1,000 years of Majesty at Milton Abbey Historic Church and Landscape

They say that good things are worth waiting for and this is certainly true of Milton Abbey Church. It has been more than 150 years since in 1865 Sir Gilbert Scott last restored the Church at the expense of the late Charles Joachim, Baron Hambro.

Yes, the fine edifice is still set like a gem in the stunning Capability Brown landscape, but sadly the intervening years had not been kind to Milton Abbey. The elements, in particular rainwater, had taken a costly toll, resulting in damage to the roofs and ceilings, water running down the internal walls and due to poor drainage, rising water raising the tiled floors.

Now we are already seeing the benefits of renewal and this Great Place is again becoming a fitting home for beautiful music, exciting performances, magnificent weddings and vibrant worship.

It was Saxon King Athelstan, who first founded a Minster here in AD 934. Thirty years later, in 964 King Edgar, impressed by the revival of monasticism in England, established a community of Benedictine monks at Milton under Abbot Cyneward. This monastic community continued its work of prayer and service for 575 years, until its dissolution in 1539.

After the monastic period, the dissolution lead to the purchase of Milton Abbey for £1,000 in 1540 by John Tregonwell, a lawyer who had assisted Henry VIII in obtaining his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and had accepted the surrender of The Abbey and its lands on behalf of the King in 1539. The Abbey and some of its estates, remained in the Tregonwell family for more than two hundred years.

In 1752 the Abbey and estates were sold to Joseph Damer, who later became Lord Milton. He disliked the old town of Middleton, wanting instead to create a mansion and grounds suitable to his standing. The celebrated landscape gardener Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was enlisted in 1764 to design the grounds, which would mean the removal of the town. After years of struggle with the townspeople, Damer was eventually successful in relocating the grammar school to Blandford, pulling down the old town and relocating it in what is now known as Milton Abbas.

Work on the new model village began in the late 1770s. There is only one building that remains on The Abbey site from the old town and that is Green Walk Cottage, to the East of The Abbey; in addition, the Alms-houses that were built and endowed by John Tregonwell in 1674 were dismantled and rebuilt in the new village in 1779 and can be seen today opposite the parish church of St. James’s.

A lake was conceived by Brown as part of his grand landscape scheme. It replaced the former lake close to the Abbey. His original idea was to extend the ornamental lake down the length of the valley to the front of the Abbey, but this was abandoned later.

Today, with the aid of several benefactors including the Viridor landfill communities fund and a successful Heritage lottery grant to the newly formed Milton Abbey Heritage Trust (MAHT) we are beginning to see the benefit of a major investment in this wonderful place.

Bringing together three parties to share in this project, Salisbury Diocese, Milton Abbey School and The Forestry Commission, MAHT has been established as a registered charity for the protection, restoration, educational interpretation and development of The Abbey, St. Catherine’s Chapel and the surrounding Capability Brown landscape.

In addition to the planned physical works all are committed to achievement of a sustainable future for The Abbey Church, St Catherine’s Chapel and the Heritage Landscape in which they reside.

The planned project allows for provision of improved access, new car parking, signage and interpretation which will assist plans for development and promotion of the Abbey and St Catherine’s as a venue for a breadth of performances and activities, at once being compatible with and enhancing the environment.

Brian Larcher, the new Abbey Development Manager, who was previously Estates Bursar at Milton Abbey School, the Trustee Abbey Custodian Helier Exon and newly appointed Abbey Provost Chris Jervice are working together to help bring about the necessary change to establish a self-sufficient and sustainable future for the Abbey to prosper. It is their goal to enable as many people as possible to share in the Abbey experience and benefit from its very special presence, recognising and sharing the fundamental Benedictine principles on which it was founded.

A newly launched Abbey Affiliate structure of Members, Associates and Companions forms an important part of this outreach to encourage community involvement at the Abbey and in the countryside around.

Working with partners throughout the area the aim is to act as a focal point for those nearby and a spiritual home for those further afield and abroad who may only know us through digital media, but will also grow in their association with the Abbey Community.

Milton Abbey is a very special place. As a wonderful home for worship Milton Abbey is a beautiful place of great tranquillity and inspiring grandeur. The acoustic qualities of the Abbey are especially suited to choral and musical performance and the landscape setting provides a back drop of expansive and dramatic views for those all-important wedding photographs.

Discover more about Milton Abbey at www.miltonabbey.org and select “Abbey Community” to Join us. We look forward to welcoming you to our community and this very special place.


Words by Brian Larcher, Abbey Development Manager, Milton Abbey Heritage Trust