Beaulieu’s recorded history starts with the creation of Beaulieu Abbey (A), 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, and 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. The inner Great Gatehouse, however, was restored, extended and rebuilt to become Palace House; whilst the Choir Monks’ Refectory became Beaulieu’s parish church.
Impressive evidence of Beaulieu Abbey lay brothers’ farming endeavours can be seen at St Leonard’s (B), 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, is St. Leonard’s Grange, now much modified; and the ruins of St. Leonard’s Chapel. (None of these are open to the public).
Situated a similar distance from Beaulieu, Sowley Pond (C) owes its existence to Beaulieu Abbey monks who dammed two small streams to create a fish-pond. Nowadays, 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 adjacent minor road, but there is no further public access).
Beaulieu Mill (D) also depended upon water power, supplied by both the incoming tide and outgoing waters flowing back to sea from the mill pond, the latter 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. It continued to grind corn until 1945, and was used by Norris and Son, local feed merchants, until the 1970s. Badly damaged by fire in 2006, the mill now awaits full repair and restoration. It is not open to the public.
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 short stretch of by-pass that enables through traffic to avoid the High Street, where a timeless array of mainly 17th - 19th century properties line the road.
Buckler’s Hard (E), a tiny hamlet on the western bank of the Beaulieu River, lies 3 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 street running at right angles to the shore.
Buckler’s Hard, or Montagu Town as it was originally to be known, has, though, a long, industrious history. Conceived in the first half of the 18th century by John, 2nd Duke of Montagu, it was to be a town and docks servicing ships, and sugar brought from West Indian plantations. But the 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.
Now, Buckler’s Hard, fully accessible to the public, can be reached by a delightful riverside walk that passes the Beaulieu Estate’s old brickworks, or by car along narrow south-Hampshire lanes.
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
The Heritage Trail: www.theheritagetrail.co.uk/abbeys/beaulieu%20abbey.htm
Beaulieu Churches: www.beaulieuchurches.org/
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