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Beaulieu history - an introduction

Beaulieu Abbey ruins shown in a 19th century print
Beaulieu Abbey - the ruins
shown in a 19th century print

Beaulieu Abbey (A)

Beaulieu’s recorded history starts with the creation of Beaulieu Abbey, for it was around the Abbey that the village clustered. Founded in 1204 on land given by King John, Beaulieu Abbey was built for Cistercian monks whose order originated in France in 1098. Construction took over 40 years to complete - the dedication was in 1246, long after John’s death, in the presence of his son, Henry III, the new king.

But for the monks, Beaulieu Abbey life was to come to an abrupt end in 1538 when Henry VIII brought major religious houses into private ownership. Beaulieu Abbey passed by sale to Sir Thomas Wriothesley, later to become 1st Earl of Southampton, and many of the buildings, including the Abbey church, were demolished - stones and lead from the Abbey were re-used in the construction of Calshot Castle and Hurst Castle.

The inner Great Gatehouse, however, was converted, extended and rebuilt to become Palace House, now the home of Lord and Lady Montagu; whilst the Choir Monks’ Refectory became Beaulieu’s parish church.

(A similar sequence of events was mirrored throughout much of the country - acquisition of monastic sites by members of the king's court, Dissolution officials and the nouveau riche; almost immediate demolition, at least in part, to provide profit from the sale of building materials and probably also to ensure no return to religious communities; and conversion of elements of the remains to secular mansions).

The Outer Gatehouse, a structure dating back to the 14th century, can still be seen, however, beside the road a little to the north of Beaulieu Mill - it is close to where the road crosses the river.

St. Leonards Barn, Grange and Chapel (B)

Impressive evidence of the Beaulieu Abbey lay brothers’ farming endeavours can be seen at St Leonards, 6 kilometres (3 ¾ miles) south-east of Beaulieu, where the ruins of an enormous 13th or 14th century barn stand by the roadside. Thought to be one of the largest in England, it was 210 feet long and 70 feet wide, and had a capacity of ½ million cubic feet. Nearby, and of similar age, are St. Leonards Grange, now much modified; and the ruins of St. Leonards Chapel. (None of these are open to the public).

Sowley Pond (C)

Also situated around 6 kilometres from Beaulieu, Sowley Pond owes its existence to Beaulieu Abbey monks who dammed two small streams to create a fish-pond. Nowadays a haven for wildlife, the peace and quiet is broken only by the occasional car on the adjacent minor road, but it was not always so, for an ironworks operated nearby from the early 17th to the early 19th centuries, using water from the pond to power blast furnace bellows.

(Sowley Pond is visible from the minor road, but there is no public access).

Beaulieu Mill (D)

Beauieu Mill viewed from the nearby path leading to Buckler's Hard
Beaulieu Mill viewed from the nearby path
leading to Buckler's Hard

Beaulieu Mill was also powered by water, in this case, though, supplied by the incoming tide and the outflow back to sea from the nearby mill pond, which was created specially for the purpose by Abbey monks.

Located on Beaulieu Bridge, the present three-storey structure is a mixture of ages, reflecting centuries of repair, rebuilding and modification - although standing upon medieval foundations, the mill has much surviving 17th century fabric and a largely 18th century mechanical layout that was last brought up to-date at the end of the 19th century.

Corn continued to be ground here until the early years of the 20th century, after which the mill was used to produce animal feeds until around 1942.

Owned by the Beaulieu Estate, the mill is one of a small number of surviving, relatively intact tide mills in Britain, but it is unlikely that it will ever be returned to full working order. It has, however, recently been the subject of substantial repair and restoration works - wherever possible using local materials similar in character to the originals - following fire damage in 2006. Much of the mill machinery continues to remain in-situ and the building has largely been returned to its pre-fire condition, although part, towards the rear of the structure, is now used as office accommodation.

The mill is not open to the public.

The Montagu Arms Hotel and Beaulieu village (D)

The Montagu Arms Hotel is close to the mill. An original inn on this site dated back to the 16th century, when it was known first as The Ship, and then The George. The old building had been replaced by the 18th century, and in 1742 took the current name. Now much draped in climbing plants, the inn was substantially rebuilt in 1887 / 88, and an east wing added in 1926.

The late 18th century Richardson, King and Driver map of Beaulieu shows a village remarkably similar in layout to that of today, except, of course, for the modern by-pass that enables through traffic to avoid the narrow High Street where a timeless array of mainly 17th, 18th and 19th century richly mellow, brick-built properties line the road. (Many show on name or number plate, three vertically aligned diamonds boldly marked in red, denoting ownership by the Beaulieu Estate).

Buckler's Hard (E)

Buckler's Hard
Cottages at Buckler's Hard
(Copyright: Charlotte Leaper)

Buckler’s Hard, a tiny hamlet on the western bank of the Beaulieu River, lies 3.25 kilometres (2 miles) downstream from Beaulieu village. Here, away from the hurly-burly of modern life, two rows of modest red-brick cottages face each other across an extravagantly wide, part-gravel, part-grassed corridor running at right angles to the shore.

Buckler’s Hard, or Montagu Town as it was originally to be known, has, though, a long and industrious history. Conceived in the first half of the 18th century by John, 2nd Duke of Montagu, it was to be a ship building settlement, and landing place and refinery for sugar imported from West Indian plantations.

But the sugar venture failed and the would-be port was eventually taken over by Henry Adams who there built many of the great wooden ships of the day. Indeed, between 1753 and 1809 no fewer than forty-three warships were constructed and launched at Buckler's Hard, including notable vessels used by Horatio Nelson's navy during the Napoleonic Wars. (Three of these ships - Agamemnon (1781, 64 guns), Euryalus (1803, 36 guns) and Swiftsure (1804, 74 guns) - took part in the famous victory gained at the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805 when twenty-seven British ships, led by Nelson, defeated a combined fleet of thirty-three French and Spanish ships. Remarkably, the Franco-Spanish fleet lost twenty-two ships, whilst not a single British vessel was lost).

Buckler’s Hard is fully accessible to the public and can be reached by a delightful riverside walk that passes the Beaulieu Estate’s old brickworks; and by car along narrow south-Hampshire lanes.

Find out more about Beaulieu's fascinating history as revealed on these old maps

and in these old pictures

References:
Monasteries in the Landscape: Professor Mick Aston
A Guide to the New Forest: Heywood Sumner
The King’s England: Arthur Mee
Hampshire Industrial Archaeology: Southampton University Industrial Archaeology Group
Beaulieu Estate: Beaulieu Mill, Consultants Report
An Album of Old Beaulieu and Buckler’s Hard: Susan Tomkins
Hampshire Treasures: www.hants.gov.uk/hampshiretreasures/vol05/page003.html
Tudorplace: www.tudorplace.com.ar/Bios/ThomasWriothesley(1ESouthampton).htm
The Heritage Trail: www.theheritagetrail.co.uk/abbeys/beaulieu%20abbey.htm
Beaulieu Churches: www.beaulieuchurches.org/

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Content produced by Andrew Walmsley