Susana’s Adventures in England: Syon House


If you’re looking for a stately home to visit in or near London, Syon House is a great choice. Located on the Thames across from Kew Gardens, you can get there by Underground (take the District line toward Richmond, get off at Gunnarsbury) and bus, (take the 237 or 267 bus to Brentlea). The pedestrian entrance is on your right when you get off the bus).

Syon House history

Syon began as an abbey, founded in 1415 by Henry V and closed in 1539 by the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, was imprisoned here prior to her execution in 1542. The 1st Duke of Somerset acquired it and had it renovated in Italian Renaissance style. In 1594, the 9th Earl of Northumberland acquired it and has owned it ever since.

A Royal Row

Queen Anne (1705)

Queen Anne (1705)

(from Wikipedia)

In the late 17th century, Syon was in the possession of Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset, through his wife, Elizabeth Seymour (née Percy). After the future Queen Anne had a disagreement with her sister, Mary II (wife of William III, also known as William of Orange), over her friendship with Sarah Churchill, Countess of Marlborough, she was evicted from her court residence at the Palace of Whitehall and stayed at Syon with her close friends, the Somersets, in 1692. Anne gave birth to a stillborn child there. Shortly after the birth, Mary came to visit her, again demanding that Anne dismiss the Countess of Marlborough and stormed out again when Anne flatly refused.

Mary II, 1685

Mary II, 1685

In the 18th century, Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland, commissioned architect and interior designer Robert Adam and landscape designer Lancelot “Capability” Brown to redesign the house and estate. Work began on the interior reconstruction project in 1762. Five large rooms on the west, south and east sides of the House, were completed before work ceased in 1769. A central rotunda, which Adams had intended for the interior courtyard space, was not implemented, due to cost.

Robert Adam!

Robert Adam's plan for Syon House

Robert Adam’s plan for Syon House

from Wikipedia:

Syon House’s exterior was erected in 1547 while under the ownership of the 1st Duke of Somerset. Syon’s current interior was designed by Robert Adam in 1762 under the commission of the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland.

coloredceilingcornerThe well known “Adam style” is said to have begun with Syon House. It was commissioned to be built in the Neo-classical style, which was fulfilled, but Adam’s eclectic style doesn’t end there. Syon is filled with multiple styles and inspirations including a huge influence of Roman antiquity, highly visible Romantic, Picturesque, Baroque and Mannerist styles and a dash of Gothic. There is also evidence in his decorative motifs of his influence by Pompeii that he received while studying in Italy. Adam’s plan of Syon House included a complete set of rooms on the main floor, a domed rotunda with a circular inner colonnade meant for the main courtyard (‘meant for’ meaning that this rotunda was not built due to a lack of funds), five main rooms on the west, east and south side of the building, a pillared ante-room famous for its colour, a Great Hall, a grand staircase (though not built as grand as originally designed) and a Long Gallery stretching 136 feet long. Adam’s most famous addition is the suite of state rooms and as such they remain exactly as they were built.

geometricceiling2More specific to the interior of Adam’s rooms is where the elaborate detail and colour shines through. Adam added detailed marble chimneypieces, shuttering doors and doorways in the Drawing Room, along with fluted columns with Corinthian capitals. The long gallery, which is about 14 feet high and 14 feet wide, contains many recesses and niches into the thick wall for books along with rich and light decoration and stucco-covered walls and ceiling. At the end of the gallery is a closet with a domed circle supported by eight columns; halfway through the columns is a doorway imitating a niche.

More photos on my Syon Park Pinterest Page:







Romance of London: Marlborough House and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough

Romance of London: Strange Stories, Scenes And Remarkable Person of the Great Town in 3 Volumes

John Timbs

John Timbs (1801-1875), who also wrote as Horace Welby, was an English author and aficionado of antiquities. Born in Clerkenwell, London, he was apprenticed at 16 to a druggist and printer, where he soon showed great literary promise. At 19, he began to write for Monthly Magazine, and a year later he was made secretary to the magazine’s proprietor and there began his career as a writer, editor, and antiquarian.

This particular book is available at googlebooks for free in ebook form. Or you can pay for a print version.

About the Churchills


John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, was a great military hero who reaped many honors and financial rewards from his service to five English monarchs. His wife Sarah was an intimate friend of Queen Anne… until Sarah’s hot temper and conceit earned her dismissal from court. For more about Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, check out this article in Wikipedia.

Queen Anne (1705)

Queen Anne (1705)

Marlborough House


Little can be said, architecturally, of Marlborough House, notwithstanding it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who was employed, not because he was preferred, but that Vanbrugh might be vexed. Respecting Marlborough House, Pennant says

To the east of St. James’s Palace, in the reign of Queen Anne, was built Marlborough House, at the expense of the public. It appears by one of the views of St. James’s, published before the existence of this house, that it was built in part of the Royal Gardens, granted for that purpose by her Majesty. The present Duke [Pennant writes in 1793] added an upper story, and improved the ground floor, which originally wanted a great room. This national compliment cost no less than 40,000l.

As regards the site, Pennant’s account is corroborated by other authorities, who say that the mansion of the famous John Churchill was built on ground “which had been used for keeping pheasants, guinea-hens, partridges, and other fowl, and on that piece of ground taken out of St. James’s Park, then in possession of Henry Boyle, one of her Majesty’s principal Secretaries of State.”

Entry to a Drawing Room at Marlborough House (1871)

Entry to a Drawing Room at Marlborough House (1871)

The Duchess both experienced and caused great mortifications here. She used to speak of the King in the adjacent palace as her “neighbor George.” The entrance to the house from Pall Mall was, as it still is, a crooked and inconvenient one. To remedy this defect, she intended to purchase some houses… for the purpose of pulling them down and constructing a more commodious entry to the mansion; but Sir Robert Walpole [whom she considered to be her greatest enemy], with no more dignified motive than mere spite, secured the houses and ground, and erected buildings [there], which… blocked in the front of the Duchess’ mansion. She was subjected to a more temporary, but as inconvenient blockade, when the preparations for the wedding of the imperious Princess Anne [does Timbs mean Mary?] and her ugly husband, the Prince of Orange, was going on. Among other preparations, a boarded gallery, through which the nuptial procession was to pass, was built up close against the Duchess’ windows, completely darkening her rooms. As the boards remained there during the postponement of the ceremony, the Duchess used to look at them with the remark, “I wish the Princess would oblige me by taking away her ‘orange chest!'”*


Note: Currently the home of the Commonwealth Secretariat, the house is usually open to the public for Open House Weekend each September.

The Character of the Duchess

Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough

Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough

From the Memoirs of Mrs. Delany:

The conversation turned upon the famous Duchess of Marlborough: among others, one striking anecdote, that though she appeared affected in the highest degree at the death of her grand-daughter, the Duchess of Bedford, she sent the day after she died for the jewels she had given her, saying ‘she had only lent them;’ the answer was that she ‘had said she would never demand those jewels again except she danced at court;‘ her answer was ‘then she would be —- if she would not dance at court,’ &c. … She used to say that she was very certain she should go to heaven, and as her ambition went even beyond the grave, that she knew she should have one of the highest seats.

A few of the Duchess’ eccentricities and extravagancies have been put together somewhat in the humorous manner of our early story-books, as follows:

This is the woman who wrote the characters of her contemporaries with a pen dipped in gall and wormwood. This is the Duchess who gave 10,000l to Mr. Pitt for his noble defense of the constitution of his country! … This is the Duchess who, in her old age, used to feign asleep after dinner, and say bitter things at table pat and appropriate, but as if she was not aware of what was going on! This is the lady who drew that beautiful distinction that it was wrong to wish Sir Robert Walpole dead, but only common justice to wish him well hanged. This is the Duchess who tumbled her thoughts out as they arose, and wrote like the wife of the Great Duke Marlborough. This is the lady who quarreled with a wit upon paper (Sir John Vanbrugh), and actually got the better of him in the long run; who shut out the architect of Blenheim from seeing his own edifice, and made him dangle his time away at an inn while his friends were shown the house of the eccentric Sarah.

This is the Duchess who, ever proud and ever malignant, was persuaded to offer her favorite grand-daughter, Lady Diana Spencer, afterwards Duchess of Bedford, to the Prince of Wales, with a fortune of a hundred thousand pounds. He accepted the proposal and the day was fixed for their being secretly married at the Duchess’ Lodge, in the Great Park, at Windsor. Sir Robert Walpole got intelligence of the project, prevented it, and the secret was buried in silence.

This is the Duchess—The wisest fool much time has ever made—who refused the proffered hand of the proud Duke of Somerset, for the sole and sufficient reason that no one should share her heart with the great Duke of Marlborough.

This is the illustrious lady who superintended the building of Blenheim, examined contracts and tenders, talked with carpenters and masons, and thinking sevenpence-halfpenny a bushel for lime too much by a farthing, waged a war to the knife on so small a matter.

This is the celebrated Sarah, who, at the age of eighty-four, when she was told she must either submit to be blistered or die, exclaimed in anger, and with a start in bed, “I won’t be blistered, and I won’t die!”

The Duchess died, notwithstanding what she said, at Marlborough House, in 1774.

*Dr. Doran’s Queens of England—House of Hanover


Romance of London Series

  1. Romance of London: The Lord Mayor’s Fool… and a Dessert
  2. Romance of London: Carlton House and the Regency
  3. Romance of London: The Championship at George IV’s Coronation
  4. Romance of London: Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House
  5. Romance of London: The Bottle Conjuror
  6. Romance of London: Bartholomew Fair
  7. Romance of London: The May Fair and the Strong Woman
  8. Romance of London: Nancy Dawson, the Hornpipe Dancer
  9. Romance of London: Milkmaids on May-Day
  10. Romance of London: Lord Stowell’s Love of Sight-seeing
  11. Romance of London: The Mermaid Hoax
  12. Romance of London: The Bluestocking and the Sweeps’ Holiday
  13. Romance of London: Comments on Hogarth’s “Industries and Idle Apprentices”
  14. Romance of London: The Lansdowne Family
  15. Romance of London: St. Margaret’s Painted Window at Westminster
  16. Romance of London: Montague House and the British Museum
  17. Romance of London: The Bursting of the South Sea Bubble
  18. Romance of London: The Thames Tunnel
  19. Romance of London: Sir William Petty and the Lansdowne Family
  20. Romance of London: Marlborough House and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough
  21. Romance of London: The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities
  22. Romance of London: Voltaire in London
  23. Romance of London: The Crossing Sweeper
  24. Romance of London: Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s Fear of Assassination
  25. Romance of London: Samuel Rogers, the Banker Poet
  26. Romance of London: The Eccentricities of Lord Byron
  27. Romance of London: A London Recluse