Papers of Canon John Rory Fletcher

Archive Collection

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.

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.

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 Glascoe, 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.


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.


Biographical details on Fletcher have been taken from Nyberg's article, 1960 (see Publication Note).

Catalogued by Charlotte Berry, Archivist,10 Oct 2003, and encoded into EAD 25 May 2004.

Other Finding Aids

Listed briefly on the library OPAC online catalogue: see, under the classmark: Syon FLE, together with the 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

A microfilm copy of the manuscripts is available at the University Library. Other copies of the microfilm are also available through the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library, Saint John's University, Collegeville Mn, USA.

Conditions Governing Use

Usual EUL restrictions apply.

Custodial History

Held on loan from Syon Abbey since 1990. The manuscripts were sent to the Abbey in the 1930s and 1940s by the author.

Related Material

The substantial book collection (pre-1850) of Syon Abbey is also held at Special Collections, and is fully catalogued, with entries available on the library OPAC online catalogue: see, under classmark Syon

The working archive of the Abbey (mainly 19th and 20th c.) is retained at Syon Abbey, South Devon. Other 15th-16th c. 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, and Lichfield Cathedral Library.


Publications on the history of Syon Abbey, and its associated library and archive, include: G.J. Aungier, The History and Antiquities of Syon Monastery, the Parish of Isleworth, and the Chapelry of Hounslow (London, 1840); Fletcher, John Rory, The Story of the English Bridgettines of Syon Abbey (South Brent, 1933); Hamel, Christopher de, Syon Abbey: The Library of the Bridgettine Nuns and Their Peregrinations After the Reformation, an essay by Christopher De Hamel, with the manuscript of Arundel Castle (Printed for the Roxburghe Club, 1991); Rhodes, J.T., 'Syon Abbey and its Religious Publications in the Sixteenth Century', in Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol.44, No. 1, January 1993, pp. 11-15. The following essay explores the provenance of one volume, containing two texts by Wynken de Worde bound together, which was originally part of the library: 'For No Text Is an Island, Divided from the Main: Incunable Sammelbande' by Lucy Lewis, in Light on the Book Trade: Essays and Papers in Honour of Peter Isaac, ed. Barry McKay, Maureen Bell, and John Hinks (Newcastle: Oak Knoll Press, 2002).

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