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Syon Abbey Collection

Syon Abbey Archive (EUL MS 389)

The Syon Abbey archive consists of more than 150 boxes of material relating to the workings, business and people of Syon Abbey, dating from 1467 to 2018. It includes correspondence, documents, account books, diaries, notebooks, property deeds with seals, plans, photographs, and artwork. Records in the archive predominantly date to 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. The archive was deposited on loan for safekeeping with Special Collections by the remaining Bridgettine nuns of Syon Abbey in 2011, and was catalogued between November 2016 and June 2018.

The Syon Abbey archive has great potential as a resource for a broad range of research interests. Listed below are some possible areas of research, but if you have a particular topic in mind, please contact Special Collections at libspc@exeter.ac.uk to chat about whether this archive would be useful for your research.

  • Religion and religious life - The archive contains many papers relating to worship and spirtuality at Syon Abbey.
  • Women's history - The archive provides an opportunity to explore six centuries of women who entered religious life at Syon Abbey, including records about their daily life, worship, decision-making, relationships, leisure activities, and management of the Abbey.
  • Daily life in a modern religious community - A variety of materials - including community diaries, correspondence, photographs, minute books, customs books, creative works, and personal papers - can be used to gain insight into day-to-day life at Syon Abbey in the 19th and 20th century.
  • Social networks – The large amount of correspondence in the archive offers an opportunity to explore the community’s extensive national and international networks with laypeople, other religious communities, members of the clergy, and ecclesiastical authorities.
  • Place and identity – The community had to relocate more than ten times after leaving its medieval abbey, and it can be argued that these 'wanderings' during its period in exile significantly shaped the community’s sense of identity. The forging of this identity can be explored in early modern papers in the archive, as well as through the community's own research into its history.
  • Women's readership - Research in the Syon Abbey archive can be be complimented and combined with research into the Syon Abbey Medieval and Modern Manuscript Collection and Syon Abbey Library Collection, also held at Special Collections. Many of the manuscripts and books are inscribed with the names of those who wrote or read them, and the archive can be consulted to discover the nuns behind the names, providing greater insight into women's readership.
  • Family history - If you have a relative who entered Syon Abbey, the archive may be able to shed further light on their life. The archive includes the vows of sisters dating from 1607 to 2010, as well as admission papers, wills and death certificates of sisters who entered Syon Abbey between the mid-nineteenth and twentieth century. Sisters can also be identified through a substantial collection of photographs (late 19th to early 21st century) and some personal papers of certain sisters are also preserved within the archive.

The archive has been arranged into 24 sections that reflect the main functions and activities of the community of Syon Abbey. You can search the archive in our online archives catalogue, and you can find out more about the Syon Abbey archive cataloguing project in our project blog or by searching #SyonAbbey on Twitter. Please contact us at libspc@exeter.ac.uk for more information or to make an appointment to consult archive material in the reading room.

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