I chanced upon Netley Abbey when flicking through my English Heritage handbook so, one sunny day, I set off on a “ruin hunt”.
Accessed via an inauspicious tiny car park (don’t worry – you can park in neighbouring roads easily), you are not really prepared for the vastness and the romanticism of this venerable ruin.
It is one of the most complete of the surviving Cistercian monasteries in southern England – laid waste by Henry VIII’s Disoolution of the Monasteries.
It largely survived as it was converted into a private mansion house for Sir William Paulet in 1536, given to him by the King as a reward for his loyal service. Sir William held many important posts including treasurer of the royal household.
Originally commissioned by Peter des Roches, the powerful bishop of Winchester, the Abbey was founded in 1238, populated by a group of monks who arrived from nearby Beaulieu Abbey. King Henry III later became a patron of the monastery.
Even when this house was abandoned in the 18th century, the abbey continued to be celebrated.
As the ‘Romantic Movement’ grew in strength, many authors and artists visited the abbey to find inspiration for Netley appeared to be the perfect medieval ruin.
John Constable came to paint here and writers such as Thomas Gray enthused about the Abbey. It is said Jane Austen visited at some point and found inspiration for her novel, Northanger Abbey. Walking through here and having read the book, I believe it to be true.
Netley Abbey is located close to Southampton Water and is managed by English Heritage. Entrance is free.
Contributor & photographer: Sue Lowry.
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