Monday, August 8, 2011


As a guest on a yachting holiday to Cowes, in the Isle of Wight, we stayed at a village called Netley Abbey. Actually finding it was tricky but we managed with the help of a satnav! The whole village once belonged to the Abbey and indeed Netley Abbey is the most complete, surviving Cistercian monastic ruin in England, and an unexpected hidden gem in the middle of a small village and estate.The ruins show the remains of 800 years of change, from a Cistercian house to a mansion for one of Henry VIII's henchmen and finally it was sold for masonry and became a Romantic ruin. The Cistercians must have enjoyed a wonderful life of prayer in this setting overlooking the Solent!Now there is a hedge and it is protected by English Heritage.

The Abbey was founded by monks from nearby Beaulieu Abbey by Peter des Roches the powerful Bishop of Winchester in 1238 and there were 15 monks, but 30 lay brothers and other employees, officials and labourers.

In the sad years, when the king wished to marry his mistress, the Abbey was closed and taken by the king and sold at a knockdown price to his supporter in this venture Sir William Paulet. Who built a Tudor Courtyard palace on the site, using the buildings that were there in 1536. By the 18th century, repairs became too costly and by 1704 the house was abandoned to provide stone for building but painters, poets and writers arrived there, taking inspiration from the spiritual nature of the building.The Abbey was only saved, when work demolishing the Abbey was stopped, when a worker was killed.

Horace Walpole, Jane Austen and many others visited the Abbey, inspired by its grandeur-even as a shell. Northanger Abbey may have been inspired here, so close to the coast.It was a popular place for people from the nearby area to come and have ginger beer and a party, but by the twentieth century, antiquarian interest stopped such things and admiration for the gothic masonry of the abbey, made them remove all the vestiges of the Tudor mansion, which had decayed and restored it. It is now cared for by English Heritage, and a hidden gem in the rural landscape.All was still there, the book room, the kitchen, the enormous church.

For its short tenure by Sir William Paulet,from 1536 to 1704 , the death of the demolition worker and the giving up of the house for masonry, you have to ask whether the theft of the monastery was worth it, even for the vanity of one of the people charged with closing these houses of prayer-which often incorporated hospitals.... A sad chapter in our history.

If you are around Southampton, visit Netley, and see the hidden gem!

1 comment:

stpetric said...

Thanks for the heads-up! I look forward to visiting.

Was the theft of the monastery worth it? The question answers itself.