Mottisfont Abbey is set amid cool green lawns, shaded by enormous plane, cedar, beech and oak trees and bordered by a tributary of the beautiful chalk stream, the Test.
This was the site of the 13th century Priory of Holy Trinity. The foundation was never large and its fortunes were seriously impoverished by the Black Death. Towards the end of the 15th century the priory's revenues could only support three canons.
In 1536 the priory was suppressed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Henry VIII granted Mottisfont to his Lord Chamberlain, William, Lord Sandys of The Vyne, in exchange for the villages of Chelsea and Paddington.
Lord Sandys began at once to transform the priory into a Tudor mansion. Instead of using the residential parts of the priory for his new house, Lord Sandys demolished these and converted the nave and tower of the church itself.
The north front of the house represents the full length of the nave and ends in the truncated tower where the arch leading into the north transept is outlined in the facade. In 1684 last of Lord Sandys descendants died and the house passed to the Mill family.
Sir Richard Mill, who lived at Mottisfont throughout the reigns of George I and George II, made further changes to the house in the 1740s. He transformed the Tudor home of his ancestors into a pleasant mid-18th century house. Sir Richard reduced the Tudor influence but retained the monastic remains.
The Tudor south front was transformed into an elegant red-brick Georgian facade with a central pediment and shallow bays but in the north front the medieval church can still be identified.
The original mullioned windows have survived on the ground floor but sash windows were inserted on the upper floors. The early 13th century cellarium, the monks store room, can still be seen with its Caen stone columns supporting a vaulted ceiling.
In the 20th century a striking contribution was made to the house by Mr and Mrs Gilbert Russell.
The couple, who acquired Mottisfont in 1934, commissioned Rex Whistler to decorate the saloon. This work was executed between 1938-9 after the completion of Whistler's tremendous work at Plas Newydd on Anglesey.
The Whistler Room at Mottisfont was the artist's last work and his masterpiece. The Gothick fantasy in 'trompe l'eoil' murals was executed in grisaille and has simulated columns, pelmets and stuccowork. Whistler had also been commissioned to design the furniture but he died during the Second World War.
Mottisfont Abbey is the centrepiece of beautiful wooded gardens. The grounds are famous for the mature beeches, sycamores, beeches, Spanish chestnuts, walnuts and cedars that were part of the 18th century garden but many specimens are even older.
To the north-west of the house is a little Gothic summerhouse that dates from the 18th century and incorporates medieval floor tiles from the priory.
The garden owes much to Mr and Mrs Russell. In 1936-7 they commissioned Geoffrey Jellicoe to design the paved octagon surrounded by clipped yew and the north lawn with its border of pleached limes. Shortly afterwards Norah Linsey was engaged to lay out the box-and-lavender-edged parterre and to plant wisteria and other climbers on the house.
The most popular feature of the garden, however, is the National Collection of Old-fashioned Roses. These pre-1900 shrub roses were established after 1972 in the former walled kitchen garden. The box-edged beds arranged around a fountain pool contain over 300 rose varieties.
On the far side of the garden is the crystal-clear spring of 'font' which attracted the Austin canons to the site 800 years ago and gave the place its name.
In 1957 Mrs Russell gave Mottisfont Abbey and the estate of over 2,000 acres, including most of the village of Mottisfont, farmland and woods, to the National Trust.
In 1966 the Trust acquired Derek Hill's 20th century picture collection.
The grounds and gardens are open to the public and so are the remains of the priory. However, only three rooms of the house are shown including the Rex Whistler Room.