Titchfield Abbey, Hampshire


★★★★★

The ruins
East range

Premonstratensian monastery, converted to a mansion after the Reformation in the 16th century, then partially dismantled in the 1780s; now a picturesque ruin
Management
Entry
Free, though 2 for parking
Location
Mill Lane on the north side of Titchfield; PO15 5RA
Photo Tour (14 images)
Titchfield Abbey was a Premonstratensian institution, following the teachings of the 12th century St Norbert, a particularly austere form of the Catholic religion; its adherents were known as Norbertines, or White Canons, on account of the colour of their habits. Like nearby Netley Abbey, Titchfield was founded by Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, and the first canons were on site by 1222.

The monastery had all the usual components - the church, relatively small but still with transepts and chantry chapels, plus subsidiary buildings like cloisters, chapter house and refectory. After the 1537 Dissolution, part was demolished and part, including most of the church, was converted to a mansion, after the site was purchased by Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, a courtier to Henry VIII. This survived until the 1780s, when the place was abandoned and mostly dismantled, with the remainder of the structure left to become a romantic ruin, and this is what survives today, under the care of English Heritage. So the history is similar to Netley Abbey, which was also converted to a mansion, though rather more of that place is still intact.

At Titchfield most of the visible structures are from the 16th century mansion but there are still many traces from the earlier monastery, including floor tiles, and walls along the cloisters. The site is free to enter; a small fee is charged for parking.




Construction


Stones for construction of the abbey were sourced from a variety of locations such as Dorset, and Caen in France. When complete, in the late 13th century, the site was based around the 200 foot-long church, aligned west-east, with cloisters on the north side, flanked by three ranges; the west range included the kitchen, the north range the buttery and refectory, and the east range the chapter house and sacristy. While the establishment was relatively small, compared with many other abbeys, it was constructed to a high standard. The abbey was never very prosperous, but continued in operation without great incident up until the 1537 closure.

The Mansion


After purchase of the abbey by Thomas Wriothesley, work soon began on converting the buildings to a mansion, named Place House, built in castellated style complete with arrow slits and embattlements, and hence requiring a license from the King. From the Wriothesley family, the place passed to the Earls of Gainsborough in 1675, later to the Dukes of Beaufort and finally to the Delme family, who resided here until 1781, when the decision was made to abandon the property. Much of its masonry, including that of the underlying abbey, was removed and reused in other buildings, in Titchfield village and elsewhere, while the ruins seem to have endured relatively unchanged ever since.

West side of the ruined mansion
West side of the ruined mansion

The Site


The abbey ruins have a semi-rural setting close to the River Meon, 2.5 miles from the Hampshire coast, about half way between Portsmouth and Southampton. Access is along Mill Lane from the village of Titchfield to the south, then through a gate into the walled complex, which opens at 10 am each day and closes at 4 pm October to March, 5 pm during other months. The parking place is in front of the gatehouse which is constructed in the middle of the former nave - a ground floor passageway through the building, with octagonal towers at the four corners. To the west is an enclosed room with a mix of red Tudor bricks and monastic masonry on its walls, while the opposite side is partly open since the house here was originally twice as long, but the eastern half was removed in the 1780s. The far side of the gatehouse passageway opens up to the courtyard, formerly cloisters, which still have traces of the original walls especially on the east side, including doorways to the chapter house and the sacristy. Along the former cloister passageways are several sections of tiled flooring which survive since they were built over during the mansion construction, with staircases above; the remainder of the tiles were dug up. The outline of the long-vanished sections of the church are evident from foundations on the east side of the mansion, including the choir, the transepts and the chantry chapels. The mansion once extended some distance further north, beyond the current walled enclosure, to land now occupied by a house and garage; there are no remnants above ground from any of this section.