Syon House, Syon Park, Brentford, Middlesex TW8 (SYY04)

TQ 17350 76660

Syon House, Syon Park, Brentford, Middlesex TW8 TQ 17350 76660 Birkbeck College, University of London (H Sheldon, R Cowie, R Densem, S McCracken, M Miles) training excavation June–July 2004, Birkbeck College SYY04

The main trenches, c. 25m east of Syon House, revealed remains of the church of Syon Abbey (1426–1539), which provided information about the layout of the building supplementing the results of Time Team excavations in 2003. Remains included the robbed foundations of the north and south walls of the church, each with a massive rectangular external buttress. The walls were 2.50m wide and the internal and external widths of the church were respectively 31.70m (104ft) and 37m (121ft).

Structural features within the church included the remains of large square bases for piers that apparently formed part of two E-W arcades dividing the church into three aisles. The remains of three circular pier bases lay between the square pier bases – two were in line with the northern and southern arcades, but interestingly one was in the middle aisle on the same central E-W axis as a pier base found nearby Time Team. This cluster of piers may have been used to support a gallery and/or delineate an ambulatory, possibly around a shrine.

Double rows of brick burial vaults were located against the church walls in the north and south aisles. Each rectangular vault was 1.92m long and 0.80m wide and filled with sand. Single articulated skeletons were found in two vaults on in the south aisle. One was of a man, but too little of other survived to allow its sex to be determined. A rectangular structure made of Reigate stone, probably a base for a funerary monument, lay in the north aisle. None of the superstructure or floor of the church survived in the main excavation area. However, a test pit in the courtyard of Syon House revealed a small patch of glazed tile floor abutting a brick wall that must formed a structure in the western half of the church.

Following the Dissolution the foundations of the church were extensively robbed and back-filled with rubble (although there is evidence that parts of the western half of the church were retained when Syon House was built). Landscaping for the gardens of Syon House caused further damage to remains of the abbey. Among the earliest garden features were several N-S bedding trenches probably dating to the late 16th or early 17th century. These were truncated during levelling for a formal garden – work probably undertaken in the mid to late 17th century for the 10th Earl of Northumberland, who employed a French gardener to design a garden in the latest continental style. One of the features associated with garden was an arched brick culvert aligned on the site of a fountain. The culvert was buried under an extensive levelling layer that formed a base for the formal garden. Several linear features, possibly beds, cut the base. The features apparently coincide with the geometric pattern of the formal garden shown in a plan of 1747 by Christopher Fairchild. They were truncated during landscaping in the mid 18th century, when the geometric garden was replaced by a landscape of lawns and meadows to the design of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.