Lots of information for Groups!
We very much hope to welcome you to Hartland Abbey and Gardens. Whether individual visitors, a family or a group we are a wonderful destination for a day out with so much to see and do and delicious refreshments at a very reasonable cost. We do hope that you will visit our historic family home this year or in the future. Hartland Abbey is special in that it remains in the family and is not merely ‘a museum’ as so many of our ancestral homes are today. It exudes the warmth and friendliness only found in a lived-in house. Enjoy a warm welcome, a fascinating guided tour if you would like one or a leisurely wander round the house, gardens and walks with a lovely lunch or cream tea – or both! We also have a Gift Shop and Museum of family and local history and fascinating exhibitions including ‘William Stukeley – Saviour of Stonehenge’. Dr Stukeley was an ancestor, a famous archaeologist, Archdruid, artist and friend of Isaac Newton and was responsible for saving Stonehenge and Avebury for the nation. Other displays include ‘Filming on the Hartland Abbey Estate since 1934’ and ‘History of the Hartland Abbey Estate’. Hartland Abbey was a location for the BBC Antiques Roadshow in 2011.
The Abbey was built across a narrow river valley leading to the wild and rugged Atlantic coast of North Devon, in what is now an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’. The Augustinian monks chose this idyllic site to found their monastery in 1157AD. The last Abbey in the country to be Dissolved in 1539, it was given by Henry V111 to the Sergeant of his Wine Cellar, William Abbot, whose descendant Sir Hugh Stucley and his family live here today. The Abbey was extensively remodelled in the 18th & 19th centuries with stunning interiors by Sir George Gilbert Scott and John Meadows; you can see Mediaeval, Queen Anne, Georgian, Regency and Victorian architecture and decoration, including a complete example of the century of Gothic revival.
Many of Sir Hugh’s ancestors have been prominent in local and national history; they include politicians, courtiers, soldiers and seafarers including Sir Richard Grenville, High Sheriffs and pirates! Consequently the Abbey contains much of interest to visitors. Portraits by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Hudson, Ramsay, Kneller’s portrait of Sir William Stukeley who saved Stonehenge for the nation, and many other paintings; murals by Alfred Beer of events in history in which family members took part; the famous Alhambra Corridor by Sir George Gilbert Scott; ancient documents from 1160AD including Lewis Stucley’s vindication of escorting his cousin, Sir Walter Raleigh, to the Tower of London; much fine furniture, of which the huge, circular, segmented dining table fascinates visitors; fine porcelain; Victorian and Edwardian photographs including those of the Sudanese Campaign of 1898. The museum and dairy also have much of interest on display. The Gothic Library by John Meadows with its fabulous fireplace by Batty Langley is very much a family room. Our Cream Teas are delicious and all homemade; very good light lunches are also served in the Old Kitchens Tea Room.
Having visited the house, the constantly evolving gardens are a must! Woodland gardens on either side of the house contain over 100 different camellias. From early spring masses of snowdrops, bluebells, violets, tulips and historic daffodils produce a wonderful display. Rhododendrons, azaleas and magnolias, at their best in April, May and June, are followed by eucryphia and many beautiful hydrangeas in late summer. In 1996 we discovered, under mountains of undergrowth, winding paths and terraces leading to the Bog Garden and Victorian Fernery, created by Gertrude Jekyll when she was a house guest at the beginning of the 20th century. We have now restored these charming gardens where you can see many different ferns, huge gunnera, primula and arum lilies amongst much else. A woodland walk leads from the Bog Garden to the hidden and beautiful 18thC Walled Gardens. A small gate in the topiary leads visitors through arched doorways to four intimate gardens; after years of neglect, once again many roses, herbaceous perennials, shrubs, tender and rare plants including giant echium pininana, vegetables and fruit trees grow in abundance, within walls mirroring the contours of the valley. Greenhouses contain many more tender plants, many grown from seed collected on our walking holidays abroad. Geraniums, streptocarpus, plumbago, jasmine and other plants from the glasshouses fill the Abbey rooms with scent and colour throughout the season.
The Woodland Walk to Blackpool Mill, a rugged Atlantic Cove 1 mile away, is a carpet of wildflowers, particularly snowdrops, bluebells, primroses and violets, in spring. The wild and rocky coastline, with its huge cliffs, has been the scene of many shipwrecks in the past and is a spectacular and beautiful sight. It is a haven for wildlife and it is usual to see buzzards, peregrine falcons, seabirds, and many butterfly species. A zig zag path leads to the 19thC Gazebo overlooking the sea, which we restored using traditional materials in 2004. It is now a popular civil wedding venue. Recently we restored an overgrown path, unseen since 1914; it now enables visitors to make a lovely round walk in the bluebells and wildflowers. In 2011 the restored Woodland Summerhouse opened; visitors can relax here, surrounded by wildflowers, and read of Lady (Winifred) Fortescue’s wartime refuge. She had escaped Vichy France to live here and write her novels, including ‘Perfume from Provence’.
The Hartland Abbey Estate is a haven for wildlife and we have been involved in many environmental schemes to restore natural vegetation and wildlife to the area.
Blackpool Mill Cottage was the location for ‘The Shell Seekers’ (Die Muschelsuckers) by Rosamunde Pilcher, starring Vanessa Redgrave and Maximillian Schell and in 2008 the BBC adaptation by Andrew Davis of Jane Austen’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’; Janet McTeer, Charity Wakefield, Hattie Morahan, Dan Stevens and Dominic Cooper starred. ‘The Night Manager’ starring Tom Hiddleston was filmed in 2015 followed by ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ in 2017. Gardeners World was filmed here on the cliffs with Dan Pearson and Alan Titchmarsh. Barbour clothing did a photoshoot here for their 2013 range of clothing.
In 2011 the BBC Antiques Roadshow was filmed at the Abbey. Fiona Bruce and many of the experts stayed in the house. Over 3,000 people turned up with their valuables, enough for two programmes to be made for the next series. Earlier in the year Sir Hugh was filmed for ITV’s ‘Countrywise’ extolling the virtues of this beautiful, unspoilt area. Very recently in 2019 and 2021, despite covid difficulties, three series of Enid Blyton’s ‘Malory Towers’ was filmed for CBBC.
The Abbey and Gardens have appeared in numerous articles including Country Life, The English Garden, Devon Life and The Lady. ‘Going for a Song’ included objects from the house; Bargain Hunt with Tim Wonnacott was filmed here. American Vogue and Mario Testino used the Abbey and gardens as a location. The wider estate is regularly used for filming; Top Gear with Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond who drove their campervan over the cliff, a documentary, ‘Landtraume’ (Country Dreams) for ZDF German television and Martin Dorey’s ‘One Man and his Campervan’ was filmed for BBC2. The Abbey features in ‘1000 Best Houses’ by Simon Jenkins, and many other publications.
We do hope that you or your group will visit, or revisit, us. We are constantly changing our exhibits in the house with more family memorabilia on view for the first time. We will open for groups of 20 or more at dates and times other than those advertised but if you would prefer to wander at will through the house where we have charming Room Stewards in every room, then it is preferable to come in normal opening times. We love our home, we hope you will too! Hugh and Angela Stucley
Many further details, including Special Events and Outdoor Theatre for 2022 are on our Events page