Dukes Meadows, Character Reach No 2
On the North bank opposite Mortlake and Barnes, within the inner loop of the river is Dukes Meadow. This large area has predominantly remained as open space throughout its history. Before flood defences and embankments were built to control the river, Duke's Meadow was a low-lying area subject to periodic flooding. The fringes of the river were traditionally important for growing osiers. The cut willows were used for basket making. The grazed meadows were sub-divided into a series of large fields. Many of these historic boundaries are still visible today.
John Rocque's map of c, 1745 shows the meadows and field pattern of Dukes Meadow and the riverside settlements on the opposite side of the River at Mortlake and Barnes. The green open fields contrast with the parks and gardens of Chiswick Grove and Chiswick House. The planned views and vistas framed by avenues are clearly shown on Rocque's map.
Lord Burlington's classic villa, Chiswick House is one of a series of villas built as countryside retreats along the upper reaches of the Thames in London, which also includes Horace Walpole's villa at Strawberry Hill and Henrietta Howard's villa at Marble Hill.
Chiswick House was completed in 1729 by the third Earl of Burlington; it was modelled on the Villa Rotunda at Vicenza, and has survived as one of the finest examples of English Palladian architecture. The gardens were created by William Kent and were the first ambitious design in landscape style. A long narrow lake runs from the north west to the southeast and divides the gardens in two. The tithe map of 1846 shows the lake continuing into the Thames, but by 1936 this water feature had been covered by the Promenade Approach Road.
The lake is believed to have been formed by impounding the Bolo Brook (or Dukes Ditch) which flowed through the grounds of Chiswick House. The outlet of this watercourse is at the end of the Promenade Approach Road. An avenue of lime trees is all that remains today of this historic connection between Chiswick House and the Thames.
On Lord Burlington's death Chiswick house passed into the hands off the dukes of
Devonshire. The 5th Duke and his popular wife, Georgiana spent a great deal of time entertaining their Whig friends at Chiswick.
Dukes Meadow was bought from the Duke of Devonshire in 1923 by Chiswick Urban District Council for the purpose of creating a recreational area for the growing residential communities in Chiswick. The meadows were also excavated for the underlying gravels and filled using household waste. This accounts for the poor quality of the soils and drainage on some of the existing sports pitches.
The river frontage was remodelled in the late 1920's as a promenade with hexagonal bandstand and symmetrical shelters looking across the river to the fine Georgian housing at Barnes Terrace. The riverside park was unfortunately bombed during the Second World War, and features such as the ornamental rockery were destroyed.
At the foot of the buttressing of Barnes Bridge, next to the railway embankment is Dukes Hollow, a site of metropolitan Importance for nature conservation.
The floor of the "hollow" slopes gently into the Thames and is partly inundated twice a day by the tide.
The ecology of the inter-tidal zone and the succession of vegetation through herbaceous communities to damp alder and willow make this a site of particular distinction. Species of the inter-tidal zone include: jointed rush, soft rush, watercress, hemlock water dropwort and the locally uncommon marsh ragwort.
The relatively undisturbed conditions of Dukes Hollow, its sheltered position and its succession of wetland habitats makes it a valuable site for invertebrates. The extremely rare two-lipped door snail can be found here. It is confined to only five locations on the River Thames. The equally rare German hairy snail has also been found here.
The entire riverbank between Barnes Bridge and Chiswick Bridge has been overgrown by Japanese Knotweed. This extremely invasive and persistent species has suppressed the native flora. It threatens to spread into Dukes Hollow and further along the river in both directions. The dense stands of knotweed also prevent views of the river from the lower towpath.
The Great Chertsey Road (A316) was constructed in the early 1930's as part of the major arterial road building programme , which accompanied the rapid urban growth
of London between the First and Second World Wars. The new road divided the remaining open space of Dukes Meadow. The Alexandra Gardens estate was built at the same time on the fields closest to the new road, on its southern edge.
Chiswick Bridge was built to take the new Great Chertsey Road across the river.
It was opened in 1933 by the Prince of Wales, Designed by Herbert Baker, it is 700 feet long and faced with Portland stone. The bridge is the finishing point of the four mile annual Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge Universities
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