Following Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monastries, between 1536 and 1541, Mottisfont, a 12th-century Augustinian priory, was converted into a private mansion.
In the 1740s the Tudor mansion was extensively remodelled by the Barker Mill family, resulting in the building that you see today. At the end of the 19th-century wealthy banker Daniel Meinertzhagen rented the property and under the terms of his rental agreement was forbidden to instal electric light or central heating. In 1934 Mr and Mrs Maud and Gilbert Russell came to live at Mottisfont. The Russells were famed for hosting lavish country house parties and guests included artist Rex Whistler, writer Ian Fleming and the Churchills. Maud once sat for Henri Matisse at his Paris studio in 1937 and was well known for her arts patronage. During the Second World War Mottisfont became a temporary hospital and The Long Gallery was converted into a ward for non-critical casualties.
The gardens at Mottisfont are world-class and visitors come from all of the world to see the dazzling displys of old-fashioned shrubs and roses. In June the two walled gardens are breathtaking.
There is also a Winter Garden and pleasure grounds. The pleasure grounds have many historic statues, including four stone figures that were originally surrounding a Roman bath-house. The Gothick Summerhouse on the north lawn dates back to the 19th-century and its floor is paved with recycled medieval encaustic tiles from the original priory. If you are lucky, Murphy the resident cat will greet you with his friendly purr.
Until the 2nd of October an exhibition, ‘Enchanted Garden: Flower Fairies and Dark Tales’, featuring 30 original Flower Fairy watercolour illustrations by English artist Cicely Mary Barker (1895-1973), is taking place in the stylish new art gallery situated on the top floor of the main house. The exhibition is beautifully curated and is suited to the space perfectly. Cicely Mary Barker was born and lived in Croydon, Surrey. She began to study art by taking a correspondence course when she was child and at the age of 13 she attended evening art classes at the Croydon Art School. Her first illustrated book in the Flower Fairies series, Flower Fairies of the Spring, was published in 1923. In 1989 Frederick Warne & Co (publishers of works by Kate Greenaway, Edward Lear, Walter Crane and Beatrix Potter) acquired the Flower Fairies properties. To complement this exhibition there are also contemporary works on display that attempt to explore the darker side of fairy tales. If you have children with you when visiting then pick-up The Mottisfont Enigma map and see if you can solve the Mottisfont Enigma Trail which has been created throughout the gardens and house. This activity also runs until the 2nd October.
For more information on Mottisfont Abbey click here.
For more information on Cicely Mary Barker and the Flower Fairies click here.