Beaulieu Abbey & Palace House

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HCC Site ID. 1005 Parish: Beaulieu
Designations: NFNP, LP, AHBR Area: n/k
Access: Public Access check opening times Ownership: Private

Location and Site

The site, encompassing the ruins of the Beaulieu Abbey complex, Palace House and the National Motor Museum, lies in the fertile valley of the Beaulieu River, at the extremity of its tidal reach.  Beaulieu is on the south coast, on the southeastern edge of the New Forest National Park, six miles from Southampton and about four miles north of the Solent. It is bounded to the west and south by the Beaulieu River, with the small village of Beaulieu lying to the south over the dam bridge; to the north and east is arable and woodland, part of the 7,000 acre (2833 ha.) Beaulieu Estate.

Historical Development

Beaulieu is noteworthy in that, since the suppression of the abbey in 1538, the estate has passed by descent through the same family to its present owners, the Montagus. Because Beaulieu was not the main family home until the mid C18, the development of the landscape is the result of three periods of major activity separated by periods of relative inactivity.

Beaulieu Abbey was founded by King John as a Cistercian House in 1204, and has been described by Historic England as “one of the greatest acts of English monastic establishment in the High Middle Ages”. It was built over a period of almost 40 years and, on its completion, was probably the largest Cistercian church in England.  The name Beaulieu derives from ‘bellus locus regis’, the ‘king’s beautiful place’ (HE Abbey – online 2016). The monastic precinct enclosed a broadly square area of about 58 acres (23 ha.) and was surrounded by a continuous wall up to 12 feet in height and over a mile in length, of which substantial sections survive. Although in use from 1227, the abbey was not completed until 1246, when on 17th June it was dedicated by the Bishop of Winchester in the presence of King Henry III. Little is known about later medieval building phases at Beaulieu, but the inner gatehouse (Great Gatehouse) was built in thp1000795-2e early to mid-C14, with an unusual arrangement of twin chapels on the upper floor. Monks created the Mill Pond by putting a dam across the Beaulieu River, enabling tide mills to be powered (HE Abbey – online 2016).

The Beaulieu Abbey Account Book of 1269 -1270, reveals that a department called the ‘Curtilage’ was responsible for growing vegetables such as leeks and beans in plots around the Abbey Precinct, and the apples from the gardinarius department or orchard were used for making cider. Vines were also grown in plots around the Precinct, and doves and pigeons were kept to provide some meat for the Abbey’s three infirmaries (Beaulieu archivist 2002 and Hockey 1975).

The dissolution of Beaulieu Abbey took place in 1538, and the site of the late monastery was sold to Thomas Wriothesley (1505-50), 1st Earl of Southampton, who paid £1,340 6s 8d for the 8,000 acre estate (Montagu 2012,22). This family was the greatest landowner of the age in Hampshire, controlling their extensive estates from their newly constructed mansion at Titchfield.
The principal religious buildings were comprehensively demolished, and much of the stone is believed to have been used for fortifications at Hurst, Calshot and Cowes. The C14 Great Gatehouse was converted to a modest manor house and occasional residence and became known shortly afterwards as Palace House or Bewley Place, and forms the core of the present house today (Montagu 22, 2012. The refectory soon became Beaulieu’s parish church, and the Domus, in the former west range, became the church house before being adapted for use as a brewery in c1725; in 2017 it housed an exhibition on monastic life (HE Abbey – online 2016).

Little information exists on the ensuing 170 years as Palace House was used primarily as a base for sport and hunting. During the ownership of Henry (1573-1624), the third Earl of Southampton and patron of Shakespeare, James I made nine visits between 1606 and 1623. In 1613 it is recorded that entertainments included a game of football and bull-baiting. James’ son Charles I visited six times between 1625 and 1632, and in the rental of 1625 reference is made to a bowling green (Bartlett 1973, 89+258).

Thomas (1608-1667), the fourth Earl, died leaving no male heir, and Beaulieu passed to his youngest daughter Elizabeth (1646-1690), wife firstly of Jocelyn Percy eleventh Earl of Northumberland and secondly of Ralph Montagu (1638-1709), who succeeded his father as 3rd Baron Montagu of Boughton in 1683.
On Ralph’s death, he was succeeded by his son John, 2nd Duke of Montagu (1690-1749) who in 1705 had married Mary Churchill, daughter of 1st Duke of Marlborough. Lord Hailes, eminent Scottish judge, said of John after his death: “a kinder man never lived, he did good without ostentation” (Widnell 1973,27).
The duke’s country home, Boughton House, which later passed to the Buccleuch family, was originally laid out by his father in the style of Versailles. John later had a direct and extensive hand in the expansion of the gardens at Boughton and as a result is often referred to as the Planter (ODNB online 2016). Although not residing at Beaulieu, John visited several times a year and was the first to take a real interest in and to invest in the estate. The earliest plans in the Estate archive date from this period.  Palace House was extended by the building of two wings around an open courtyard to the north and the enclosure of the house with a moat, complete with drawbridge and a small tower at each corner, two of which – the southeast and southwest – still survive in 2017. There are receipts dated 1721 for the purchase of fruit trees (plums, pears, nectarines, peaches, cherries and apricots) to be planted around the towers and against the walls of the moat, drained in the 1760s.
John created a formal garden around his remodelled house: documents suggest that in 1715 a rectangular plantation of elms planted in turf, surrounded by an elm hedge, was created on the eastern side of the House. A plan of 1718 shows a Wilderness to the west and north of the house and three rows of trees lining the square forecourt between the house and the medieval outer gate. In the southeast corner can be seen rectangular formal parterres. The Wilderness of oak and beech was added around 1718. consisting of a series of frequently crossing straight turfed walks, again surrounded by an elm hedge. A few of the oaks still remain, but many were lost in the hurricane of 1987.
A water feature was added to the garden in the 1730s; references to the construction of a cascade appear in the Estate records in 1721 and from 1738. It is thought that this was linked with a formal canal, raised walks, a mount and holding pond along the northern boundary of the garden. The water was sourced from woodland streams to the north via the holding pond, from where it ran over rocks in the cascade, collected in a lower pool, then flowed into the canal. Water levels in the canal were controlled using a sluice, with any surplus water running into the Mill Pond. There is also reference to a serpentine (it is unclear whether a canal or walk) in 1747; possible locations put forward have been somewhere in the Wilderness or the conversion of the cascade. The Long Walk, following the edge of the Mill Pond, was created to join the Wilderness with the water features.
By 1721 there was a vegetable garden with artichokes, cucumber, Battersea and Dutch cabbages and turnips, and honeysuckle and jasmine were grown up walls. In 1726-27 the Duke was planning a long vista from Palace House to the quay side at Needs Ore at the mouth of the Beaulieu River (BLHT archivist 2017).
John was also responsible for planting a fir garden in Hartford Wood in 1729, with rides leading to it through parkland, possibly one of the earliest locations for the planting of firs in the New Forest. A vineyard near Baker’s Row to the north was established in 1735 and closed around the time of the Duke’s death (Beaulieu archivist 2002).
In 1722 Dungehill Copse was cleared for a planned freeport ‘Montagu Town’, now Buckler’s Hard, for the import and export of sugar from the West Indian islands of St. Lucia and St. Vincent, which the Duke hoped to annex. When the plan failed, Buckler’s Hard subsequently became famous for shipbuilding, particularly the wooden ships for George III’s navy, after Matthew Adams established a shipyard there in 1749 (Montagu 2012, 24-25).

On John’s death in 1749, the Beaulieu estate passed to his two daughters Isabella and Mary, both absentee landlords, thus leading to a period of relative inactivity. Eventually in 1802 the estate was re-united under Mary’s daughter Elizabeth (1744-1827), Duchess of Buccleuch and her husband Henry 3rd Duke of Buccleuch (1746-1812).
Not much is known about the gardens during this period, though estate maps of 1802 and 1821 show trees planted in the area of the Wilderness and the Long Walk up to the area of the mount and canal (1802 + 1821 estate maps).

It was in 1867 when Lord Henry Scott (1832-1905), second son of the 5th Duke of Buccleuch, took up residence at Beaulieu that the second main period of building and gardening activity began. He was created 1st Baron Montagu of Beaulieu in 1885.
Between 1871 and 1874 major alterations and extensions to Palace House to the designs of Sir Arthur Blomfield took place, as well as the remodelling of the gardens. This included the planting of shrubberies and conifers on the site of the earlier Wilderness, and the building of a walled kitchen garden with fountain and pool beyond the Wilderness north of the house. The axial path linking house and garden survives as the cep1000810-2ntral path leading to the Motor Museum.  Photographs and maps from the early C20 show Palace House encircled by lawns, mature trees, a formal courtyard garden with flowerbeds and terracing laid out in front of the new east wing and the old south front, walks with high yew hedges to the north of the house and in the kitchen garden. Included was a new complex of gardening buildings, with greenhouses, hot house, propagating rooms and a vine house; an ice house was constructed in this area and in 2016 was awaiting restoration. (Tomkins 1990,44, CL 1906).
Cecily, 1st Lady Montagu of Beaulieu (1835-1915), took a great interest in the gardens and introduced many rhododendrons to the estate, particularly in the Wilderness Garden. Lord Henry died in 1905 and was succeeded by his son John, 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu (1866-1929), the grandfather of the present owner and a motoring pioneer. On John’s death in 1929, trustees were appointed to look after the estate for Edward, 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu (1926- 2015) until his 25th birthday in 1951.

During World War II, the Beaulieu estate became a centre for training over 3000 Special Operations Executive agents.
In 1952 Lord Montagu opened Palace House to the public and, in a tribute to his father, he installed five vintage cars in the Front Hall. By 1959 this had become a separate museum in a newly-constructed building to the northeast of Palace House, on the site of the present Old Museum Garden, where many trees have been planted to commemorate family occasions.
By the 1970s increasing visitor numbers led to the creation of new car parks and entrance through Hartford Copse to the north, thus diverting the bulk of visitor traffic away from Beaulieu village. The newly-designed visitor complex separated the present National Motor Museum, opened in 1972, from the historic abbey ruins and Palace House. The central linear path was extended across the line of the canal to form the new visitor entrance, and a new family entrance was made on the east side of the house in 1979. The parkland was and continues to be used for rallies and events. On the death of Edward in August 2015, he was succeeded by his eldest son Ralph (1961- ) who became the 4th Baron Montagu of Beaulieu.

Current Description

Despite recent changes brought about by the opening of the site to the public, tp1000798-2he boundaries of the Beaulieu Palace visitor complex are very similar to those of the gardens and parkland of the 2nd Duke in the C18. The landscape changes of the late C19 remain today as one of the strongest features of the site, albeit still retaining vestiges of the earlier improvements. The National Motor Museum buildings are confined to the northern third of the site, with the ruined abbey complex to the east. There is a private family garden to the southeast of Palace House with tennis court and swimming pool, and lawns surround the house to the north and west – the site of the former Wilderness; from here there are fine views out over the Mill Pond and the Beaulieu River.
In the Wilderness Garden are many rhododendrons, the successors to Lady Cecily’s plantings, as well as a variety of interesting trees, including a Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), a Monkey Puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), and a Liquidamber styraciflua.
The Mill Pond Walk has been reinstated to join the Wilderness area with the mount – which now has a bench from which to admire the surroundings – and the canal, which still holds water and ends in a pool by the visitor centre. The line of the former cascade runs behind the visitor centre and is no longer recognisable as such.
Along the Walk is the  Rufus Memorial Cairn, unveiled in 2001 following research which suggested that William Rufus was shot and killed at Thorougham on the Beaulieu Estate in 1100, rather than at Minstead, about 10 miles away (Lloyd 2000, 37-40).
From Palace House the main path, lined with tall yew hedges, leads past the Old Museum Garden to the Victorians’ Garden, divided into the  Kitchen Garden and the Flower Garden, separated by the central path, in the middle of which is a small pond with a fountain. The Kitchen Garden has been restored to its 1870s layout and grows many heritage varieties. There are several gardening buildings along the northern wall, including the vine house restored in 2000, where peaches, nectarines, grapes, and apricots are grown. The Flower Garden contains two purple beech trees (Fagus sylvatica purpurea), a tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), banana plants, bottle brush, orange and lemon trees, a Magnolia x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’, and fragrant old garden varieties of roses in the Rose Garden.
The Abbey and Cloisters area also contain a diverse range of interesting plant species, including a Magnolia grandiflora, Campsis radicans, and a herb garden with culinary and medicinal herbs such as those used by the monks. Yew hedges mark the location of the walls of various monastic buildings, and a pair of beech trees (Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck’) stand either side of the High Altar. The limestone abbey walls are covered with unusual species of flowers, grasses, moulds and lichens. Around the site are trees commemorating family events: an avenue of horse chestnut trees to the north of the abbey ruins planted in 1947 to commemorate the 3rd Baron’s 21st birthday, two pairs of Cedars of Lebanon, one on the West Lawn and one on the private East Lawn. A monorail circulates between the entrance and Palace House, and gives good views of the layout of this part of the garden. (Site visits 2017, OS Mastermap 2015, Bing map 2016, and Montagu 2012, 38-39).

Summary and Significance

Built within the precinct of Beaulieu Abbey, one of England’s most significant Cistercian monasteries, Palace House incorporates a C14 monastic gatehouse in a picturesque setting overlooking the Beaulieu River. It has hosted royal visitations from C13 to C17 and again in recent times. In the ownership of the same family since the Dissolution, the site has been well documented since the Abbey’s foundation. A major tourist attraction from the late C20, the gardens have been extensively restored and developed to highlight their past history.
HGT Research: September 2017


Hampshire Record Office (HRO)
(Bartlett 1973)  – Bartlett, Alan , 1973 thesis: Beaulieu in Tudor and Stuart Times: The end of the Abbey: The Wriothesleys 1500-1673.  HRO ref: THESIS/3
(Gough 1769) – Gough, Richard, Photocopy of Notes of an antiquarian tour made by Richard Gough in Hampshire & the Isle of Wight in 1769. HRO ref: COPY/572/1 (original in Bodleian Library Oxford)
OS maps from Hampshire County Council (HCC)
1st ed. 25” 1868
1st ed. 6” 1870-71
2nd ed. 6” 1898
3rd ed. 25” 1909
3rd ed. 6” 1909-10
1: 3500 OS Mastermap map 2015
(OHM) online Old Hampshire Mapped: Taylor 1759, OS 1810 Old Series map (c.1855)  – – accessed various dates 2016
1718 plan of 2nd Duke’s Garden – Beaulieu Archive, copyright Lord Montagu of Beaulieu
Drawings of Palace House and gardens attributed to Stephen Penn c1720 – Beaulieu Archive, copyright Lord Montagu of Beaulieu
1802 Earl of Beaulieu’s Map – Beaulieu Archive, copyright Lord Montagu of Beaulieu
1821 map of Beaulieu Estate – Beaulieu Archive, copyright Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

(Hockey 1975) – Hockey, S.(ed.), 1975, Beaulieu Abbey Account Book, London
(Lloyd 2000)  Lloyd, Arthur , 2000, The Death of Rufus, Lyndhurst,New Forest Ninth Centenary Trust,
(Montagu 2012) – Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, 2012, Beaulieu: National Motor Museum, Palace House and Gardens, Beaulieu Abbey, Beaulieu, Beaulieu Enterprises Ltd.
(Tomkins 1990) – Tomkins, Susan, 1990, An Album of Old Beaulieu and Bucklers Hard, Southampton, Ensign Publications,
(Widnell 1973) – Widnell, H.R.E.,1973, The Beaulieu Record, Surrey, Pioneer Publications Ltd.

Other Sources
Beaulieu Visitor Information leaflet 2017
(BLHT archivist 2017) – Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust, correspondence with archivist for the Duke of Buccleuch
(CL 1906) – Country Life, 17 November 1906, Volume XX, pp.702-9
(Riley 1999) – Riley, James, June 1999 1st draft,  Beaulieu Visitor Site: Landscape Strategy & Management Plan
(Beaulieu archivist 1986/2002) – Beaulieu Archivist, 1986 and 2002 notes
Site visits HGT researchers, and personal communication with Beaulieu archivist

Electronic Sources
(AHBR)  – Archaeology and Historic Buildings Record Register – online 2016
(Beaulieu online) – – accessed various dates 2016
(HE Abbey) – Historic England scheduling of Beaulieu Abbey –                        – accessed April 2016
(HE) – Historic England listing of Duke’s Bath Cottage – – accessed November 2016
(ODNB) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – – accessed March 2016

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