Start My Family Tree Welcome to Geni, home of the world's largest family tree.
Join Geni to explore your genealogy and family history in the World's Largest Family Tree.

Mottisfont Abbey, Hampshire, England

« Back to Projects Dashboard

Mottisfont Abbey, Hampshire, England

Mottisfont Abbey is a historical priory and country estate in Hampshire, England. Sheltered in the valley of the River Test, the property is now operated by the National Trust. About 200,000 people visit each year. The site includes the historic house museum, regular changing art exhibitions, gardens (including a walled rose garden) and a river walk.



Fertile land and a plentiful water supply attracted the first settlers. The site's name comes from a spring ("font") that is still producing water in the grounds. It was the font around which the local community held its moots or meetings. An Augustinian priory was founded here in 1201 by William Briwere, a businessman, administrator and courtier to four Plantagenet kings who chose to make a public demonstration of his wealth and piety. The canons welcomed pilgrims en route to Winchester, who came to worship Mottisfont's relic, said to be the finger of St John the Baptist. (The word "Abbey" was added to the name "Mottisfont" by a future owner, several centuries later, but is a misnomer. The National Trust speculate that the name was considered more romantic than the historically-correct "Priory".)

Struck by the Black Death, the initially prosperous priory suffered from the mid-14th century onwards. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII, the priory was dissolved and the king gave Mottisfont to a favoured statesman, Sir William Sandys, who turned it into a country home, but rather unusually, chose not to demolish the existing priory. Sandys instead turned the church nave into the main body of the new mansion, building additional wings on either side. Sections of the original medieval church may still be seen, with the later additions built around them. The 13th-century cellarium also remains present today.


In the 18th century, the old monastic cloisters and Tudor courtyard were demolished by the Mill family, creating the modern appearance of the estate's facade. It was at this time that the owners added "Abbey" to the name of the house. Then, under Sir John Barker Mill, in the early 19th century, the estate became a centre for hunting, shooting and fishing, and a new stable block was built.


The last decades of the 19th century saw Mottisfont let to wealthy banker Daniel Meinertzhagen under eccentric terms that forbade the installation of electric light or central heating. The ten Meinertzhagen children included Daniel and Richard, who built aviaries for their collection of eagles, hawks, owls and ravens. Richard wrote detailed diaries about his childhood and growing interest in the natural world. The arrival of Maud and Gilbert Russell in 1934 made Mottisfont the centre of a fashionable artistic and political circle. Maud was a wealthy patron of the arts, and she created a substantial country house where she entertained artists and writers including Ben Nicholson and Ian Fleming. She commissioned some of her artist and designer friends to embellish Mottisfont, always with an eye on its history, which fascinated her. Rex Whistler created the illusion of Gothic architecture in her salon (now known as the Whistler Room), a piece of trompe-l'œil painting that recalls the medieval architecture of the priory. Boris Anrep contributed mosaics both inside and outside the house, including one of an angel featuring Maud’s face – the couple had a long love affair.

Maud Russell gifted the house and grounds to the National Trust in 1957, although continuing to live there until 1972. One of the artists who had visited regularly was Derek Hill, a society portrait painter who had a private passion for landscape painting, and who collected work by his contemporaries. He donated a substantial collection of early 20th-century art to the National Trust to be shown at Mottisfont, in memory of his long friendship with Maud Russell. Today, these works are joined by a changing programme of temporary exhibitions of 20th-century and contemporary art.


Visitor attraction

Mottisfont Abbey has wonderful grounds to complement the house itself. There are areas of wooded shade, a walk along the River Test, enough lawned area for lots of picnics (you are allowed to play games on the lawns too - families have been known to kick a ball around, play catch etc.), and magnificent and pungeant rose gardens, particularly on early summer evenings. On visiting Mottisfont you will be just as likely to encounter families with small children as you will a coach party or two of tourists.

On a warm summer's day Mottisfont is a relaxing retreat from the hustle and bustle of the busy city of Southampton and market town of Romsey, both nearby.

In the summer months there are often theatre productions outside, and at different times of the year there are specific trails, mainly but not exclusively aimed at children, for example at Easter, Halloween, Christmas etc.

There are several points around the grounds where you can buy refreshments, a modern National Trust shop, ice cream parlour and exhibition space. A new Visitor Centre is currently under construction.

If you are walking The Test Way, which passes through Mottisfont and around the Abbey grounds, you will see the main house from the rear as you pass through fields along the northern boundary.