Forde Abbey is a privately owned former
Cistercian monastery in
Dorset, England, with a postal address in Chard, Somerset. The house
and gardens are run as a tourist attraction while the 1,600-acre
(650 ha) estate is farmed to provide additional revenue. Forde
Abbey is a Grade I listed building.
2 House and gardens
3 Other burials at Forde Abbey
5 Further reading
6 External links
Plan of the Abbey and its surroundings (1911)
Between 1133-36, wealthy nobleman Richard de Brioniis built a priory
on his land at Brightley (meaning "bright" or "clear" pasture) and
invited Gilbert, Abbot of Waverley in Surrey, to send 12 monks to form
Cistercian community there. One story is that the agricultural
land surrounding the new priory was insufficiently fertile, forcing
the monks to consider returning to the mother house in 1141. However,
Adelicia de Brioniis, the sister of Richard and successor to his
estate, offered them an alternative site close to the River Axe in the
manor of Thorncombe. Here, between 1141–48, they built a new priory
which came to be known as "Ford" due to its proximity to an old river
crossing. The monastery was dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
John of Ford (c. 1140 – 21 April 1214) was the prior of Forde Abbey,
then from 1186 abbot of its daughter house of Bindon, and between 1191
and 1214 the abbot of Forde. He was a friend and ally of King John
during the papal interdict, receiving remuneration from the king.
The foundation grew and became very wealthy, eventually possessing
lands over 30,000 acres (120 km2) by the 14th century. Sometime
in the 13th Century, the body of St.
Wulfric of Haselbury was buried
in the western transept of the abbey's church, after an attempt by
Benedictine monks from
Montacute Priory to steal the body of the
saint. The third abbot, Abbot Baldwin, became Archbishop of
Canterbury. Abbot Chard, the last abbot of Forde at the time of the
dissolution of the monasteries, surrendered the abbey to the Crown
peacefully in 1539. The abbey buildings and lands were leased in 1540
to Sir Richard Pollard (1505-1542), 2nd son of Sir Lewis Pollard
(c.1465-1526) of King's Nympton, Devon, Justice of the Common Pleas
from 1514 to 1526 Richard Pollard was later knighted and his son
Forde Abbey to his relative, Sir Amias Poulet of Hinton St
George, Somerset. Sir Amias and his father before him had acted as
Steward of the Abbey and its property while it was a monastery. In
1580-81 Sir Amias Poulet was licensed to alienate lands belonging to
that abbey to William Rosewell, the 20-year-old son of William
Forde Abbey probably changed hands about
the same time.
William Rosewell of Forde died in 1593 and Forde Abbey
was left to his wife Anne. Their son Henry probably took ownership on
maturity in 1611. Henry became Sir
Henry Rosewell of Forde in 1619.
Forde Abbey was held for nearly seventy years by the Rosewells until
it was sold in 1649 to Edmund Prideaux (died 1659), Member of
Lyme Regis and Treasurer of the Inner Temple, London.
He supported the Parliamentary cause during the
English Civil War
English Civil War and
was the attorney-general for most of the Interregnum. He made a
fortune practising law and running the Parliamentary postal service.
Having purchased the property he converted the buildings into his
private home, with several classicising features, including the
The house remained largely unchanged during the 18th century, though
the gardens were created during this period. In 1815, the house was
rented to the philosopher Jeremy Bentham. During the 19th century the
house had a succession of owners, some of whom neglected the house
while others attempted to renovate it. In 1905, the cousin of the last
owner inherited the house and moved in with her husband Freeman Roper,
whose descendants still own and occupy the house and estates.
House and gardens
Much of the original monastery, including the abbey church was
demolished in the period after the dissolution; only two statues, now
on display in the Great Hall, have been found from the original
church. The monastic parts of the current house are the Great Hall,
the north side of the original square of the cloisters as well as the
monks' accommodation, the Upper Refectory and the Undercroft, which
was the abbey's working area, and the Chapter House, which has been
converted into a chapel. Other rooms have been subsequently converted
into State Rooms and show no evidence of their earlier use. Prideaux
added some bedrooms and a reception area in the front of the building
as part of his conversion of the abbey to a private house.
Forde Abbey panorama view
The gardens of
Forde Abbey are one of the main attractions. They are
listed as Grade II* in the National Heritage List for
England as a
"historically important garden". The Roper family has maintained
and improved the gardens during their tenure. The gardens cover 30
acres (120,000 m2) including several water features, planted
gardens and an arboretum. The lawns were laid out in front of the
house in the 18th century and many of the trees were planted in the
Beech House by the Great Pond
The Great Pond, which was originally the head pond for a watermill,
feeds a series of cascades down the hill to three smaller ponds which
were a part of the gardens laid down in the 18th century. On the edge
of the Great Pond is the
Beech House, a structure formed from beech
hedges which was created in the 1930s to provide a bird watching hide
overlooking the pond. There is also a Bog Garden by the pond.
In the second largest pond, the Mermaid pond, the Roper family
installed the Centenary Fountain in 2005 to commemorate the centennial
of their ownership of Forde Abbey. At 160 feet (49 m) in height,
it is claimed to be the highest powered fountain in England. Closer
to the house surrounding the Long pond, there is extensive planting of
flowering plants which provide a colourful sight in the summer months.
Behind the house, there is a Victorian walled kitchen garden which
originally supplied the house with food but is now mostly used as a
nursery to provide plants for sale to the visitors.
Other burials at Forde Abbey
Renaud de Courtenay
Edward de Courtenay, 3rd Earl of Devon
Hugh Courtenay (KG)
^ Heath, 1911, pp. 25-27.
^ Josiah Cox Russell, "Social Status at the Court of King John,"
Speculum, 12:3 (1937), 326.
^ Hoskins, W.G., Devon, p.337
^ a b
Forde Abbey website - History page
^ J.J. West, in the Archaeological Journal, 140 (1983:27f) suggested
that the surveyor in charge of the designs was Edward Carter (died
1663), Inigo Jones' chief deputy in the extensive repairs to St Paul's
Cathedral (noted in Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of
British Architects, 1600-1840, 3rd ed. 1995, s.v. "Carter, Edward").
England National Heritage List for England, Forde Abbey,
retrieved 22 September 2016
Forde Abbey website - Garden page
Frances B. James (1888), 'Sir Henry Rosewell: a Devon worthy', Trans.
Devonshire Assoc., 20, 113-122.
C. Sherwin (1927), 'The History of Ford Abbey', Transactions of the
Devonshire Assoc., 59, 249-264.
Heath, Sidney. The Story of Ford Abbey: from the earliest times to the
present day (London: F. Griffiths, 1911)
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Forde Abbey.
Forde Abbey website
Its entry at parksandgardens.ac.uk
Thorncombe village website
Forde Abbey 10K Run
Coordinates: 50°50′27″N 2°54′36″W / 50.84083°N