Much like Christ Church Greyfriars sits in the shadow of St Paul’s, and is largely overlooked because of it, Syon Park in south west London sits quietly next to Kew Gardens, to which thousands of Londoners and tourists flock, unaware of the unknown treasure that sits just a few hundred yards away.
Unfortunately pictures inside Syon House are prohibited so I can’t show you inside, but see it for yourself and you’ll find the real home of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, resplendent in decor from the great entrance hall created to replicate ‘a palace of Graeco-Roman splendour’, to Queen Victoria’s childhood bedroom (with luxury befitting a future queen) and a parade of galleries, drawing rooms and personal rooms designed to evoke awe in even the most difficult to please.
Syon’s History: an abbey, king’s blood and a future queen
Henry V laid Syon Abbey’s first foundation stone in 1415, and it continued as an important religious and scholarly community well into the reign of the Tudor dynasty.
The religious community tied to the abbey was eventually dissolved under Henry VIII around 1539 and the site was passed into royal hands. Syon was used as a prison for the king’s fifth wife Catherine Howard after she was imprisoned for adultery and later it became one of the final resting places for Henry VIII’s corpse; it was here that the king’s bloated body ‘exploded’ and William Peto’s prophecy that “Dogs shall lick [the king’s] blood as they had done Ahab” supposedly came true.
When King Henry’s son Edward VI came to the throne, the site was given to Edward’s uncle Edward Seymour (his mother Jane Seymour’s brother). Under Edward’s control, the abbey was turned into a grand home, complete with gardens fit for the Lord Protector of England (king in all but name). By the time Edward was executed for treason in 1552, the house was almost complete and looked similar to the house we see today; Chris King, Syon’s Deputy House Manager, told Britain Magazine: “The ‘footprint’ of the original house, with the exception of the North Wing extension, is as it was when originally completed.”
After Seymour’s death, Syon was handed to his rival John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland. It was in Syon’s Long Gallery that Northumberland persuaded his daughter-in-law Lady Jane Grey to take the crown of England after Edward VI’s death. But, as with a few other Tudor stories that took place at Syon, it didn’t end well: Jane was deposed by Mary I and imprisoned in the Tower of London before being executed for treason.
Syon remained popular with royalty after Mary I took the throne: both Mary and her sister Elizabeth I visited the house during their reigns, and Charles I visited his children here. Later, the 3rd Duchess of Northumberland, Charlotte Florentia, prepared a young Princess Victoria for her future role as Queen in a bedroom that is still as still set up as she left it.
It’s easy to see why Syon Park was so popular with royals who had the luxury of choice to stay here. The house and accompanying gardens are some of the most beautiful in London: enough to rival Eltham Palace or even Hampton Court. Couple that with the history and stories that attach themselves to Syon House now, and you’ve got a key part of London’s culture that deserves more recognition than it currently gets.
More information: syonpark.co.uk
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