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Buckland Abbey

Post Code : PL20 6EY
Telephone : 01822 853607
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This austere house, set among sloping green lawns and exotic trees on the edge of the Tavy Valley, was the last Cistercian foundation in England.

Buckland Abbey was established in 1278 and the order continued to live and work here until 1539 when Henry VIII had the monks evicted during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Within two years of being surrendered to the Crown the property was sold to Sir Richard Grenville. He did little to convert the monastic buildings and it was his grandson, Sir Richard Grenville, captain of the Revenge and the most famous of the Grenvilles, who remodelled Buckland Abbey as a country house.

Sir Richard chose to convert the 13th century church into his house rather than use the domestic buildings of the monastery. He used the nave, the crossing and the chancel and retained the square tower, which is such a prominent feature of Buckland Abbey.

Between the soaring walls of the church Sir Richard inserted three floors. Here he created his living rooms including a one-storeyed great hall with a fireplace dated 1576. There are numerous features of the ancient church to be found in the house including vaults, arches, blocked and unblocked windows and mouldings.

In 1581 the house was purchased by Sir Francis Drake. He had recently returned from his circumnavigation of the globe and was considered a national hero. Sir Francis required a house that reflected his newly acquired status and ironically chose the property which had been so recently converted by his great rival, Sir Richard Grenville.

The only complete interior surviving from this time is the fine 16th century great hall. It has an elaborate ceiling and a holly and box frieze adorned with carved figures. Contemporary plasterwork on the end walls shows Sir Richard Grenville's shield hanging on a tree.

The Drake family remained at Buckland Abbey until 1813 and during this time the house continued to be associated with the sea. As late as the second half of the 18th century the Drakes produced two vice-admirals. Sir Francis left little trace of his occupation and the abbey-house remained little changed until about 1770 when a Georgian dining room and the elegant main staircase, which curls up through four floors, were added.

After 1813 Buckland Abbey passed through more remote branches of the family until 1948 when the property was acquired by the National Trust.

The building now houses the Drake, Naval and West Country Folk Museum.

The long gallery running the length of the top floor has displays outlining the history of the abbey from medieval times to the present day. On the floor below is the Drake Gallery. Here the exhibits include colourful naval flags, Elizabeth I's commission of 5 March 1587 giving Sir Francis Drake command of the fleet that 'singed the King of Spain's beard', Armada medals and relics from the Spanish ships that sank off Ireland.

The hall where Sir Francis planned the tactics that defeated the Spanish Armada is also the fitting home for Drake's Drum. The age-worn drum, with his coat of arms painted on one side, was with Sir Francis on his circumnavigation of the world and when he died of dysentery off Panama in 1596. It is said to sound if England is ever in danger.

Next to the house is a picturesque group of granite outbuildings. These include an ox-shed introduced by William Marshall, the agricultural improver, who spent four years at Buckland Abbey between 1791-4.

Within in a few yards of the house is a heavily buttressed, medieval tithe barn. At almost 160 feet long the monastic barn is one of the largest in Britain and reflects the wealth of the Cisterician abbey.

In the grounds box hedges border a little herb garden. There are also craft workshops and country walks.

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Buckland Abbey
House Features
Former home of Sir Richard Genville and Sir Francis Drake, houses the Drake, Naval and West Country Folk Museum. National Trust.
Opening Times
Check the website for days and times as opening hours are different for the abbey, gardens, and the estate.
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