Syon House and its 200 acre park is the London home of the Duke of Northumberland, whose family have lived here for over 400 years. Originally the site of a medieval abbey, Syon was named after Mount Zion in the Holy Land. The abbey was dedicated to the Bridgettine Order, established in the 14th century by the great Swedish mystic St Bridget.
One of the last great abbeys to be built (founded by King Henry V in 1415), Syon was dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1539.
In 1547, King Henry VIII's coffin was brought to Syon on its way to Windsor for burial. Reputedly, it burst open during the night and in the morning dogs were found licking up the remains! This was regarded as a divine judgement for the King's desecration of Syon Abbey during the dissolution of the monasteries.
Following the discovery of the ruins of the Abbey Church in 2003, Birkbeck University of London have continued to undertake annual excavations. Our friend Becky spent most of last summer there excavating.
Above: a painting of Syon House dating from before Robert Adam and Capability Brown were employed to modernise the house and garden in around 1760. However no major changes were made to the external structure of the building. There are various distortions in this painting: the house is shown closer to the river than it really is, the river is shown too small, and the boats too large.
The Scottish architect, Robert Adam was instructed to remodel the interior of Syon House and the Northumbrian designer, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, to lay out the grounds in the fashionable style of the English Landscape Movement. Brown and Adam had more in common than just being fashionable designers; both were aspiring to create a new ideal form of an earlier time. Whilst Adam’s architecture was inspired by classical Rome, so Brown took the medieval deer park as a model for an ideal countryside. Both were consciously borrowing the connotations of wealth, power and antiquity, and packaging them for their clients.
The Duke was one of Robert Adam’s chief patrons and engaged him soon after Adam returned from Italy. In 1761, Adam published his plan for the interior decoration of Syon House, which included a complete suite of rooms on the principal level, together with a rotunda to be erected in the main courtyard. In the event, five main rooms on the west, south and east sides of the House, from the Great Hall to the Long Gallery were refurbished in the Neo-classical style. It was enough to place a stamp on the architect and his work in England and it is said, “at Syon the Adam style was actually initiated”. Syon House is feted as Adam’s early English masterpiece and has been recognised as the finest surviving evidence of his revolutionary use of colour, as in the design for the Mirror Room below...
The Anteroom (below) also demonstrates the use of colour, particularly in the scagliola floor.
Below: The Red Drawing Room
The power and influence of the Dukes of Northumberland was confirmed when the 3rd Duchess was appointed official governess to the young Princess Victoria. The bedrooms of Princess Victoria and her mother, the Duchess of Kent, are still named after them and retain their original beds. The young Princess would have enjoyed the conservatory in the gardens, which was completed in 1830, the first conservatory to be built from metal and glass on a large scale...