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Forde Abbey and Gardens

TA20 4LU

Founded in 1146, Forde Abbey was one of the most significant Cistercian monasteries in England during the four centuries that separated the reign of King Stephen from the Reformation. The buildings seen today were all in existence in the Middle Ages. They formed the Abbot's and monks' quarters, their kitchen, refectories, and their chapter house. The abbey church has gone, together with the guest wing and three sides of the cloisters.

While the final years of so many English monasteries are remembered for their feebleness and decadence, Forde ended in a blaze of glory. Thomas Chard, the last of the thirty-two abbots, devoted much of his time and energy to repairing and reconstructing the fabric of the Abbey building. In 1539 Henry VIII ordered the dissolution of the larger monasteries. Chard, his work unfinished handed the Abbey over to the King, and was subsequently made vicar of Thorncombe, the local village.

100 years after the dissolution the Abbey was acquired by Sir Edmund Prideaux, Attorney General to Oliver Cromwell at the time of the Commonwealth. He transformed what must have been a somewhat dilapidated monastery into the magnificent country house you see today, by adding state apartments above the monastic cloisters and transforming the principal rooms with the addition of panelling and ornate plaster ceilings. These ceilings are almost unique in England. The famous tapestries that hang in the Grand Saloon are copies of the cartoons drawn by Raphael for the Sistine Chapel. This set were ordered by Sir Edmund Prideaux from the factory at Mortlake but only reached Forde when Queen Anne presented them to Sir Francis Gwyn (who married Prideaux's granddaughter) in recognition of his services as Secretary of State for War.

Today the House is the home of the Roper family, who both occupy and care for the Abbey. They still farm, as the monks did five centuries ago, as well as developing many activities within the house itself.

The landscape of the garden was created partly by the monks and partly by the Gwyns in the eighteenth century. It was then that the lawns were laid out, walls built, the monks' ponds reshaped and the line of waterfalls created. This was all done when garden landscaping was in its infancy.

The Kennard family have now been at Forde Abbey for 100 years and to celebrate this the Centenary Fountain was created. At 160 feet in full flow,it is the tallest powered fountain in England.

Awards for Forde Abbey

Enjoy England Awards for Exellence Silver Award Winner 2008

South West Tourism's Small Visitor Attraction of the Year 2006 & 2007 General Information:

  • Plant centre

  • Gift shop

  • Pottery exhibition

  • Limited disabled access to house, no wheelchairs above ground floor

  • Disabled access to grounds - battery car available

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  • Directions

    4 miles south east of Chard in Somerset. Brown tourist signs from the A30, A358 and B3165.

    Forde Abbey and Gardens Postcode for SatNav: TA20 4LU


    +44 (0)1460 221 290
    +44 (0)1460 220 296

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