Hartland Abbey lies in a beautiful, sheltered valley close to the high cliffs overlooking the Atlantic at Hartland Point.
In 1157 an Augustinian Monastery was founded here on the site of an earlier religious house. In 1539, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII gave Hartland Abbey to William Abbot, Sergeant of his Wine Cellar. His descendants still live at Hartland Abbey today.
Abbot converted the prior's lodging in the west range together with some other residential buildings and part of the cloisters into a house. In 1600 the Hartland estate than passed through the female line to the Luttrell family of Dunster Castle.
The property then came into the hands of the Orchards of Kilkhampton when Paul Orchard married a Luttrell heiress in 1704. He carried out some same changes to the house soon after his marriage but his son, another Paul Orchard, made more substantial alterations in 1779.
He engaged John Meadows, a London architect, to remodel the main west range to provide a new suite of reception rooms. Many of the medieval and 16th century buildings were demolished to make space for these new rooms. The new range was given a fashionable Gothic exterior.
In the early part of the 19th century Hartland Abbey passed through the female line to the Stucley family, with whom it has since remained.
Sir George Stucley gave many of the new rooms a neo-Tudor appearance in 1845. The final changes to the house took place in 1862 when George Gilbert Scott was commissioned to rebuild the north end of the house in High Victorian Gothic style.
The exterior of the house is still dominated by the Gothic remodelling of 1779. The stark, grey-rendered west facade faces the sea. The east front (which was the original entrance) is embellished with pointed windows. The entrance was moved to the north front in 1862.
From here the visitor enters the Inner Hall which was designed by Gilbert Scott. This contains panelling taken from the 16th century Hall when it was pulled down in 1779. The Inner Hall leads to the three main reception rooms created at this time and altered in the mid-19th century.
The Drawing Room has a neo-Jacobean chimneypiece and doorcases. The linenfold panelling was influenced by Pugin's work in the House of Lords. A painted frieze, dated 1852, depicts important events in the history of the Stucley family.
The adjacent Billiard Room was the original entrance hall. Here there is a portrait of Catherine, Lady Bampfylde by Hudson dated 1776.
The Dining Room has some 16th century panelling but most of the woodwork is neo-Jacobean. The walls are hung with early portraits of the Grenville family, whose nearby house at Stow in Cornwall was demolished in 1739. Some of the 18th century portraits displayed here include works by Reynolds.
The Little Dining Room is in part of the house built by Paul Orchard in 1705. This wood-panelled room contains a portrait of the antiquarian William Stukeley dated 1726.
Passing through the Upper Corridor reaches the Alhambra Corridor which is part of the 18th century house. The superb painted vault was created by Gilbert Scott in 1862. A display of pictures here shows Hartland Abbey before it was remodelled in 1779.
Another room houses an exhibition of documents dating from 1160 and there is also a display of Victorian and Edwardian photographs.
The house is set in lawns which replaced the earlier formal gardens in the late 18th century. Paths designed by Jekyll lead to shrub and walled gardens. In spring the rhododendrons, magnolias, camellias, daffodils, bluebells and primroses create a blaze of colour.
There are also tender and rare plants. A Victorian fernery has been discovered. Jacob's sheep, donkeys and peacocks wander in the park.