Syon Abbey archive

Archive Collection
  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 29 EUL MS 389
  • Dates of Creation
      16th century-20th century
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      English Latin
  • Physical Description
      113 boxes, 3 plan chest drawers, 2 loose vols, 3 bundles plans, 1 bundle records.

Scope and Content

Records concerning the workings and business of Syon Abbey, mostly dating to the 19th Century. These include:

Building and estate records, including leases, rentals, building works

Copy statutes and deeds

Financial and administrative papers

Profession records, vows, pensions

Material relating to the Diocese and the See of Rome including papal bulls, licences and decrees

Material relating to Divine Office and worship


Personal Correspondence including letters to the Abbesses (material later than 1975 is closed).

Chapter Acts (1 book of closed access material)

A small assortment of manuscript books

Baptismal material and wills

Personalia including address books and diaries

Paintings and flatwork including paintings by Sister Mary Stanislaus

Historical materials and memorabilia including news cuttings and articles.

Books include the following three titles:

'The Life of St. Bridget and St. Catherine' – manuscript, ms c.17th century unknown but probably same hand as Syon MS18.

'The Rosary of our Saviour', William Bonde, (1526) morocco bound, English Short Title Catalogue no. 14571

'The Pipe of Perfection'(The pype or tonne of the lyfe of perfection), Richard Whitforde, (1532).

Other items of significance include:

Deed of Restoration, Cardinal Pole (note:translation of document held on file)

Isleworth Deeds nos. 1-3 (3 items)

Cartulary, Edward IV

Papal Briefs 1515-1750 – 1 folder

Lisbon material (17th century onwards – 1 folder)

Lisbon vows (1 folder)

Lisbon Profession papers (1 folder)

Lisbon 1768 (1 folder)

Profession papers 1607-1628 – 3 folders

1 folder of 17th century papers

Vows of Sisters Professed at Spettesbury, Dorset 1861-1886

Vows of Sisters Professed at Chudleigh (4 folders)

Vows of Sisters Professed at South Brent (3 folders)

Rite of Abbatial Election (1 folder)

Bishop Graham’s permission (1 folder)

19th century accounts, papers concerning Peter Baines, postulants (1 folder)

Fr P Baines letter books (c19) (1 folder)

List of papal briefs, Kitty Witham’s letter, Sister Vaux’s pedigree

Vows of Sisters not accepted for solemn profession

Rental for Sion House, properties in Lisbon (1 folder)

17th and 18th century documents relating to Divine Office

18th century papers – papal briefs, pensions and postulants

Administrative / Biographical History

The community of Bridgettine nuns at Syon Abbey are now based at South Brent, Devon. The community is unusual in being able to trace an unbroken tradition reaching back to their Abbey's foundation in 1415. The Bridgettine Order was founded in the second half of the fourteenth-century by a Swedish noblewoman who was canonised in 1391 and known as St Bridget of Sweden. This contemplative order was to accommodate both men and women. The order founded at Syon Abbey in 1415 became a major focal point of religious activity in the sixteenth-century and was well-known for its publication of religious literature. A surviving set of rules for Syon Abbey explicitly emphasises the importance of books and instructs the sisters in their proper care. Both the nuns and the monks had their own libraries but, whilst there is an extant catalogue of the brothers' medieval library, no catalogue of the nuns' medieval library has survived and little is known about what physically happened to either of the libraries following the Abbey's dissolution in 1539.

At the dissolution, the nuns went into exile and lived first in the Low Countries and later in Portugal. From the mid-sixteenth-century to 1809, when the nuns returned to England, the sisters lived as an English community at Lisbon. Marion Glasscoe, who co-ordinated the transfer of the Syon book collections to Exeter University Library, has recorded that the sisters took a small core of surviving books with them when they first went into exile and she argues that the nuns continued to build up their library while abroad and that they brought all those volumes which survived a convent fire (Lisbon 1651) back to England on their return in the nineteenth-century. The community attracts considerable research interests from throughout the world.


Currently arranged in the sequence it was held at the abbey, with no specified systematic arrangement into management groups, although a partial list is available at Special Collections, which provides some categorisation of items.

Conditions Governing Access

Usual EUL arrangements apply, but Chapter Minutes, personal correspondence post 1975 and a few other specific items are closed. Refer to senior staff.

Acquisition Information

Deposited at the University in 2011.

Other Finding Aids

Part boxlist available at Special Collections.

Archivist's Note

Description created by Christine Faunch, Head of Heritage Collections, 2011. Modified by Christine Faunch, Apr 2014, Nov 2014.

Conditions Governing Use

Usual EUL conditions apply.



Related Material

EUL MSS 95, 262,265