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Cistercian Abbeys: NETLEY

Name: NETLEY Location: nr Southampton County: Hampshire
Foundation: 1239 Mother house: Beaulieu
Relocation: None Founder: Peter de Roches, Bishop of Winchester
Dissolution: 1536 Prominent members:
Access: English Heritage – open to the public

Netley east cloister and south transept
© Stuart Harrison
<click to enlarge>
Netley east cloister and south transept

Peter de Roches, bishop of Winchester, had made preparations for the foundation of a house at Netley for several years before his death in 1238. However, his plans were left incomplete and the final arrangements were left to the hands of his executors. A colony of monks arrived in June the following year and thus began the existence of the abbey of Netley, the first daughter house of Beaulieu. The house was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and St. Edward the Confessor and, as a result, was initially known as Lieu-Saint-Edward or 'Edwardstow'.(1) King Henry III made several early donations to the house and by 1251 seems to have regarded himself its patron and founder. It seems that the king made have adopted Netley in conjunction with the plans of his brother, Richard of Cornwall, to establish the prestigious Cistercian house at Hailes in Gloucestershire.(2) However, most of the abbey’s annual income derived from those lands that Peter de Roches had purchased for the community before his death. During the thirteenth century the abbey prospered and the number of monks and lay -rothers increased. However, by about 1328 the house was experiencing some financial difficulties and the community was forced to sell much of its property. From this time Netley Abbey remained a poor and undistinguished Cistercian house. It seems that the impoverishment of the abbey can be largely attributed to its position on the south coast. The monks complained of the demands placed upon their hospitality by the mariners who continually passed by their house, and to the royal sailors who stole great numbers of the abbey’s sheep and lambs.(3) At the time of Dissolution only seven monks remained at the abbey and the annual net income was valued at £100.(4) The house was dissolved with the smaller monasteries in 1536. Following the Dissolution, the site was granted to Sir William Paulet (d. 1572), later marquis of Winchester, who converted the monastery into a Tudor mansion. The premises were occupied by the Paulet family until the late seventeenth century, when the property was sold to a Southampton builder called Taylor. He intended to demolish the entire church, but while supervising the demolition of the west end Taylor was crushed to death by the falling tracery of the west window. This was interpreted as a sign that the building should not be demolished.(5) The property remained in private ownership until 1922 when it was given over to the Ministry of Works. Today the remains include much of the church and the east range of the claustral buildings. King Henry’s foundation stone can still be seen in the footings of the north-east crossing pier. The inscription translates as‘Henry, by the grace of God, King of England’.(6) Netley is now under the care of English Heritage and is open to the public at all reasonable times.