Papers of Canon John Rory Fletcher relating to the history of Syon Abbey

Scope and Content

The collection consists of 35 bound manuscript volumes relating to the medieval and post-Reformation history of Syon Abbey and its order of Bridgettine nuns. The collection provides an invaluable point of entry for any researcher with an interest in the history of the community, as it contains materials relating to the foundation of the Abbey at Isleworth, Middlesex. Also included are histories of the community whilst in exile on the Continent following the Dissolution in 1539, as well as are four volumes of 'Syon's Who's Who' (including a detailed index), catalogues of brothers and sisters, lists of manuscripts and book materials, and notes on other Bridgettine communities foundations situated elsewhere in Europe.

Administrative / Biographical History

Canon John Rory Fletcher (1861-1944) originated from Worcestershire, before moving to London as a child. He was educated at a preparatory school in Oxford and attended Dulwich College and Epsom College. He studied medicine at Charing Cross Hospital, before taking up a position there as House Surgeon in 1886. He then became appointed as Resident Medical Officer to the London Lock Hospital in March 1887.

He travelled abroad to study Catholic theology before converting in 1887 at the age of 26, being ordained as a priest in 1902 and fulfilling pastoral duties in England until 1930. He maintained contact with the medical community as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and was from 1927-1930 the Vice-President of the Section for the History of Medicine of the Royal Society of Medicine.

Canon Fletcher became a close friend of the community from 1922, and in 1923, he was admitted into the fraternity of Syon Abbey as a brother of the chapter. He was also a cousin to Sister Mary Veronica Kempson, a nun at Syon Abbey. Fletcher died in 1944 and was buried by special licence in the cemetery at Syon Abbey.

Fletcher made it his life work to collect and describe all possible material concerning Syon Abbey and its community of Bridgettine nuns in medieval and Reformation times. His work on the history of Syon Abbey was not formally committed to paper until the 1930s and 1940s, when he sent each volume to the Abbey on completion for safekeeping. He published a popular history of the Abbey under the title 'The Story of the English Bridgettines of Syon Abbey' in 1933. As well as studying papers held in the archive of the Abbey in South Devon, he also consulted materials held in other archives and libraries across the UK and Europe.

Syon Abbey was a monastic house of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour, also known as the Bridgettine Order. The house was founded directly from the Mother House in Vadstena in Sweden 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 renowned 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. Following Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, the community dispersed into smaller groups, with some remaining in England whilst others sought refuge abroad. Syon Abbey was restored for a short period in England under Mary I; however, following the accession of Elizabeth I, the community went into exile. The community spent over half a century migrating through the Low Countries and France, before eventually finding a new home in Lisbon, Portugal in 1594. In 1861, amid rising religious tensions in Portugal, the community 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. The community attracts considerable research interests from throughout the world.


The volumes are arranged into the following sections, as organised by Fletcher himself:

A. State Papers B. Descriptive history of the Abbey C. Biographical work D. English sources in general E. Syon sources and Dom Hamilton's writings F. Swedish and foreign sources G. Preliminary notebooks H. Folio volumes (various subjects) I. Large folio (various subjects)

Conditions Governing Access

Usual EUL arrangements apply.

Other Finding Aids

Listed briefly at item level on the library's OPAC online catalogue: see, under the classmark: Syon Abbey FLE, together with the historic book collections of Syon Abbey.

A brief paper handlist of the Fletcher papers specifically (EUL MS 95) is also available from Special Collections. A more detailed description of each individual volume is included as an appendix to Nyberg's article on the manuscripts, 1960 (see Publication Note).

Alternative Form Available

Microfilm copies of the manuscripts are available and through the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library, Saint John's University, Collegeville Mn, USA.

Conditions Governing Use

Usual EUL restrictions apply.

Related Material

The Syon Abbey archive (EUL MS 389) contains seven boxes of personal and research papers of Canon Fletcher (in EUL MS 389/HIST/2/FLETCHER), including two folders of papers marked 'Loose papers removed from Fletcher's MSS'.

Other Syon Abbey related collections held at Special Collections include:

EUL MS 262 - Syon Abbey medieval and modern manuscript collection

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

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)

Other manuscripts relating to Syon Abbey, Middlesex, are held at the following repositories: Alnwick Castle, Cambridge University: King's College Archive Centre, Ghent University Library, Guildhall Library, Huntington Library, North Yorkshire County Record Office, Cambridge University Library, Cornwall Record Office, Lambeth Palace Library, the National Archives (Public Record Office), Longleat House, Cambridge University Library: St John's College Library, British Library, Lichfield Cathedral Library and at Ushaw College Library, Durham.


Publications will have drawn on the collection include:

'The Canon Fletcher Manuscripts in Syon Abbey', Tore Nyberg, Lund, Sweden, p56-69, 'Nordisk Tidskrift för Bok- och Biblioteksväsen' (Särtryck), vol. XLVII 1960.

'Julian of Norwich, Showing of Love', ed. Sister Anna Maria Reynolds and Julia Bolton Holloway, Florence, 2001.

Other publications relating to the history of Syon Abbey are listed under Note.