Syon House Outing

Sudbury History Society

Outing to Syon House, Thursday 24th October 2019

Syon House in west London is one of the last great houses of London, and has been in the family of the present owners, Ralph Percy, 12th Duke of Northumberland, for more than 400 years.

Profoundly historic, the House holds a wealth of art within its grand classical interiors, while the Park and Gardens feel like deep countryside, although barely nine miles from Charing Cross.

Syon Park contains a great variety in a relatively small area, from Gardens and Arboretum through to parkland and the unique tidal water meadows.

We enjoyed sunshine during our journey there, but rain started as we arrived. Some of us opted for a coffee or early lunch in the nearby café.

The main house was a short walk away. There we discovered a multitude of treasures. The basement display outlines the history of the Bridgettine Abbey of Syon, established in 1415 by Henry V and dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539.

During the remainder of the 16th century, the Abbey complex was transformed into a grand private house. Two hundred years later, the Scottish architect Robert Adam was commissioned to create a series of striking classical interiors, filled with antiquities shipped from Italy.  Adam was not able to change the interior layout of the House, and so used a number of architectural devices to create a suitable impression. These rooms formed the major part of our tour of the house.

The Great Hall, the Ante Room, the State Dining Room, the Red Drawing Room, and the 136ft Long Gallery were sumptuously decorated and filled with paintings and furniture. In Princess Victoria’s Bedroom we learnt that the 3rd Duchess was given the coveted role of being Princess Victoria’s official governess, and in doing so prepared the young princess for her future role as Queen.

In the 18th century, the landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown transformed the grounds surrounding the house, creating the open views characteristic of the English Landscape movement.

Some of us visited the enormous 19th century Great Conservatory, where the use of cast iron allowed for a very large area of glass, and a remarkably delicate structure. It contains a wide variety of plants, including extensive grape vines.

The poor weather failed to deter at least one member of the group from exploring the extensive grounds, walking across the eighteenth-century iron bridge and around the lake. On the way, the viewing platform looks over the Tide Meadow, 40 acres of tall grass washland, a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The Tide Meadow is the only significant section of unembanked riverside on the Tidal Thames, and as a result it floods at high tide, creating a unique and special habitat and a historical artefact in its own right. There have been few changes to these meadows in 400 years.

There was time to enjoy a welcome pot of tea with cake in the warm, dry café before the journey home. Frustratingly, as we queued on the M25 following an accident ahead, the low sun emerged from the clouds to illuminate the Essex landscape. Nevertheless, a most enjoyable outing.

Report above by Malcolm Snow, incorporating text from www.syonpark.co.uk , where more information can be found.

A slideshow of photos from John Beavan:

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A slideshow of photos from Malcolm Snow:

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