Beaulieu, the name means beautiful place in Hampshire
An outstanding example of the continuous twists and turns of history through almost eight centuries, from the time of King John to the early days of the motor car is to be found, and enjoyed by visitors, at Beaulieu, on a tidal creek of the Beaulieu river which runs into the Solent between Lymington and Southampton Water.
The story of this lovely spot — its name means “beautiful place” and it is pronounced “Bewley” — begins in 1204 when King John (of rather less than pious memory) founded a Cistercian monastery as an act of penitence, it is said, after having had a terrifying nightmare.
The Pope gave the monastery right of Sanctuary, and this relief was often claimed. During the Wars of the Roses Queen Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, found Sanctuary there, as did Lady Warwick, widow of “Warwick the Kingmaker”, after the Battle of Barnet in 1471; also given Sanctuary was the imposter Perkin Warbeck in the reign of the first Tudor, Henry VII.
After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the next reign much of the Abbey was dismantled, the stone being used by Henry VIII to build his coastal forts of Hurst and Calshot Castles. But much still remains to recall the grandeur of the past.
The monks’ refectory is now Beaulieu’s village church. The Lay Brothers’ building is virtually intact, converted into a, fascinating museum and a restaurant. Surviving, too, is a pulpit-like structure from which a monk read “historical books with a sonorous voice, but homilies and sermons with a more engaging one” while his brethren ate their meals in silence, as the Cistercian Order demands.
After the Dissolution the Abbey’s spoils were sold by the King to Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, from whom Beaulieu descended by marriage to the family of Montagu. And by the earlier years of the present century this ancient site which remains their home turned another page into modern history. But its past has been lovingly preserved.
The present owner, Edward John Barrington Douglas-Scott-Montagu, the third Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, was born in 1926 and succeeded his father only three years later. His home, Palace House, was formerly the monastery’s Gatehouse, skilfully added to and modernised towards the end of the last century by his grandfather. The treasures within and the gardens outside are open to the public.
Lord Montagu’s father had been an enthusiastic pioneer motorist when “horseless carriages” were a modern wonder of locomotion. The son was to follow in his father’s wheel-tracks and as a memorial to him he established on the estate in 1952 the now renowned motor museum. It presents a staggering array of exhibits depicting the evolution of the internal combustion wonders, with solid tyres, tiller steering and other ancestral devices of the modern motor car.
A prolific author on motoring history, Lord Montagu was also the founder of the world’s first motor-cycle museum. In 1970 the Beaulieu Museum Trust was formed to administer the new National Motor Museum.
Thus, at Beaulieu, time and history marches on from 1204 to the portico of the 21st century.