Syon House is the London residence of the Duke of Northumberland and is situated on the banks of the River Thames in Brentford, west London. Syon House derives its name from Syon Abbey a medieval monastery that was founded in 1415 by King Henry V. The abbey moved to the site that is now Syon House in 1431 however it was closed in 1539 by royal agents during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1541 Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard was brought to Syon for her long imprisonment, she was later taken to the Tower of London where she was executed. Five years later when King Henry VIII died, his coffin was brought to Syon on its way to be buried in Windsor.
In the 18th century, Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland, commissioned architect and interior designer Robert Adam and landscape designer Lancelot “Capability” Brown to redesign the house and estate. In 1762 work began on the reconstruction project. Five large rooms on the west, south and east sides of the house were completed but work stopped in 1769 due to cost.
Having bought my ticket I made my way down the long driveway to the house, it’s very grand but feels to me to be a little bit neglected and unloved. You enter the house through the main entrance and into the Great Hall a most beautiful room designed by Robert Adam, his brief was to create “a palace of Graeco-Roman splendour”. Unfortunately you are unable to take photographs inside the house, the internal pictures were not taken by me and credit is given where known.
The next room you enter is the Ante Room dominated by twelve Ionic columns veneered in green scagliola, the arrangement of the columns gives the room a square effect. The deep vivid colours in this room are a complete contrast to the subtle colours of the Great Hall.
Walking on you come into the State Dining Room an ornate room filled with Corinthian Columns and marble statues. Robert Adams intention was to “parade the conveniences and social pleasures of life” and I think you can see that he did.
From the State Dining Room you enter the Red Drawing Room, designed as an ante chamber to the Long Gallery. The walls are hung in crimson Spitalfield silk cloth and give the room a rich warmth. The ceiling is incredible, it’s made up of 239 roundels painted by Cipriani. The room also holds an important collection of portraits from Stuart royalty and the Percy family, apparently Sir Peter Lely’s portrait of Charles I and the Duke of York were painted at Syon.
Robert Adam planned the Long Gallery for the delight of ladies who would promenade the length of the gallery. The gallery measures 136 foot and is highlighted by a decorative turret room at either end. When Adam’s designed the gallery the original colours would have been bright pink and blue, the green colour wash was added by the 3rd Duchess in the nineteenth century. It is said that Lady Jane Grey was offered the crown in the gallery in 1553.
The Print Room was originally covered with over 100 prints with borders which had been collected by the 1st Duchess on her travels to the continent. After these were removed the room was filled with the portraits of the many people involved in the history of Syon. The pictures are from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries and tell a story from the time of Lord Protector Somerset who built the house in the late 1540’s, to the Percy link to North America and the War of Independence.
As you climb the principal staircase you arrive at the bedroom corridors that were remodelled by the 3rd Duke in the 1820’s and 1830’s. The two bedrooms on display were used as a nursery for the current Duke and his siblings when they used to visit in the spring and summer seasons. Today they are furnished in an Edwardian style.
As you continue down the passage you will find the State Bedrooms of Princess Victoria and her mother the Duchess of Kent. The 3rd Duchess Charlotte Florentina was given the coveted role of being Princess Victoria’s official governess, preparing the young princess for her future role of Queen.
Back downstairs don’t miss the small exhibition in the Undercroft relating to Channel 4 televisions Time Team programme. The archaeological dig excavated some remains of the lost abbey and an explanation of this and other artifacts found during other digs are displayed here.
As you leave the house and through an entrance just off the Great Hall is the Inner Courtyard. When Robert Adams was brought in to redesign the house he intended to fill the space in the centre of Syon House with a large rotunda, but it was never built. Historic plans show this area as an empty space, although it was used for entertainments, such as when the 9th Earl entertained James I. In 1999 Lady Salisbury was commissioned to design a courtyard garden and the present geometrical design was laid out.
As you walk around the house each room or area has its own guide and I thought that these passionate people were excellent telling you stories and tales about different events in the houses history that you wouldn’t have otherwise known. I was very lucky when I visited as it was very quiet so the guides had a lot of time to spend with me, something for which I’m very grateful as it made the house so much more interesting.
Having left the house I made my way over to the gardens and the Great Conservatory. Charles Fowler, an architect was to design Syon’s glass house and he created a building whose delicate structure was combined with a neo-classical elevation on a Palladian model. Originally the Great Conservatory was filled with exotic plants from all over the world, by the 1880’s palms and giant bamboos grew to the top of the dome, but social and political disruption and the onset of the First World War led to its decline. The building was extensively restored in 1986/7 to what can be seen today.
The gardens were nice to walk around but in my opinion not particularly well looked after which I thought was a bit of a shame. Broken benches and general neglect spoil what could be a most stunning space, you can see from the layout that they would have been beautiful in their heyday. Don’t get me wrong its not like they’re derelict or anything, I just think a little more effort and they could be really nice.
My visit to Syon was an interesting and enjoyable experience but it’s a place that’s somewhat off the tourist trail for those visiting London although it is easily accessible by train. If you can find the time to see it I would, if only to see the Robert Adams rooms, they really are worth the trip.
To see more pictures of Syon House & Gardens please visit www.pinterest.com/mrbelltravels