Our car runs on lpg gas which is great normally as it is half the price of petrol. However for the past few weeks there has been a national shortage and none of our usual garages has had any in stock. Much ringing around led me to discover my lpg repair man had stocks. Only problem – he was on the North Coast at Camelford. thus we decided to kill two birds with one stone and fill up with gas and then proceed on the so-called Atlantic Highway to Hartland Abbey which we have never visited before. It was certainly well-hidden and we wondered how the Keeper of Henry V111’s Wine Cellar (who was gifted it by the King, lucky man!), ever managed to find it. We first made a flying stop at the tiny village of Hartland for a ‘comfort break’ as our American friends would say, and we found a beautiful little place with two good pubs by the looks of it which reminded me very much of Cartmel in Cumbria…..Our first glimpse of the Abbey itself (first pic ) showed an idyllic valley setting, and having parked we explored the outside…… where we could clearly see the old cloisters incorporated into the fabric…The story of the site is very interesting, see the web site...but in essence…… ‘Hartland Abbey was built in 1157 and consecrated by Bishop Bartholomew of Exeter in 1160AD as a monastery of the regular canons of the Order of St Augustine of Hippo. The Abbey remained as a monastery until 1539 when it became the last monastery in the country to be Dissolved by Henry VIII. The King made a gift of the Abbey to the Sergeant of his Wine Cellar at Hampton Court, Mr. William Abbott, whose descendants live here today.In 1583 the first of three heiresses, Prudence Abbott, married Andrew Luttrell of Dunster Castle in Somerset and the Abbey remained in that family for some 100 years. In 1704, the second heiress, Mary Luttrell married Paul Orchard. The Orchards were to remain at the Abbey through the 18th century until the third heiress, Anne Orchard, married George Buck and moved into the Abbey on the death of her brother in 1812.
The great grandfather of the present owner, Sir Hugh Stucley Bt., who was also called George Buck changed his name to Stucley (being a much older family name) when he was created a Baronet for political services to North Devon, in 1859. Today the Abbey is home to Sir Hugh and Lady Stucley with their four married children, nine grandchildren, the dogs, Madge, Nellie and Rosie and Tim the cat.’ And, in terms of the architecture…. ‘The Abbey was originally built across the valley much as it stands today, but covering a greater area. A Chapel was joined at right angles to the north wall in an easterly direction and the Great Hall on the south wall, forming an open courtyard. In 1704 Paul Orchard carried out alterations to the southern end of the house in the Queen Anne style. Later in the 1770’s his son, the second Paul Orchard, carried out a major reconstruction of the house. The Chapel and the Great Hall were demolished and he levelled the main body of the house to the height of the cloisters on which he built three large reception rooms with a row of guest bedrooms above. Along with a classical Strawberry Hill facade the project was completed in 1779. In 1845 Sir George Stucley carried out further alterations. The Drawing Room, Dining Room and Billiard Room were redecorated and two bay windows were added. In the Drawing Room he erected linenfold panelling with a set of twelve murals above, depicting events in history in which his forebears took part. The same theme was continued in the Dining Room above the original Elizabethan oak panelling, removed from the Great Hall and painted in Victorian times.
The Little Dining Room is typical of the Queen Anne period whereas The Library is the Regency room in the house in the Strawberry Hill gothic style with panelling by Meadows and a fabulous ogee fireplace by Batty Langley One of the main features of the house is the Alhambra Passage with its vaulted and stencilled ceiling. Sir George Stucley commissioned Sir George Gilbert Scott to design this after he visited the Alhambra Palace in Granada. Evidence of the original Abbey building can still be seen in the Basement where the cloisters run the whole length of the passage on the west side of the house. A few original doorways still remain.’
Unfortunately, we were not allowed to photograph inside the house…who can really blame them, it is after all a private house with Romneys, Gainsboroughs etc etc…but here are a few lifted pics..I do love Strawberry Gothic….the influence of Gilbert Scott’s work on the Houses of Parliament can clearly be seen in the panelling and decoration of a couple of the major rooms….and the round table in the Dining Room is fascinating ..it was purchased for only £10 in 1934 by Sheila, Lady Stucley and can be enlarged by twisting the table around, to sit 10, 16, or 22 people with the insertion of triangular leaves. Its quite an extraordinary piece of clever furniture construction. the fireplace in the billiard room is spectacular…and, as for Scott’s Alhambra Passage, well…….We had a couple of very interesting chats with guides, and they were obviously as enamoured of the house as we were and full of enthusiasm for its history…and there were fascinating exhibitions on the use of the house for many films and TV programs, and on associations of the family for instance, the life and colourful career of perhaps the most most influential member of the Stucley family, antiquarian William Stucley, famed for his studies of Stonehenge and other prehistoric sites. William Stucley is unfairly remembered for his conviction that ancient stone circles were built by the Druids, which he decided must have evolved from a much older Abrahamic tradition (in essence making Druidism a direct ancestor of Christianity).
Though Stucleys Druidic theories were later a source of amusement among modern archaeologists, he was also the first to rigorously measure ancient sites like Stonehenge and put forward the now widely accepted theory that the stones were aligned in accordance with celestial events such as midsummer sunrise. Modern archaeology owes a debt of gratitude to William Stucley, and his life is explored in fascinating detail in the exhibit.
The gardens and estate then called to us, as a nice day was developing, cloudless at times…..and we decided to do the one-mile walk through the grounds to Hartland Beach…..we were surrounded by wildflowers all the way….and were really surprised to see even bluebells in bloom at the same time as the primroses, well ahead of our own…and we were fascinated by one of the estate houses (used in the BBC’s Sense and Sensibility) which seemed to have a roof reflecting the actions of the sea…..Hartland Beach was great, we were virtually on our own and the sea was at its best…the walk back wasn’t so bad either….We drove back home through Launceston, where we called in for a quick lubrication stop, and were amazed once more at the views of the almost surreal Norman castle…