Syon Park, Hounslow
Syon Park fills the Thames riverside between Brentford and Isleworth and its stately home is the London address of the Duke of Northumberland
The north-eastern part of the park was the scene of the Battles of Brentford in 1016 and 1642. In 1431 the English followers of the teachings of St Bridget of Sweden moved their headquarters here from Twickenham and built Syon Abbey, which took its name from Mount Zion.
There are few remnants of the abbey but archaeological surveys have located the sites of some former outbuildings and determined that the main structure may have been almost as large as Salisbury Cathedral.
When Henry VIII dissolved the Catholic religious establishments he gave the estate to Edward Seymour, the uncle of his son, the future Edward VI.
During the first part of Edward’s brief reign, while the new king was still a child, Seymour was made first Duke of Somerset and ‘Protector of England’, acting as sovereign in all but name.
An admirer of Italian Renaissance architecture, he built Syon House in that style over the foundations of the west end of the abbey church between 1547 and his death by execution in 1552. The house retains the abbey’s vaulted undercroft, below the Great Hall.
Two centuries later Sir Hugh Smithson, later the first Duke of Northumberland, inherited the estate through his wife, Elizabeth Seymour.
The couple employed Robert Adam to remodel the interior of the house and Capability Brown to landscape the grounds. When it was built in the 1820s, the Great Conservatory made pioneering use of glass and metal.
The park has the only area of tall grass washland along the Thames in London. Tide Meadow has reed-grasses and rye grass, with marshland plants including the very poisonous hemlock water dropwort. Herons and flocks of wintering birds use the tidal muds.
Syon House featured in 1994’s historical drama The Madness Of King George and in The Golden Bowl (2000) and Gosford Park (2001).
Postcode area: Brentford, TW8
Website: Syon Park
Further reading: Edward A Jones, Syon Abbey 1415-2015: England’s Last Medieval Monastery, Gracewing, 2015