On a fine April afternoon, two weeks ago, we visited Mottisfont House in Hampshire for a walk around the house and gardens.
The estate of Mottisfont lies in the peaceful valley of the River Test, in the countryside just north of Romsey. The River Test drains the chalk hills in the north of the Hampshire Basin and it runs down through its watermeadows to meet the sea at Southampton.
In 1201, a Priory was founded at Mottisfont. This thrived and became an Augustan Abbey, until the Dissolution of the Monastries by Henry VIII. In Tudor times, Mottisfont became the property of William, Lord Sandys, who converted the Abbey into his family home. The estate then stayed in the same family for four hundred years.
In 1706, the 5th Baronet, Sir Richard Mills, had extensive building work undertaken on the house. The current eighteenth century house dates from this time, but the exterior of the house hides many architectural secrets. It is a facade, built like the layers of a Russian doll, onto the original surviving structures of the medieval Abbey and the Tudor buildings that came after it.
We entered the park and crossed a footbridge over the fast flowing River Test. Walking through the trees, we saw the first view of Mottisfont House across green lawns.
The last of the daffodils in the garden.
Weeping willows and fine old limes, oaks and beeches were beginning to break bud along the riverside pathways.
A decorative wrought iron grating in the wall of a cellar beneath the house.
In 1934, Mottisfont was sold to Mr Gilbert and Mrs Maude Russell. The gardens were subsequently landscaped and the lime avenue and walled gardens of magnolias were planted. The stunning pure white magnolias were coming into flower on the day of our visit.
Magnolias trained against the wall of the house.
A view of the lime avenue from a rear window in the house.
A "spy hole" in the wall shows that behind the eighteenth century facade of this grand drawing room, the structure of the original Abbey still stands.
The knot garden, seen from a first floor room at the front of the house. This is not an original Elizabethan knot garden. It was commissioned by the Russells in the mid twentieth century.
Another glimpse of Mottisfont`s monastic past, behind the walls of a grand dining room.
From the verandah outside the first floor room on the East Wing, the footings of the original Mottisfont Abbey can be seen in the grass.
Throughout the house there is now a fine collection of twentieth century art on display. This room contains paintings by Lowry, Vanessa Bell and many other renowned artists. In the heyday of the Russells, Mottisfont House house parties became meeting places for artists of the time.
In 1957, Maude Russell gave Mottisfont House and the estate to the National Trust. She continued to live in the house until 1972.
From East Wing towards West Wing.
The walled walk to the west of the house.
Along this walk and around to the right, stands the magnificent red bricked stable yard. A cafe and a shop are now housed where the finest carriage horses once lived in spacious stables.
We enjoyed this interesting house and the awakening landscaped gardens, but the highlight, for me, was the sight of so many dazzling white magnolia trees bursting into flower against the blue skies of spring.
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