Charged With Guiding Chiswick House Grounds Back To Their Former Glory

We find out why the Trustees chose Sarah Finch-Crisp for this enormous task


Sarah Finch-Crisp

Chiswick House Dog Show 2008

Chiswick House and Gardens Trust Respond to Residents' Concerns

Chiswick House Friends


Sign up for our free weekly newsletter

Comment on this story on the

Sarah Finch-Crisp is the woman charged with steering the Chiswick House & Gardens restoration project to success and ensuring a sustainable future for the historic house and its grounds. An enormous task in anyone's book, so what made Chiswick House Trustees believe she was the woman for the job? I found out over a cup of coffee at her new office in the North Lodge.

Sarah Finch-Crisp is a museum curator by profession. She spent 24 years working for Swindon Borough Council as Head of Heritage. She was instrumental in a substantial project to restore Lydiard Park, a Palladian villa with parkland that dated back to medieval times.

She explains, “When I first came to Swindon, the house was very bare. The largely uninviting park was a popular local amenity but the history of the park and the historic features were all but disappearing due to hundred years or so of neglect. But with enormous support from local business and the Heritage Lottery Fund we attracted sufficient funds, £5m, to completely restore the grounds and public amenities. We transformed an 18th century stable into education centre, built a play ground, put back a missing lake and restored walled garden. Through archaeology and community involvement, members of public traced and indentified the original garden layout and we were able to give the house and gardens back to the community.”

With the final paths laid in Lydiard Park in and the end of 2007, Sarah felt it time to seek another challenge, a challenge that brought her to Chiswick.

“I had been to Chiswick and members of the Trust had visited Lydiard Park so Chiswick had been on my radar for some time.” Sarah says, “The Trust Director post came up with perfect timing one could say.”

“Chiswick fascinates me because there are so many parallels between Lydiard Park and Chiswick House.” She continues. “Many of the problems they’ve suffered are the same. It’s a very exciting time to be here, but I wish I was here two years ago. It’s the planning and design stage which takes the longest that’s the really hard part. The Trust has got this project a long way and has got over some extremely large hurdles. It takes a lot of commitment to do a project like this and huge amount of work to get it to implementation stage. Although when you see the work actually stating it’s very compelling, you know it will come out with an end result.”

Speaking about her first few months in the driving seat, Sarah has been most impressed by the level of community involvement. “Chiswick is supported so well, there are so many volunteers like the Goose Foot Volunteers who are out there now battling with brambles, doing so much work with so much enthusiasm.”

“The Kitchen Gardens have done wonderful work to date but there is a great opportunity to broaden education across the whole site from pond dipping to mathematics to how we used to live. There is enormous scope to develop this resource to draw more people into the park and engage with it.”

“Education is a particular passion of mine,” she adds.

Her future plans include compiling a comprehensive events programme for the park. “Dog shows, opera, tours of the house, I intend to draw all of those together into a comprehensive events programme which will broaden over the years.”

I asked her what she thought about how information is being communicated to the public. “There is a lot of information on the Trust’s website and the signage has improved but it’s not perfect. Certainly the aim of all the contractors and Trust is to get information up clearly.”

“Although coming here is was so obvious the amount of work that Fiona Crumley has done not only in the gardens and with her tree walks but drawing together people and generating enthusiasm about what the project is all about.”

What is top of Sarah’s ‘to-do’ list? “There’s not one single thing! I suppose to sum it up would be ensuring the restoration project progresses and that we have planned out a sustainable future for Chiswick House & Gardens so once restoration project is completed we are in a position to look after and manage it.”

She adds “Also to make sure that people know what’s going on and that communication is effective and liaise with many of the different groups and stakeholders that are involved in the Grounds.”

Chiswick House Trust publishes a monthly newsletter written by Sarah. To see this month’s edition click here.

Emma Brophy

September 18, 2008