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Hartland Abbey, Devon

Hartland Abbey exterior by Barbara Ballard Hartland Abbey takes its name from the abbey that was built on the site in the 12th century. It endured until 1539, after which the land and abbey belonged to private owners. It remained mostly unchanged until 1704 when a new owner, Paul Orchard, and his son laid waste to the great hall, the chapel, and the east side of the main building above the cloisters. Above the cloisters three new rooms were created as reception rooms and, above them, bedrooms were added using the Georgian gothic style of architecture and décor.

In 1845 another heir, Sir George Stucley, decorated the house in the Victorian style and had a new front hall and entrance designed. In the drawing room he installed linenfold panelling with a set of twelve murals above, depicting events in history related to the participation of his forebears. The same oak panelling and illustrations were added in the dining room. Thus the house visitors see today is a mix of the remaining medieval with the Queen Anne, Georgian, and Victorian changes mixed in. To see parts of the original abbey head for the basement where the cloisters remain along the entire length of the passage on the west side.

Hartland Abbey exterior by Barbara Ballard Because the abbey has remained in the same family since it came into private ownership, the furniture, porcelain, pictures, and other collections are original to the generations who have lived here. The document exhibition contains examples of the documents discovered in the 1950s. Some date back to 1160. All told there are several thousand documents, the collection being made up of estate and parish records, manorial records, minute books and accounts. A photographic exhibition has copies of material from old scrapbooks and photo albums dating from the Victorian and Edwardian days.

The panelling on the wall of the inner hall came from the great hall, demolished in 1769. Paintings hang on the wall of this room. The drawing room, dating from 1779, was redecorated in 1845. On the walls is linenfold panelling with murals above. The billiard room was built at the same time. It was once a hall with stone steps up to the front door. The fireplace in this room is of stone from Malta. In one corner is a Welsh dresser with hand painted blue Meissen china, originally made for Marie Antoinette. There are portraits hanging on the walls.

The dining room is the last of the 1779 rooms built above the cloisters. Its panelling was also taken from the great hall. There are murals above it in this room, also. The room has a painted ceiling. The dining table is interesting in that it can be twisted to add more surface area as well as leaves being added—thus it seats from 10 to 22 people.

The Queen Anne wing is off a passageway. Here is the little dining room built just after 1705. Heading up the back stairs leads to a corridor with pictures and oak Hepplewhite furniture. Back down the front stairs is the library, set within the abbey’s original walls. It is the most complete Regency room in the house. Books date back as far as the 16th century. A number of portraits hang on the walls. The Alhambra passage has a vaulted and stencilled ceiling of special note. It was done in 1862 after Sir George Stucley visited the Alhambra Palace in Granada. There are pictures and portraits in this corridor. Head from the Alhambra corridor down the stairs to view a collection of political cartoons dating from 1820-40.

Steps in the garden by Christina Burford In the 1700s woodland gardens were made on either side of the abbey, and woodland walks were put in leading to walled gardens. Paths in the grounds lead to a rocky cove. A bog garden, Victorian fernery, and camellia garden were added in the late 19th-early 20th centuries under the inspiration of Gertrude Jekyll who visited a number of times. In the 1950s much of the overgrown grounds and garden were cleared and collections of camellias, hydrangeas, eucryphias, rhododendrons and azaleas were planted.

The walled garden by ValP courtesy Geograph From 1996 on further clearing, rejuvenation, and replanting have occurred. The ‘Ladies Walk’ goes through woodland full of wildflowers in spring and heads to four secret 18th century walled gardens. Here are vegetables and fruit for the house and for sale, tender and rare plants, summer perennials, and shrubs. A circular walk leads to the beach. A gazebo offers views over the ocean. Peacocks, guinea fowl, donkeys, and black Welsh mountain sheep roam the grounds.

Visitor Information

Hartland Abbey
Bideford, North Devon
Tel. 0 1237 441 496 or 441 234
Open: April-end Sep, Sun-Thul house, 2-4pm; grounds, garden, beach walk, exhibition and tea-room, 11am-5pm
Historic Houses Association member; parking; tea-room
Web: Hartland Abbey

Photos © by Barbara Ballard and courtesy Geograph Britain and Ireland as follows: ValP: walled garden; steps and doorway into gardens by Christina Burford

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