RepositorySpecial Collections Archives (GB 0029)
Ref NoEUL MS 389
Extent156 boxes, 40 outsize volumes, 20 outsize folders, 5 calico bags, 3 plan chest drawers
TitleSyon Abbey archive
DescriptionThe Syon Abbey archive consists of a wide variety of material relating to the workings, business and people of Syon Abbey. It includes correspondence, documents, account books, diaries, notebooks, property deeds with seals, plans, photographs, and artwork. Records in the archive predominantly date from the nineteenth and twentieth century, and so represent a very full reflection of the workings of Syon Abbey from the community's return to England in 1861 to the closure of Syon Abbey in 2011. In addition, the archive contains a significant quantity of material dating from the sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, the period in which the community was living in exile in the Low Countries, France and Portugal. The archive also includes a small number of fifteenth-century records relating to property, as well as several records created or collected by members of the community since the closure of Syon Abbey.
Admin HistorySyon Abbey was a monastic house of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour, also known as the Bridgettine Order. The house was founded at Twickenham in 1415, and the community followed the Rule of St Bridget of Sweden. This enclosed Bridgettine community - comprising both monks and nuns and governed by an abbess - was known for its dedication to reading, meditation and contemplation. In addition, it was unusual in being the only English Catholic community of religious to have continued existing without interruption through the Reformation period. In the wake of Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, the community dispersed into smaller groups in which they continued their religious practice, with some remaining in England whilst others sought refuge abroad. Syon Abbey was restored for a short period in England under the Catholic rule of Mary I; however, following the accession of Elizabeth I and the return to Protestantism, the community left England and went into exile. The community spent over half a century migrating through the Low Countries (Antwerp, Dendermonde, Haamstede, Mishagen, Mechelen) and France (Rouen), before eventually finding a new home in Lisbon, Portugal in 1594. In Lisbon, the community survived a convent fire in 1651 and the Lisbon Earthquake in 1755, but both events presumably resulted in the loss of many of Syon's early records. The last brother of Syon Abbey died in 1695. In 1809, at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, the community - with the exception of three sisters, who remained in Lisbon - attempted a return to England; however, by 1815, they were struggling financially, and eventually they relinquished many of their ancient treasures to the Earl of Shrewsbury in exchange for financial support (many of these treasures were auctioned at the The Great Sale of 1857 at Alton Towers). One sister returned to the community in Lisbon, whilst the last of the nuns in England died in 1837. Following the arrival of new postulants in the early nineteenth century, the community in Lisbon recovered and regained its strength. In 1861, amid rising religious tensions in Portugal, the community successfully returned to England, where they initially resided in Spetisbury, Dorset. Following a further relocation to Chudleigh, Devon, in 1887, the community finally settled in South Brent, Devon, in 1925. On account of dwindling numbers and the age of the remaining nuns, the decision was made to close Syon Abbey in 2011. In the same year, the archive was transferred to the University of Exeter, where it joined other previously deposited collections relating to Syon Abbey, including printed books and manuscripts from the Syon Abbey library. The community attracts considerable research interests throughout the world.
LanguagePrimarily English, Latin and Portuguese, but also including items in Dutch, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish.
Access StatusOpen
Related MaterialOther related collections held at the University of Exeter Special Collections include:

EUL MS 459 - Photocopy of a letter from Sister Catherine Witham of Syon Abbey to her mother in 1763

EUL MS 262 - Syon Abbey medieval and modern manuscript collection

EUL MS 95 - Papers of Canon John Rory Fletcher relating to the history of Syon Abbey

EUL MS 265 - Papers relating to the library and its readership at Syon Abbey

EUL MS 394 - Papers relating to Marion Glasscoe's relationship with Syon Abbey and the Syon Reliquary

EUL MS 499 - Book entitled 'Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae Secundum Missale & Breviarium Romanum' with inscriptions by Sister Catherine 'Kitty' Witham of Syon Abbey

The substantial book collection of Syon Abbey (entries available on the library OPAC online catalogue: see, under local classmark SYON ABBEY)

Bound volumes of 'The Poor Souls' Friend and St Joseph's Monitor' (entry available on the library OPAC online catalogue: see, under local classmark SYON/POOR)
Further archive collections concerning Syon Abbey are held at:

- The National Archives (relating to the management of Syon Abbey in the 15th and 16th century);

- Ushaw College (relating to Syon Abbey's relations with the English College in Lisbon);

- Plymouth Diocesan Archives in Exeter (relating to Syon Abbey's relations with the Bishop of Plymouth and the Plymouth Diocese);

- English College, Valladolid (relating to income and property in the 17th century).
Access ConditionsUsual EUL arrangements apply, but Chapter Minutes and a few other specific items are closed. Access to some items containing personal data (such as visitor books and address books) are closed, but access may be provided on a case-by-case basis and upon completion of a Data Protection form. Post-1975 correspondence is closed to public inspection on a 50-year rolling basis from the creation of each item.

*Please note that closed items and files do not appear on the online version of the catalogue*
ArrangementPreviously kept in the sequence it was held in at the abbey, with no discernible systematic arrangement into management groups; a box list of the original arrangement of the archive is still available at Special Collections. Please contact for more information.

New arrangement and cataloguing completed between January 2017 and June 2018. The archive has been arranged into sections to reflect the different functions and activities of the community, and original order has been preserved wherever possible and discernible.

Reference numbers from the original box list have, wherever identifiable, been included in the alternative reference number field of the new catalogue.
Finding_AidsExcel spreadsheet with the original part boxlist available at Special Collections. Reference numbers from this spreadsheet have been included, wherever identifiable, in the alternative reference number field in the new catalogue.
Creator_NameSyon Abbey; 1415-2011; Bridgettine
Mgt_GroupHistorical papers
Theological papers
DS/UK/287Syon Abbey; 1415-2011; Bridgettine1415-2011
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