Site of the month - Syon Park

25.09.2015 | category: General
Trees lit up in the darkness
Syon's enchanted woodland, © Simon Hadleigh-Sparks

There are 600 years of continuous garden history at Syon House, the London home of the Percy family. Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown didn’t enter the picture until 1753.

At that time Syon was in the hands of the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, Hugh Smithson and Elizabeth Seymour, who inherited it in 1748 and took the Percy name two years later.

A painting of Syon House by famous Venetian artist Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto, is currently at Alnwick Castle – the Percy’s family seat. Tentatively dated to 1749, it shows that the Duke and Duchess has already started significant clearance work before consulting Brown in 1753.

His work here started in 1754. The area to the south and east of the house were landscaped, and pleasure grounds were laid out around the newly-dug serpentine river. A series of sketches in Syon House show elegant Georgians strolling in a landscape of grazed lawns, with clumps of trees and shrubbery around the lake.

The Duke was clearly pleased with the works as in 1758 he supported a petition for Brown to be given a post as a royal gardener, and by 1764 Brown was drawing up proposals for the landscaping of the royal gardens at Richmond, facing Syon across the river. More importantly, Brown’s association with Syon was to continue for some 20 years, as farmland to the west of Syon House was transformed into parkland. Farm buildings were demolished, a road was moved, and a second lake excavated. 

As Brown’s new landscape began to take shape through the 1760s, the Duke instructed Robert Adam to design the classical interiors which now grace Syon House. Adam’s work included the construction of a grand entrance gate, heavily decorated with Coade stone, on the north side of the park and a bridge where the drive crossed the new lake.

Much of this work is still clearly visible at Syon. Subsequent generations have left their mark, but it is possible to trace the successive periods of Brown’s work over a period of some 20 years. Although surrounded by London, it is essentially a rural landscape of sweeping vistas, with hay meadows and grazing cattle, and a fine example of the development of parkland and pleasure grounds by Brown.

Syon House and gardens are open between March and the beginning of November. You can also explore our Brown landscape through our illuminated enchanted woodland trail (pictured above), which is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between 20 November and 6 December.

About the author: Topher Martyn is the head gardener at Syon House.