2011 - Syon Park & Osterley Park

Syon Park (photo: Nick Withers)

June 2011: Syon Park and Osterley Park

Forty seven members of the Society and their friends enjoyed a summer outing to Syon Park and Osterley Park in Isleworth.

Syon House was built on the site of a medieval Abbey, one of the last to be dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539. The Abbey Church was excavated in 2003 by Channel 4’s Time Team and there have been annual excavations ever since. The Abbey’s undercroft, beneath Syon House, can still be visited. Built on the site of an earlier medieval Abbey, Henry V’s Abbey was one of the last great Abbeys to be built, supposedly at his father Henry IV’s request to help atone for the murder of Richard II. In 1547, Henry VIII’s coffin was brought to Syon Park, on its way to Windsor for burial. During the night the coffin burst open and in the morning dogs were found licking up his remains. This was regarded as divine judgement for his desecration of Syon Abbey.

The original Syon House was built by the Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector to Edward VI, in the Italian Renaissance style. It was acquired by Henry Percy, the 9th Earl of Northumberland, in 1594, whose family has owned Syon Park ever since. The 1st Duke of Northumberland engaged Robert Adam to remodel the house and grounds. The house has been described as Adam’s early English masterpiece. Unusually, the family has never appeared to fall on hard times as the house is full of valuable paintings, books and other treasures. The conservatory is also most impressive.

The family had American connections in the 18th. Century. The natural son of the 1st. Duke, James Smithson, left his fortune of in excess of half a million dollars to found the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. The 2nd Duke had an army career and fought in the American War of Independence. Three paintings by the American painter, Gilbert Stuart, still hang today in Syon House. There were later Royal connections because the third Duchess of Northumberland became governess to the young Princess Victoria, who lived at the house between 1831 and 1837, when she became Queen.

After lunch at Syon House, we progressed to Osterley Park. The original house there was built by Sir Thomas Gresham, a spy, smuggler, arms dealer and merchant banker and subject of a lecture by John Toley (page 18). Sir Francis Child, the founder of Child’s Bank, acquired the house in 1713. Like Syon, Osterley House and Park was extensively remodelled by Robert Adam in the 1760s. Adam formed a chain of lakes in the grounds, which are still there today. The house retains its red brick and, although only part of the principal floor was available for viewing at the time of our visit, those rooms open were very impressive and one of them had fitted tapestry on the walls. The servants’ quarters, sporting trophies and an extensive coin collection were on display.