Tag Archives: Syon Abbey

Isleworth

Another in the occasional series on historic sites on the “Capital Ring” Walk …

Isleworth takes its name from the Old English personal name Gislhere’ and worth, meaning enclosed settlement.  It was first referred to, in a Saxon Charter of 677, as Gislheresuuyrth (although it had evidently been occupied as long ago as the Neolithic).  By the time of the Norman Domesday Survey of 1086, there was a  manor house here, together with two mills and a fishing weir, making the most  of the  riverside position.The manor house was rebuilt in the thirteenth century by the then owner, the Earl of Cornwall, although it no longer exists (the site now being occupied by the Duke of Northumberland public house).   The church of all Saints was founded in the fourteenth century (see below).  The nearby nunnery of St Saviour and St Bridget of Syon, also known as Syon Abbey, in the fifteenth; Syon House,   on the site of the by then dissolved nunnery, in the sixteenth (although it was subsequently substantially  rebuilt in the eighteenth).  A number of other riverside estates and stately homes sprang up in the vicinity in the  eighteenth century.  Isleworth was  finally overtaken by the spread of the suburbs in the late nineteenth century.

Church of All Saints

General view

Graveyard

The church of All Saints was originally built  in 1398, probably on the site of an  older church referred to in a Saxon charter of 695.  It was rebuilt in 1705, to a modified version of a design submitted by Christopher Wren two years earlier (the original plan having been rejected on the grounds of  expense).  It was then substantially destroyed in 1943, not by wartime bombing, as one might have surmised, but by an act of arson (those responsible  also burning down the church of Holy Trinity in Hounslow).  It was subsequently rebuilt in 1967-70, with the surviving old stone tower incorporated into the new brick structure.

Yew tree marking site of plague pit

Plaque at foot of yew tree marking site of plague pit

The churchyard was the site of the burial of  a total of 149 parishioners who died in the “Great   Plague”  in  1665.  A yew tree and plaque mark the site of the so-called “plague pit”.

 

 

Remembering Syon

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The Monastery of St Saviour and St Bridget of Syon

On  this day in 1415, the “Monastery of St Saviour and St Bridget of Syon” was founded in Sheen (later, in 1431, moving to a nearby new location between Brentford and Isleworth).  The monastery-cum-nunnery was of the Bridgettine order, the richest and most powerful of  its time, named after its founder, the mystic and later saint Queen Birgitta of Sweden (1303-73).  One of the brothers, Richard Reynolds, was hanged, drawn and quartered in 1535 for challenging King Henry VIII’s  supremacy over the Church; famously encouraging those who suffered alongside him by promising them that after their “sharp breakfast” they would have a banquet in heaven.  The monastery itself was dissolved in 1539, by Henry.  Henry’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was confined here while awaiting her execution in 1542.  Five years later, in 1547, the coffin containing Henry’s body was accommodated overnight here on route from Westminster to Windsor.  According to one colourful account, the decomposing body burst open during the night, and in the morning dogs were discovered lapping up the liquid that had seeped from the coffin!

Syon House

Syon House was built on the site of the monastery by Edward Seymour, the First Duke of Somerset (and Lord  Protector), sometime between 1547-1552.    After Seymour’s execution in 1552, it came to be owned by John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, and it was here that his daughter-in-law Lady Jane Grey was offered the crown at the beginning of her short  and ill-fated reign.  After Dudley’s execution in 1553, it reverted to the monarch.  In 1594, the then Queen, Elizabeth I, granted the house to Henry Percy, the Ninth Earl of Northumberland, and it has remained in his family from that time to this.  In the late eighteenth century, Hugh Percy, the First Duke of Northumberland, commissioned Robert Adam to redesign the interior, and Capability Brown to landscape the gardens, thereby creating “one of the finest villas in Europe”.

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The fourteenth-century  “Monastery Barn”  and seventeenth-century “Ninth Earl’s Arch” still stand in the grounds of the house.

Archaeological Excavations

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In 2003, a  “Time Team” archaeological excavation in the grounds of the house unearthed the remains of the Bridgettine monastery church – which was evidently approximately twice as large as the broadly contemporary King’s College Chapel in Cambridge!  A number of burials were later unearthed within the church by a team from Birkbeck University of London. Surviving written records, including a “mortilage”, have enabled the buried individuals to be identified.  One was the order’s last recorded librarian, Thomas Betson, who died in 1517. Betson’s library catalogue shows that at one time the monastery possessed nearly 1750 books, many of them the only copies in Britain, but almost all now lost.  His notebook includes a herbal, that is to say, a list of healing plants, and a list of remedies.

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