Damage Map produced by Middlesex County Council graphically illustrates the devastation of World War II. The sequence concludes with the 2018 Legible London map.

In this way the mural shows the development of the landscape and its usage from the sixteenth to the twenty-first century and the green spaces, parks and gardens that are found in Chiswick today can be traced back in time. The fine grounds at Chiswick House, for example, are shown in a painting of 1729-31 by Pieter Andreas Rysbrack; another by Zoffany shows the Duke of Devonshire's children in the gardens in 1763, and a design by Marthe Armitage depicts the grounds in 2005. The fields that once bordered Hogarth's House are reproduced in an engraving by Hogarth himself of 1750, presenting an extraordinary contrast with Martin Rowson's cartoon of Hogarth's Roundabout in 1997. Local recreation is depicted in a cricket match on Turnham Green c.1850 and the famous Boat Race is represented in two of the Timeline pictures, in 1929 and 2010. Many of the places are found on the LPGT Inventory — either side of the railway itself are Chiswick Back Common and Acton Green, both remnants of ancient commonland and a stroll away is Turnham Green itself, where the Earl of Essex marshalled his forces from the London area in the Civil War. From the tube station you can wander through Bedford Park, the early speculatively-built Garden Suburb developed by Jonathan Carr from 1875 that became a model and showpiece, attracting artists and the 'aesthetic middle classes'. A short walk takes you to Duke's Meadows, land once in the ownership of the Duke of Devonshire, which was purchased from the 9th Duke in 1923 by Chiswick Urban District Council, who recouped some of the cost through hiring out part of the land to sports clubs. The terraced riverside promenade that was created as a public park, with balustrading and river viewpoints, a bandstand and two shelters, has undergone recent restoration. In addition there are Chiswick's churchyards and burial grounds, which include the old parish churchyard of St Nicholas, where Hogarth, Lord Burlington and William Kent are buried, and in the adjacent Old Cemetery the painter James MacNeill Whistler's tomb can be found.

The artists responsible for the Chiswick Timeline project are Sarah Cruz, Karen Liebreich and Karen Wyatt, who together form Abundance London, a voluntary organisation that undertakes a variety of educational and environmental projects in Chiswick. Between them they have a breadth of design, horticultural, educational, community engagement and financial expertise. Sarah, for example, formerly ran Local Produce, an organisation dedicated to eliminating food gluts; historian and author Karen Liebreich, who set up the Chiswick House Kitchen Garden, was awarded an MBE in 2013 for services to horticulture and education; and chartered accountant Karen Wyatt is a trustee of a number of local charities, including Hammersmith Community Garden Association.

The Chiswick Timeline has been a truly collaborative community project, with funding from Hounslow and Ealing Councils, permission to use the site granted by Transport for London and support from numerous individuals and local groups, including Fuller's Brewery. In addition to the mural itself, the project website provides information on all the maps and works of art and a special commemorative booklet has been published. When I went to buy a copy from Foster's Bookshop, I found that it had already sold out in just a matter of weeks, such had been its success and I eagerly await the reprint. Appropriately, the publication is in the form of a fold-out concertina, and as well as reproducing each of the maps and works of art, it tells the story of the project.

When I visited the mural, I saw people of all ages looking and pointing out landmarks on the various panels. It is an ingenious combination of a beautifully executed work of art, perfectly sited in a public place, and an educational tool that will surely benefit the local community and encourage people to explore the area around them.

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Turnham Green

Chiswick Back Common

All photos by Sally Williams