Forde Abbey and Gardens // Beaminster

Forde Abbey
Photo: © Henry Kellner / CC BY-SA 3.0

Once a Cistercian monastery, Forde Abbey is now a privately owned country house with 1,600-acre of landscaped gardens.

Forde Abbey is a privately-owned former Cistercian monastery and Grade I listed building set in thirty acres of award-winning gardens on a living, working sixteen hundred acre estate.

The abbey was originally the brainchild of a wealthy nobleman called Richard de Brionis, who built a priory on his land and invited the Abbot of Waverley to send twelve monks to form a community. The monks duly arrived but finding the land too barren they set about re-building the priory on another site, close to the River Axe in the manor of Thorncombe. The new priory, which became known as 'Ford' because of its proximity to an old river crossing, was completed in 1148.

Over the course of the next four hundred years the monastery flourished, amassing thirty thousand acres of land and enjoying a reputation as a renowned seat of learning. The third abbot of Forde Abbey went on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury. His successor, John Devonius, said to be the most learned man of his time, became confessor to King John.

After the dissolution of the monasteries and a century of neglect Forde Abbey was bought by Edmund Prideaux, MP for Lyme Regis and Oliver Cromwell's Attorney General. Before his death in 1659 Prideaux converted the buildings from a monastic residence to a private home.

The gardens were established in the eighteenth century by Sir Francis Gwyn, one of a succession of owners that finally ended when the Roper family inherited the estate in 1905. They have held onto it ever since, improving the gardens and managing the land. Most of the original monastery was demolished after the dissolution although remnants can still be seen, including two statues now on display in the great hall, the great hall itself, the north side of the cloisters, the monk's accomodation and the chapter house, which has been converted into a chapel.

The gardens are a major attraction, featuring an arboretum with trees planted in the nineteenth century, a Victorian walled kitchen garden and numerous impressive ponds and water features including the highest powered fountain in England, installed by the Roper family in 2005 to commemorate a century of ownership. The gardens are open all year from 10am. The house is open Tuesday to Friday, Sundays and bank holidays from April to October.

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