It was the name that spoke to me – Mottisfont – I have never heard of it and until I joined the National Trust, it would have remained a mystery. Thank goodness I joined for this is a spectacular house – and one of the few that I have seen that was successfully transformed from a priory to a private dwelling following the devastation of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.
What about this name then? Mottisfont? Well it’s thought to date back to the Saxon word for “moots”or meeting so meeting by a ‘font’ or a natural spring.
The facade you see today dates back to the Georgian period but you can still see its Tudor roots in the remaining chimneys – and those of the Augustinian priory – the remains of the vaulted cellarium or giant ‘larder’ still stands and elements of the priory cloisters were incorporated into the Tudor building, dating back to 1201.
There have been a succession of owners but perhaps the most interesting is Ian Fleming’s friend, Maud Russell, a wealthy patroness of the arts – it was she who bequeathed the estate to the National Trust. I love especially her commission from Rex Whistler of the trompe l’oeil murals in the saloon or as it’s now known – The Whistler Room.
Maud also had a penchant for secret panels – some of which open to show the remains of the priory underneath. Her vision was playful, comfortable and respectful to the past.
Thanks to the River Test running through the Estate, the grounds (1,645 acres or 665 hectares) are magnificent – especially the Walled Gardens and the ancient trees – planes mostly dating back to the 19th century.
The thing I liked best here are the little vignettes which the National Trust has set up – little set pieces that speak to the previous owner and which give you a sense of how it must have been in their lifetime. Look carefully here, and there’s a cigarette in the ashtray even – shocking in this day and age!
I have to say that I have fallen just a little in love with Mottisfont and will be returning in the Autumn – nicely done National Trust, nicely done.
Mottisfont Abbey, near Romsey, SO51 0LP.
Contributor & photographer: Sue Lowry
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- Hinton Ampner – A Reflective Visit (a3traveller.com)