Mottisfont Abbey, Hampshire

At the end of the 12th century The Priory of Holy Trinity was founded by William Brewer for an Order of Austin Canons. He was an influential Hampshire gentleman responsible for other monastic foundations across the county, but at Mottisfont there was a special treasure to ensure its prosperity. With the finger of St John the Baptist, it became renowned as a place of pilgrimage, miracles, and royal endowments. Although never a large priory, it's full complement of 11 canons was severely reduced to three by the time of Suppression in 1536, the Black Death and decreasing revenue responsible for its eventual decline.

Henry VIII granted the estate to William Lord Sandys, the Lord Chamberlain, and his ancestors continued to live at the property for the next four centuries. Unfortunately, he didn't survive long enough to enjoy Mottisfont himself, and his grand plans to convert the priory into a vast Tudor mansion were left to the 3rd Lord Sandys to complete. Using the old priory church, as well as the domestic ranges, a substantial manor house arranged around two courtyards was an impressive transformation at that time. Most of the Tudor work has since been replaced by the mid-18th century alterations carried out by Sir Richard Mill who, whilst wishing to change the appearance of the house, surprisingly left much of the monastic remains intact. It was from this point in time that the Georgian mansion became known as Mottisfont Abbey.

In 1836 a stable block was built, but the next major restoration of the house did not take place until the first years of the 20th century. The house had been let to a tenant for the previous 15 years but when Mrs Vaudrey Barker-Mill returned to Mottisfont Abbey in 1900 she instigated a costly programme of work to the property and the estate. The final chapter for this beautiful house came in 1934 when it was eventually sold to the Russells. It is mainly their extensive remodelling to both the house and the gardens that the visitor can enjoy today.

Knowing its monastic origins, it is very easy to picture the church and the claustral ranges incorporated into the present stone and flint structure, and the medieval vaulted cellarium to be found beneath the terrace is a remarkable survival in a building that has been altered so many times. Providing a complete contrast, present day visitors can also enjoy the stunning room created by Rex Whistler, and a collection of 20th century paintings by Derek Hill. With the River Test running through the picturesque grounds, and the 'font' or original natural spring that made the site so appealing to the monks, Mottisfont Abbey is a peaceful, pretty location with architecture, art, history, and the fabulous National Collection of Old-fashioned Roses, to provide a constant source of interest.

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