Netley Abbey, Hampshire

Cistercian Monks

Netley is the most impressive of Hampshire's many monastic ruins, partially because it was converted into a house at the Dissolution.

The Abbey was founded in 1239 by the Bishop of Winchester and, after he died, work was continued by Henry III. It grew into one of the largest Cistercian houses in southern England, then as Southampton grew in importance Netley slowly declined (it is said that sailors from Southampton regularly stole the Abbey's sheep). In 1536 it was suppressed and part of the building was fortified by Henry VIII who also built a small blockhouse nearer Southampton Water which later became Netley Castle.

It didn't remain a fortification for long as it was sold to Sir William Paulet who converted the claustaral range into a mansion with the nave of the church becoming his great hall. This did, however, preserve the wonderful building work of the original structures which have survived to this day.

Sir Berkeley Lucy sold the remains in the early-1700s to a Southampton builder for materials and he set about demolishing the west front. However, before too much damage had been done the tracery fell out of the west window and landed on the builder killing him outright and thus saving the rest of Netley Abbey from a similar fate.

Just fifty or so years later "gothic" had become the vogue and no less than Horace Walpole wrote that "it [Netley] is the only place in the world for which Mr Chute and I wish ... in fact they are not the ruins of Netley, but of Paradise ..." Not a bad recommendation - this didn't stop the north transept being removed and re-erected as a folly in Cranbury Park near Winchester!

English Heritage own the ruins today which are open to the public and are a popular summer picnic spot for the people of Southampton and are still very impressive indeed.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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