Water meadows and a natural foreshore of the tidal Thames are the setting for Syon Park. The house, home to the Duke of Northumberland, sits on the site of a former abbey founded by King Henry V in 1416, although the building on this site wasn’t begun until 1426. The abbey was divided into two—one part for women, the other for men. Nothing now remains of the abbey which was closed in 1539 under the direction of Henry VIII. The state took over the property. Tour of the House
It was the Duke of Somerset, in charge for the Crown, who began the building of the house and the formal garden. His enemies managed to get him executed in 1552, and one enemy, John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland grabbed the property. His daughter in law was Lady Jane Grey, the 9 day wonder queen.
The Crown again took control of Syon in 1558, and the building of the house was finished. Queen Elizabeth visited four times between 1576-1594. The famous and wealthy Percy family came into the possession of the house and land in 1594 through the 9th earl’s marriage to the widow whose husband had held the property from the Crown. Henry was given the freehold in 1604 by King James I, whom he supported wholeheartedly. Although kept a prisoner for 15 years his finances allowed him to live the high life, even to implement a walled garden, grape house, and orchard for the estate. His son, Algernon, lived at Syon and amassed a collection of old master paintings. He also had a French style garden laid out in the grounds. This consisted of a fountain, parterres and allees of lime and cypress.
The property eventually passed to Elizabeth Percy, daughter of the 11th earl. She married three times, the last being to the 6th Duke of Somerset. They used Syon as a summer residence. A further owner, Sir Hugh Smithson, was Earl and Duke of Northumberland in 1750. He modernised the running of the estate. His wife, Elizabeth, the 1st Duchess, oversaw restoration at Syon House and the redesign of the estate. Architect Robert Adam was hired for the house and ‘Capability’ Brown for the land. The house became classical in style while the grounds were redone in the medieval deer park style, adding two lakes and a ha-ha and removing the terraces and walks.
Brown created a pleasure ground in the former orchards and vegetables gardens which were relocated. Fish and waterfowl frequent the lakes. Orchids, vetches, and ox-eye daisies grow at one end of the lake. In another area is a rose garden with more than 100 different varieties. There are many specimen trees in the grounds. A woodland garden is home to camellias, rhododendrons, bulbs and herbaceous woodland plants. Flora’s lawn has a 55 ft high statue of Flora, goddess of flowers. Areas of wildflowers and a spring garden are other features in the grounds.
Between 1786-1817, under the direction of the second duke, a stable block and coach house were built and a bridge was added over the outer lake. In addition more plants were added to the gardens. Another family member, Duchess Charlotte Florentia, wife of the 3rd duke, was governess to Princess Victoria (1831-37), hence a bedroom used by her is still named Princess Victoria bedroom.
The conservatory with its large glass dome was built at this time. The dome contains specimen plants while the wings are home to shrubs and flowers and each has a small pavilion with cacti and ferns. Other changes were made to the house with the extension of the north wing and Bath stone covering the exterior of the house. The house and grounds were first opened to the public in 1851 by Algernon, the 4th Duke. The 12th Duke is currently the owner.
Great Hall: built by Adam 1762-69, just misses being a double cube; Doric columns placed around the hall; marble floor; decorative stucco work; 4 antique statues on pedestals; Adam designed pier table with a coloured marble top.
Ante Room: twelve Ionic columns and fireplace with verd-antique scagliola veneer and gilded statues on top of columns; floor of polished scagliola; gilded ceiling; two bronze statues; gilt tables with marble tops; hidden door to ‘below stairs’ rooms.
Dining Room: almost a triple cube; arched recesses, apses, half domes, columnar screens of Corinthian columns; plasterwork ceiling; chiaroscuro frieze panels; Adam designed chimney piece with marble panel above; pier tables with Italian marble tops; gilt brass lamps with Percy lion decoration; 1785 English clock
Red Drawing Room: crimson silk wall hangings; coved ceiling decorated with medallions; 1769 Adam designed carpet; white marble chimney; Adam designed pier tables with mirrors above; portraits.
Long Gallery: 136 feet long, 11 windows, five bays, three doors, two fireplaces, bookshelves, 62 Corinthian painted pilasters; small turret rooms at each end of gallery; Adam furniture; painted panels; portrait medallions of the Percy family.
Print Room: so named because the room once had 100 prints on the walls; two 17th century ebony and petra dura cabinets; portraits.
Duchess’s Sitting Room: one of inner suite of family rooms from the 16th century; now used as family sitting room; marble fireplace; 18th century armchairs, satinwood commode, and mahogany display cabinet; Queen Anne walnut bureau cabinet; George II card table; 18th century porcelain; Dutch paintings.
Green Drawing Room: used by the family; Renaissance style ceiling; scagliola fireplace designed by Adam; 18th century furniture; 1830s English chandelier; 17th and 18th century portraits.
Private Dining Room: gilt-brass waterfall chandelier of 1825; early 19th century furniture, mahogany extending table, two marble top tables; gilded French porcelain; portraits.
Oak Passage: service corridor with portraits.
Principal Staircase: off the west corridor; Sevres vase given to 3rd Duke by King Charles X; sedan chair.
Upper Floor: in private use; on this floor are Duchess of Kent bedroom with 1790 giltwood four poster bed, bedrooms along nursery passage, and east front wing which has principal suite of State bedrooms including Princess Victoria bedroom.
Brentford, Middlesex, TW8 8JF
10 miles from central London
Tel. 020 8560 0882
Open: house, mid March-end Oct, Wed, Thu, Sun and BH Mon, 11am-5pm (last entry 4pm); gardens mid March-end Oct, daily, 10.30am-5pm
Tea-room; garden centre; weddings; car park for tea-room; map and driving directions on website; to reach by London underground take District Line to Gunnersbury then bus 237 or 267 bus to Brentlea Gate bus stop; pedestrian entrance 50 yards
Web: Syon Park
Insider Tip: Don’t miss this house. Its beauty is outstanding.
Photo of house exterior and conservatory © by Barbara Ballard. Other photos courtesy of Geograph Britain and Ireland as follows:
Bridge over lake by Keith Salvesen; Conservatory Dome by Colin Smith; Fountain and gatehouse by Christine Matthews
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