If you look at Google Earth co-ordinates 50.877893°, -1.357482° you will see where I was yesterday: Netley Abbey
, a Cistercian monastery and Tudor great house. Founded in 1238 by the Bishop of Winchester, the remains include the church, the chapter house and the Abbots lodging. Today the site is dominated by the ruins that are really magnificent in their dereliction. Considering the age of the structure it is in a remarkably good condition, and apart from some fenced off areas is open to everybody.
The ruins are a jumble when seen from the ground, but a graphic at the site does give you more of a sense of the general layout.
This is part of the church from outside. while the image below is of the opposite side of the church, probably where the main entrance to the church was.
The high alter end is still intact with its beautiful Gothic style window, however the one transept is missing. Two pillars would have supported the roof, and on the base of one an inscription is still legible “H. DI. GRA REX ANGL.” (Henry, by the grace of God, King of the English)
The Abbots Lodging was very interesting because much of the ground floor roof is intact. In all probability the floor above may have a lot of intact features too, but that floor is not accessible
I kept on getting mental images of a person in clerical garments living here, with his furniture and staff and all that goes with it. It is a very nice building, but somewhat strange. The abbot had his own hall for entertaining guests, a private chapel, and his own latrine. There is a stream running underneath the abbey, and it provided running water to the monks dormitory, as well as to the hospital. The stream is split before the building and a branch would have run by the kitchen. There may have been a well in the kitchen too.
The site is very popular with the locals. While I was there a wedding couple were being photographed in the grounds, while groups of people were strolling along enjoying the sunshine (which made a nice change). It is a very pretty place and I expect just a little bit creepy at night. .
Sadly though, graffiti exists on some of the stonework, and I am sure that somewhere in these ruins there may be the local monastic equivalent of “Kilroy was here” scratched in Latin. I know what the Abbey looks like today, but what did it look like in the late 13th century? An artists impression does exists as below.
It does not seem to be an elaborate structure, however, the craftsmanship of the building is very evident in the ruins that are that are left. The stone is not a local product either, and may have come from France or the Isle of Wight. When Henry VIII suppressed the abbey in 1536, the monastic life came to an end.
The buildings were then granted to Sir William Paulet, the first Marquess of Winchester. He converted the abbey into his own country mansion. Using much of the original buildings, his additions were built mostly in brick and were removed in the 19th century.
Around 1700 the new owner decided to demolish the church and sell the material; he contracted a Southampton builder to do the work, but the contractor was killed by a by a piece of falling masonry, and demolition was stopped and the building was abandoned.
By the second half of the 18th Century the abandoned buildings had become a favoured “tourist” attraction, and a concerted effort was made to conserve the ruins.and remove some of the additions.
In 1922 the abbey passed into state care by its owners, and conservation and preservation has continued since.
A place like this does photograph very well in black and white, and is supposedly haunted by at least two ghosts. I know that the abbots lodging had a distinctly different feel to it….
It is well worth the walk to see this beautiful old building, and while it may seem to be just another ruin, it is worth considering that long before Jan Van Riebeeck was born this building had already been in use since 1238.
© DRW 2013-2021. Images replaced 08/04/2016