Lord Montagu's family has owned the Beaulieu estate, Hampshire, since the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the Sixteenth century. Today, Lord Montagu opens his home and grounds at Beaulieu to the public. The experience includes access to ancient Abbey ruins, an aristocratic home and an automobile collection.
Margaret Rowles, public relations officer, said: "Beaulieu was one of the first stately homes in the country to open its doors to visitors and in 2002 celebrated it's 50th anniversary. In all that time, Lord Montagu has been personally involved with developing the modern estate and displaying the wide ranging history readily available here."
The estate stands on the remains of a Cistercian Abbey, founded at the start of the Thirteenth century. Margaret said: "We are now preparing for our 800th anniversary next year. We can trace the story of Beaulieu back to when King John gave the land to the monks in 1204. The monastery built here by the Cistercians was of considerable size and importance. It was 336 feet long, that is ten feet longer than Winchester Cathedral."
The monastery was mostly torn down during the Dissolution. Two non-secular buildings remained untouched – the lay brothers' dormitory, know as the Domus, and the priests' refectory.
Margaret said: "There is a real sense of peace and tranquillity in the Domus. Looking up at its beautiful high-vaulted wooden ceilings, it is easy to imagine how the monks must have felt living in such a place." Both buildings still stand today. The Domus houses an exhibition of how life was for the monks at Beaulieu. The priests' refectory became the Parish Church.
Margaret said: "As well as the undamaged buildings, some other parts of the Abbey also remain. You can see the walls of the cloister, the outer gatehouse and the great gatehouse which forms part of the current stately home, Palace House."
In 1538, the year the monastery was dissolved, Henry VIII sold the grounds to Thomas Wriothesley for Â£1,340. Wriothesley used the Abbey gatehouse as a hunting lodge. He held estates elsewhere in the county and Beaulieu was not his main base.
www.beaulieu.co.uk Palace House, Beaulieu Abbeyand the National Motor Museum Beaulieu, Hampshire, SO42 7ZN
Many generations later, in the Eighteenth century, the gatehouse was expanded to become a Victorian country house and has been a family home ever since.
Margaret said: "The estate has been passed down by Wriothesley's descendants, twice through the female line, to the present day. The current owner, Lord Montagu, born in 1926, has lived here all his life. When Lord Montagu decided to open his home in 1952, he wanted to give visitors a glimpse of Victorian life in a stately home. Palace House has been furnished and styled to appear as it would in 1899."
Palace House guides adopt the costume and character of the Victorian house staff know to have worked for the family. Margaret said: "We have Mrs Hale the cook in the kitchen. For each corresponding day from 1899, she writes the planned menu on a chalkboard, using information found in records from the era. It is fascinating to see the variety of food offered to guests in comparison to the simpler fare eaten by the staff."
Lord Montagu then stamped a very personal impression on the Beaulieu experience. He began a motorcar collection in memory of his father who died when he was just two and a half. Lord Montagu's father, John, was a motoring pioneer – the first Englishman to race a British-made car on the Continent. He also used his influence as an MP to promote the cause of the motorist. He introduced the 1903 Motor Car Bill, which made number plates compulsory and raised the speed limit to 20 miles per hour. In the Fifties, five vehicles were put on display in the front hall of Palace House. Margaret said: "The collection quickly expanded and outgrew the available space in the house. Not to mention making the whole house smell of oil. So in 1956, the vehicles were moved to wooden buildings near the house."
In 1972, the cars were relocated to purpose built accommodation in the grounds and renamed the National Motor Museum. The collection is administered by a charitable Trust and now contains vehicles from every decade of motoring.
The estate is open every day of the year, except for Christmas Day.