Forde Abbey is a family home and a working estate. It has more than 900 years of history and was once a Cistercian monastery. It is set in 30 acres of gardens. Since 1905, and still today, it has been home to the Roper family.
As well as the main house, there is an arboretum, garden nursery, farmland and a 30 acre garden. Within the gardens you will find 4 ponds, including the Mermaid pond which has a 160ft Centenary Fountain and waterfall. Dotted around the gardens are various structures, from a temple to a Ha Ha and more. Various paths take you around the garden and benches are found at strategic points for you to take in the views. The gardens are open all year round, giving lots of opportunities for garden photographers to get it's different moods and seasons. They have an annual competition for photographers to submit photos taken to them via email on their website.
The Abbey House
Forde Abbey, although now a private house, was built in by 1148 as a Cistercian priory on a site near to the River Axe within the manor of Thorncombe. It flourished as a monastery for 400 years and became renowned as a seat of learning. The foundation grew and became very wealthy, eventually By the 14th century, possessing lands of some 30,000 acres.
The third abbot, Abbot Baldwin, became Archbishop of Canterbury before dying on the crusades. The last abbot of Forde at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries was Abbot Chard and he surrendered the abbey to the Crown peacefully in 1539. For more on the monastic life at Forde Abbey see this link.
The abbey buildings and lands were then leased to Richard Pollard. For a century, the abbey was neglected and parts of the buildings were demolished to provide stone for other construction in the area. Until in 1649 when the estate was purchased by Edmund Prideaux, Member of Parliament for Lyme Regis and a supporter of Oliver Cromwell He was the person largely responsible for transforming Forde Abbey when he converted the buildings into his private home.
During the 18th century the house remained largely unchanged by the descendants of the Prideaux family, however the gardens were created during this period. In 1815, a lack of money by the current occupant, John Gwyn, meant he could on continue to live at the house and so it was rented to the philosopher Jeremy Bentham. During the 19th century, following the death of John Gwyn in 1846, who died with no heirs, the house was owned by a succession of owners, some of whom neglected the house while others attempted to renovate it. Then in the 20th century it was inherited by the cousin of the last owner, William Herbert, and she moved in with her husband Freeman Roper, whose descendants still own and occupy the house and estates. The current house is still lived in by the Roper family and along with it's gardens is a tourist attraction and working estate.
On view to the visitor today as some of the monastic rooms including:-
You also get to see some the State Rooms including:
The gardens cover 30 acres and have been landscaped, modified and enhanced since it was part of the monastery. The only monastic structure left is one of the ponds, today known as the Great Pond at the far end of the gardens from the house. Its original purpose was to power a mill for grain but today provides the water for the other three ponds in the gardens. The gardens we see on a visit today were started in the early 18th century when the three other ponds were created and the cascades. It was also during this century that the lawns were laid out and the wall erected. Under the occupation of the Evans family a typical Victorian garden was created as was the kitchen garden.
the house is covered in wisteria and is covered in delicate flowers during May and June. The front of the house has laid out beds for bedding plants. The park garden has lots of smaller garden beds and throughout there are statues and points of interest to capture your eye. This leads to the rock garden created in the early 20th century and has a mix of alpine and rock plants and during the spring there is a display of Widow Iris. From here the garden walk takes you pass the Ha Ha and along by the Canal Pond, with another statue and up to the Great Pond and Beech House, built originally as a bird watching hide. Back down from here along past the Cascades which takes the water to the Mermaid and Long Ponds nearer the house. Then cross to The Bog Garden which contains plants happy to have their roots in boggy wet ground. For you there is a path way that allows you to explore this area.
Following the path from here back towards the house onto The Mount. This area is dominated by trees and in particular a large Redwood. The Nut Walk is an area of Hazel bushes that were planted in the 19th century. At the end is a statue of a Blacksmith at Blacksmith Hill, he is said to be throwing a stone towards the local village further up the valley. Now at one the corner of the garden where there is a Herbaceous border leading back to the house, which is at its best during the summer and flows down one side of the Long Pond, with it's circular temple at one end. This pond offers good reflections of the colour border planting and the temple itself. Walking around the pond then brings you to the Mermaid Pond and home to both statues, the Centenary Fountain and on one side a pagoda made from pillars taken from the Abbey Church.
The Temple at the end of the Long Pond
There are various other statues around other parts of the garden. It is open all year round so it is possible to see something whenever you visit, however if you visit in the rain there is little shelter within the garden itself. However the gardens do have sloping/incline areas and there are seats around for you to rest up and take in a view. But don't miss the fountain, or reflections.
Forde Abbey Nursery
The nursery is next to the walled kitchen garden. You can visit it and the shop without having to purchase a ticket for the house and gardens. From March each year the abbey nursery sells a seasonally changing selection of herbaceous, perennials and grasses plants. They have rare and unusual plants which are considered to be good in the garden, and most of what they sell is produced on site and can be seen growing in the gardens. Opening Times are 1st March to 31st October each year 7 days a week from 10am to 5pm.
One of the many statues around the grounds, this one is in the Park Garden
They run an annual photographic competition which runs throughout the season, for photographs that have been taken on your visit. You can upload the digital photos via their website. At the end of the season they choose their favourite and the photographer receives a gift box made up of items from the Gift Shop. You can see entries they have selected so far for the current year and past winners entries on the Photo Competition page on their website.
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