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England

Syon House (Syon Park) (Sion House)

  • House & Family History: Early Britons drove stakes into the bed of what is today the River Thames at Syon in an attempt to stop the legions of Julius Caesar from crossing the river (one of the actual stakes was discovered during dredging in the late 20th century). It's ironic that Robert Adam's 18th century designs at Syon, most particularly his Great Hall (entrance hall), would be easily recognizable today to an ancient Roman. Syon was originally the site of a medieval abbey named after Mount Zion (Sion) in the Holy Land and founded by Henry V so that 60 nuns and 20 priests could carry forth never-ending prayers to save the soul of the king's father for his role in the murder of Richard II. It was one of the last great abbeys to be built in England (completed in 1431) and was dedicated to the Bridgettine Order, founded in the 14th century by the Swedish mystic St. Bridget. The abbey was brutally dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539 as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries; by 1547 it had been turned into a private house (Edward VI, in the first year of his reign, granted the monastery of Sion to Edward, Duke of Somerset, the lord protector). King Henry VIII's coffin rested at Syon in 1547 on its way to Windsor for burial; during the night the coffin burst open; in the morning dogs were found licking up the bodily fluids that had leaked out of the coffin during the night. This was regarded as a divine judgment for the king's desecration of Sion Abbey. It was also at Syon, probably in the Long Gallery, that Henry VIII's great-niece, Lady Jane Grey, reluctantly accepted the crown in 1553 (she reigned for nine days as uncrowned queen before being deposed by Mary I, who had her executed for treason in 1554). Other royal visitors have included Queen Victoria and Queens Catherine of Aragon (kept as a prisoner at Syon) and Catherine Howard, both wives of Henry VIII. The celebrated Mohawk chief Joseph Brant, after whom Brantford, Ontario, is named, met the 2nd Duke of Northumberland here and fought for the British in the American War of Independence. In the 1760s Robert Adam famously designed many interiors at Syon for the 1st Duke of Northumberland, who told his architect that he wanted a Greco-Roman palace. And Adam delivered. His suite of rooms, which many believe to be the most important of his career, begins with the Great Hall, where one enters the house. Based on an ancient Roman basilica, this Doric-columned room is painted in soft colors and features an Adam trademark: the ceiling’s design echoes that of the marble floor. Statues of Scipio Africanus, Cassius, Aphrodite, and Julia Domna sit against the walls on pedestals designed by Adam, but the sculptural stars of the room are a 1764 plaster copy by John Cheere of “The Apollo Belvedere” (original in the Vatican Museums) in the apse and a 1760s bronze by Luigi Valadier of “The Dying Gaul." The ancient white marble Roman version (today in the Capitoline Museum), upon which the Syon "Dying Gaul" is based, was probably discovered on the grounds of the Ludovisi family's Roman villa in the early 17th century. This Roman version, however, is itself a copy of a lost Greek original that was believed to have been commissioned in bronze in the 2nd century BC by Attalus I of Pergamon to celebrate his victory over the Galatians. The 1st Duchess of Northumberland commissioned the statue (sometimes called “The Dying Gladiator” or "The Dying Galatian") and supposedly had the bronze sculpture submerged in sea water for seven years to achieve the desired patina. From the Great Hall, one walks into the Ante Room, possibly the most luscious small room in England. Here 12 Ionic columns (a mixture of 18th century green scagliola and ancient Roman marble shafts supposedly discovered in the Tiber) frame the room, while the floor is covered with an impossibly brilliant scagliola design. The walls are covered with gilded trophy panels; early 19th century Morel and Hughes furniture luxuriously furnishes the petite room; and in niches are bronze statues of “The Belvedere Antinous” (the original, today called “The Museo Pio-Clementino Hermes,” is in the Vatican Museums) and “Silenus with the Infant Dionysus” (original in the Museum of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge). The Long Gallery, originally a wood-paneled room designed for exercise during inclement weather, was redesigned by Adam as a Roman columbarium and library. The architect installed the 135-foot-long room with bookcases and 62 Corinthian pilasters, gilded and painted, together with classical stuccowork. The Red Drawing Room is much as Robert Adam left it: the walls are hung with the original 18th century crimson Spitalfields silk, the Adam-designed carpet, made by Moore of Moorefields, remains on the floor, and, against the walls, are pier tables designed by Adam that incorporate antique mosaics supposedly from the Baths of Titus in Rome. Adam's complex and sophisticated ceiling for the Red Drawing Room was the most expensive ever designed by the architect; it features octagons, diamonds, and 239 classical figures in roundels painted by Giovanni Battista Cipriani. Adam’s brilliant Glass Drawing Room from Northumberland House was disassembled and stored at Syon after the demolition of Northumberland House in 1874; a few bits of it are still at Syon today, though most of it was sold to Bert Crowther, who famously hired the room out for parties. In 1953 Crowther's parts of the room were purchased by the Victoria & Albert Museum; in 2002 one section of the Glass Drawing Room was installed in the V&A's new British Galleries. Though he was very grand, the 1st Duke was human; his illegitimate son, James Smithson (born 1765), founded the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. A fine painting of Syon House by Canaletto is today on view at the duke of Northumberland's primary seat, Alnwick Castle, in Northumberland.

    Collections: Though later dispersed, in the 18th century Syon contained the largest collection of ancient coins in England. An inlaid scagliola chimneypiece and heart-slab formerly in the Glass Drawing Room at Northumberland House, designed in 1774 by Robert Adam and probably made by Bartoli and Richter, is today in the Green Drawing Room at Syon (see photo in "Images" section). A pair of lacquered brass gas lights, 122 inches tall, is today at Syon House (there is a matching set at the Bowes Museum, County Durham); both sets were made for first floor parade rooms of Northumberland House by William Collins in 1823. The Syon Drawing Room contains two tables with ancient Roman mosaic slab tops that supposedly were excavated from the Baths of Titus, Rome. On July 9, 2014 £32 million was raised in three auctions in London by Sotheby's, who auctioned art from Syon and Alnwick Castle.

    Comments: Eileen Harris, writing in "The Genius of Robert Adam: His Interiors," states that the Ante Room at Syon "is the first English interior decorated in the manner of a classical triumphal-arch with projecting columns carrying free-standing figures." Christopher Hussey, writing in "English Country Houses: Mid Georgian, 1760-1800," cites the Hall at Heveningham as "Wyatt's surviving masterpiece as an interior designer and perhaps, after Adam's Ante-room at Syon, the finest room produced by English neo-classicism." Mark Girouard, writing in "Historic Houses of Britain," calls Adam's rooms at Syon "the most brilliant sequence of rooms of his career."

  • Garden & Outbuildings: Syon today sits in a 200-acre park, with features of Capability Brown's 18th century landscape design still evident. Charles Fowler designed the famous Great Conservatory in the 1820s. The English architect John Johnston went to Brazil in 1815 to oversee the building of a replica of Robert Adam's entrance screen (the Lion Gate) at Syon for the prince regent of Portugal, who was living in exile in Rio de Janeiro. The 2nd Duke of Northumberland commissioned the replica Coade stone gateway as a gift for the Portuguese royal. In 1874 the Percy lion statue from Northumberland House at Charing Cross, London, was erected on the River Façade of Syon House. In 2002 the 12th Duke proposed building a new 154-bed hotel on the grounds of Syon House. In 2004 permission was granted for the deluxe £35 million Radisson Edwardian Hotel to be located beside the main estate parking lot, with plans to build and open in 2008-09. The hotel that actually opened on March 11, 2011 in the grounds of Syon was the five-star, £40 million Waldorf Astoria London Syon Park, today Hilton London Syon Park. The new 137-room hotel's exterior was required to be sympathetic with its historic surroundings and was built on the site originally intended for the Radisson. As part of the development deal, Ability, the construction company, restored the Adam oval carriageway in front of Syon House and the Duchess Gate, which was opened for the first time since the 1930s. In November 2010, during the construction phase for the new hotel, the remains of an ancient Roman village were uncovered. Discovered approximately 20 inches below ground were over 11,000 fragments of pottery, 100 coins and pieces of jewelry, and human remains. The village was very likely built to serve the Thames crossing on the major Roman road to Silchester in northern Hampshire.

  • Architect: John Webb

    Date: 1656-60
    Designed: Extensive repairs and alterations to House for 10th Earl of Northumberland

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    Architect: Thomas Cundy, Sr.

    Date: 1819-26
    Designed: Probably responsible for encasing House in Bath stone
    (Attribution of this work is uncertain)
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    Architect: Nicholas Hawksmoor

    Date: 1704-06
    Designed: Unspecified work for 6th Duke of Somerset

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    Architect: Stiff Leadbetter

    Date: Circa 1762-66
    Designed: Work for 1st Duke of Northumberland, probably to designs of, or with in collaboration with, Robert Adam.

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    Architect: Robert Mylne

    Date: 1803
    Designed: Domed Ionic Boathouse for 2nd Duke of Northumberland

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    Architect: James Paine, Sr.

    Date: 1760
    Designed: Gothic bridge for 1st Duke of Northumberland (demolished)

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    Architect: James Wyatt

    Date: 1789-90
    Designed: Castellated Stables (1789-90) and Iron Bridge in Park (1790) for 2nd Duke of Northumberland

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    Architect: Decimus Burton

    Date: Post 1847
    Designed: River Terrace, ornamental Dairy, and other works, for 4th Duke of Northumberland.

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    Architect: Thomas Hardwick

    Date: 1809
    Designed: The Evidence Room, an outbuilding, for 2nd Duke of Northumberland.

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    Architect: Robert Adam

    Date: 1762-73
    Designed: Remodeled interiors (1762-69) and Entrance Screen [Lion Gate] (1773) for 1st Duke of Northumberland

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    Architect: Lancelot Brown

    Date: 1750s-70s
    Designed: Landscaping

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    Architect: Charles Fowler

    Date: 1827-30
    Designed: Great Conservatory for 3rd Duke of Northumberland

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  • John Bernard (J.B.) Burke, published under the title of A Visitation of the Seats and Arms of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland, among other titles: Vol. I, p. 182, 1852.

    Country Life: XLVI, 728, 802, 838, 874, 1919. CVIII, 1873, 1950. Apr 16, 1992.

  • Title: Enlightened Eclecticism: The Grand Design of the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland
    Author: Aymonino, Adriano
    Year Published: 2021
    Reference: pgs. 152, 154
    Publisher: London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
    ISBN: 9781913107178

    Title: Treasure Houses of Britain, The - SOFTBACK
    Author: Jackson-Stops, Gervase (Editor)
    Year Published: 1985
    Reference: pg. 303
    Publisher: Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art (New Haven: Yale University Press)
    ISBN: 0300035530
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: Sotheby's Auction Catalog: Chatsworth: The Attic Sale, Oct 5-7, 2010
    Author: NA
    Year Published: 2010
    Reference: pg. 303
    Publisher: London: Sotheby's
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: English Country Houses: Mid Georgian, 1760-1800
    Author: Hussey, Christopher
    Year Published: 1956
    Reference: pg. 174
    Publisher: London: Country Life Limited
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Georgian Group Annual Report
    Author: NA
    Year Published: NA
    Reference: 2002, pg. 7
    Publisher: London: The Georgian Group
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Light Softback

    Title: Historic Houses of Britain - ARCHIVAL COPY
    Author: Girouard, Mark
    Year Published: 1979
    Reference: pg. 82
    Publisher: New York: William Morrow
    ISBN: 0688034675
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Genius of Robert Adam: His Interiors, The
    Author: Harris, Eileen
    Year Published: 2001
    Reference: pgs. 73, 101, 103
    Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press (London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art)
    ISBN: 0300081294
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Great Houses of London, The
    Author: Pearce, David
    Year Published: 1986
    Reference: pg. 31
    Publisher: New York: The Vendome Press
    ISBN: 0865650632
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Syon Park Guidebook
    Author: NA
    Year Published: NA
    Reference: pg. 30
    Publisher: UK: Beric Tempest
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Light Softback

    Title: Movie Locations: A Guide to Britain & Ireland
    Author: Adams, Mark
    Year Published: 2000
    Publisher: London: Boxtree
    ISBN: 0752271695
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, A - HARDBACK
    Author: Colvin, Howard
    Year Published: 2008
    Reference: pgs. 51, 202, 292, 394, 481, 499, 583, 638, 726, 771, 1097, 1098, 1185
    Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press
    ISBN: 9780300125085
    Book Type: Hardback

  • House Listed: Grade I

    Park Listed: Grade I

  • "Bedazzled" (1967 - using the Great Conservatory). "Accident" (1967). "King Ralph" (1991 - the grounds were used as those of Buckingham Palace, including The Great Conservatory; Robert Adam's Great Hall and Ante Room were used as interiors of Buckingham Palace). "The Madness of King George" (1994). "London" (1994 - the wall and the Lion Gate). ""Emma" (1996). "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" (1996). "The Wings of the Dove" (1997). "The Avengers" (1998). "Longitude" (2000 - TV mini series). "The Golden Bowl" (2000). "Wives and Daughters" (2000 - for the London Ball scene). "Gosford Park" (2001). "Love in a Cold Climate" (2001 - TV mini series, as interiors of Lord and Lady Montdore's country house). "Daniel Deronda" (2002 - TV mini series). "Byron" (2003 - TV mini series, as Melbourne House). "The Young Visiters" (2003 - TV movie). "The Lost Prince" (2003 - TV movie, as the interiors of Marlborough House and as staterooms of Buckingham Palace). "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking" (2004 - BBC TV movie, as interiors of the palace where the ball took place). "Time Team" (2004 - TV series: Season 11, Episode 1: "Syon House, London"). "Amazing Grace" (2006). "Cranford" (2007 - TV series, as the Long Gallery and Great Hall of Hanbury Court). "Miss Marple: Nemesis" (2007 - TV series, as exterior and interiors of Forester Grange). "Miss Austen Regrets" (2008 - TV movie, as the Prince Regent's Carlton House). "Kevin McCloud's Grand Tour of Europe" (2009 - TV mini series). "Great Expectations" (2011 - BBC TV mini series, as Pip's club). "Dancing on the Edge" (2013 - TV series). "Downton Abbey" (2013 - TV series, the Great Conservatory is used as the London venue where Lady Mary and Lord Gillingham meet for tea in episode 4.8). "Belle" (2013 - as interiors of Kenwood House). "Endeavour" (2014 - TV series, in the episode "Trove," the Dining Room was used as the exhibition space of the Oxford museum). "Agatha Christie: Poirot: The Big Four" (2014 - TV series, the Great Hall was used for the chess game). "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" (2016). "Belgravia" (2020 - TV series; the Great Conservatory was used as the location of the botanical show; the house was used for the interiors of Templemore House, Lady Maria Grey's home). "Come Away" (2020 - the Great Conservatory). "Bridgerton" (2020 - TV series, as interiors of Hastings House. the Duke of Hastings's London home; and for interiors of Buckingham Palace).
  • Current Seat / Home of: Ralph George Algernon Percy, 12th Duke of Northumberland; Percy family here since the 16th century.

    Past Seat / Home of: Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, 16th century. Hugh Smithson, 18th Earl of Northumberland, later 1st Duke of Northumberland, 18th century.

    Current Ownership Type: Individual / Family Trust

    Primary Current Ownership Use: Private Home

    Ownership Details: The Hotspur Wing, which features five bedrooms, can be booked for holiday stays.

  • House Open to Public: Yes

    Phone: 01815-600-883

    Fax: 01815-680-936

    Email: info@syonpark.co.uk

    Website: http://www.syonpark.co.uk

    Historic Houses Member: Yes