In 1709 the greatest master of the English baroque portrait purchased the mansion built by Edmund Cooke. Court painter to four sovereigns, Sir Godfrey Kneller then set about demolishing the old house and building himself a country seat in the Queen Anne Style. Completed two years later, reputedly from drawings by Sir Christopher Wren, Kneller welcomed many a distinguished guest, including members of the royal family. He kept a large studio at Whitton Hall where he and his assistants worked on his numerous commissions. When Kneller died in 1723, some 800 paintings were left there.
A year before Kneller’s death, Archibald Campbell, The Earl of Islay selected Whitton as the site of his country estate where he could indulge his passion for growing rare and exotic plants. In keeping with eccentric leanings towards taming even the most unpromising land, he chose the former bailiff’s holding on the fringe of Hounslow Heath to lay out his celebrated garden. As a younger son, Ilay was at the outset much poorer that his bother the 2nd Duke of Argyll. But well judged speculations and by making himself indispensable to Sir Robert Walpole in Scottish affairs, he achieved money, power and offices until by degrees he controlled Scottish affairs, elections and appointments and was dubbed “King of Scotland”.
By the time he had inherited the title Duke of Argyll following the death of his brother in 1743, the “tree-monger of Whitton” had built his estate, complete with a substantial greenhouse, a villa and offices, and all enclosed by a moat.
His mistress and their two illegitimate children were housed in their own Palladian estate close by complete with an exquisite formal garden possibly contrived by Twickenham Poet Alexander Pope, a great friend of the Duke.
A year after Argyll’s death in 1760, many of his finest specimens of rare plants and trees were transferred to the fledgling gardens at Kew; some of which can still be seen to this day.