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Forde Abbey


Location Guide

Forde Abbey is a family home and a working estate. It has more than 900 years of history and was once a Cistercian monastery. It is set in 30 acres of gardens. Since 1905, and still today, it has been home to the Roper family.

As well as the main house, there is an arboretum, garden nursery, farmland and a 30 acre garden. Within the gardens you will find 4 ponds, including the Mermaid pond which has a 160ft Centenary Fountain and waterfall. Dotted around the gardens are various structures, from a temple to a Ha Ha and more. Various paths take you around the garden and benches are found at strategic points for you to take in the views. The gardens are open all year round, giving lots of opportunities for garden photographers to get it's different moods and seasons. They have an annual competition for photographers to submit photos taken to them via email on their website.

The Abbey from the Kitchen Garden

The Abbey House

Forde Abbey, although now a private house, was built in by 1148 as a Cistercian priory on a site near to the River Axe within the manor of Thorncombe. It flourished as a monastery for 400 years and became renowned as a seat of learning. The foundation grew and became very wealthy, eventually By the 14th century, possessing lands of some 30,000 acres.

The third abbot, Abbot Baldwin, became Archbishop of Canterbury before dying on the crusades. The last abbot of Forde at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries was Abbot Chard and he surrendered the abbey to the Crown peacefully in 1539. For more on the monastic life at Forde Abbey see this link.

The abbey buildings and lands were then leased to Richard Pollard. For a century, the abbey was neglected and parts of the buildings were demolished to provide stone for other construction in the area. Until in 1649 when the estate was purchased by Edmund Prideaux, Member of Parliament for Lyme Regis and a supporter of Oliver Cromwell He was the person largely responsible for transforming Forde Abbey when he converted the buildings into his private home.

During the 18th century the house remained largely unchanged by the descendants of the Prideaux family, however the gardens were created during this period. In 1815, a lack of money by the current occupant, John Gwyn, meant he could on continue to live at the house and so it was rented to the philosopher Jeremy Bentham. During the 19th century, following the death of John Gwyn in 1846, who died with no heirs, the house was owned by a succession of owners, some of whom neglected the house while others attempted to renovate it. Then in the 20th century it was inherited by the cousin of the last owner, William Herbert, and she moved in with her husband Freeman Roper, whose descendants still own and occupy the house and estates. The current house is still lived in by the Roper family and along with it's gardens is a tourist attraction and working estate.

On view to the visitor today as some of the monastic rooms including:-

  • The Great Hall
  • The Monks Dormitory, 160ft long built in the 13th century, the rooms off it were created in the 18th century to provide accommodation for servants.
  • The Cloisters - this is one side of the original quadrangle and is the remains of the lavatorium, where the monks washed their hands prior to eating.
  • The Chapel - this was formally a chapter house
  • The Undercroft/Crypt, although not used for burials, today the southern part of the undercroft is being used as a restaurant.

Inside the Chapel

You also get to see some the State Rooms including:

  • The Saloon - which houses some large tapestries made in 1620
  • The Upper Refrectory - the original monks at the Abbey were vegetarians, however during the reign of Henry VIII some of the monks were keen to try meat and this room was originally built for those meat eaters. Today it contains a 21ft long table which was made from a single tree felled on the estate in 1948.
  • The Prideaux Rooms - added in the mid 17th century by the then owner.
  • The Oak Room - houses a very large 4 poster bed which is believed to have been in the estate sawmills for 100 years, it was then restored in the late 1990's and installed in this room. However photographs found suggest that the room originally had a much larger bed in it, but this was sold to Holywood in the 1930's.
  • The Bentham Room - this room was used by Jeremy Bentham during his time at the house.

The Gardens

The gardens cover 30 acres and have been landscaped, modified and enhanced since it was part of the monastery. The only monastic structure left is one of the ponds, today known as the Great Pond at the far end of the gardens from the house. Its original purpose was to power a mill for grain but today provides the water for the other three ponds in the gardens. The gardens we see on a visit today were started in the early 18th century when the three other ponds were created and the cascades. It was also during this century that the lawns were laid out and the wall erected.  Under the occupation of the Evans family a typical Victorian garden was created as was the kitchen garden.

The Roper family however have had the biggest impact by adding to and creating the magnificent gardens we see today. The most recent structure, installed in 2005, when the Centenary Fountain was added to celebrate the 100 years of the Roper Family occupying Forde. It is spectacular and stands in the Mermaid Pond, for visitors it is run at set times throughout the day, so you can explore the gardens at leisure and time your visit to be at the pond when this magnificent fountain erupts 160ft into the air. It is truly an awesome sight and should not be missed, whatever the weather.

The planting within the garden, around the ponds, in the borders and beyond is always developing and changing with the seasons. Within the gardens there is lots to see including during January when snowdrops start to appear in pockets all over the garden, and if you want colour then and the Courn Cyclamen in the rock garden are out. They have a special Crocus Week in March giving colourful displays throughout the gardens. In spring/summer it is full of colour and is totally different in the autumn especially with the Yew and Lime Trees in Lime Avenue and the large arboretum.

The Kitchen garden is the first you walk through once you leave the entrance building/shop. This is the one significant contribution made by Mr Miles during his short tenure in the 19th Century. Today the kitchen garden produces enough fruit, vegetables and flowers for use in the house and restaurant for much of the year. The East wall of

The Centenary Fountain

the house is covered in wisteria and is covered in delicate flowers during May and June. The front of the house has laid out beds for bedding plants. The park garden has lots of smaller garden beds and throughout there are statues and points of interest to capture your eye. This leads to the rock garden created in the early 20th century and has a mix of alpine and rock plants and during the spring there is a display of Widow Iris. From here the garden walk takes you pass the Ha Ha and along by the Canal Pond, with another statue and up to the Great Pond and Beech House, built originally as a bird watching hide. Back down from here along past the Cascades which takes the water to the Mermaid and Long Ponds nearer the house. Then cross to The Bog Garden which contains plants happy to have their roots in boggy wet ground. For you there is a path way that allows you to explore this area.

Following the path from here back towards the house onto The Mount. This area is dominated by trees and in particular a large Redwood.  The Nut Walk is an area of Hazel bushes that were planted in the 19th century. At the end is a statue of a Blacksmith at Blacksmith Hill, he is said to be throwing a stone towards the local village further up the valley. Now at one the corner of the garden where there is a Herbaceous border leading back to the house, which is at its best during the summer and flows down one side of the Long Pond, with it's circular temple at one end. This pond offers good reflections of the colour border planting and the temple itself. Walking around the pond then brings you to the Mermaid Pond and home to both statues, the Centenary Fountain and on one side a pagoda made from pillars taken from the Abbey Church.

 The Temple at the end of the Long Pond

There are various other statues around other parts of the garden. It is open all year round so it is possible to see something whenever you visit, however if you visit in the rain there is little shelter within the garden itself. However the gardens do have sloping/incline areas and there are seats around for you to rest up and take in a view. But don't miss the fountain, or reflections.

Forde Abbey Nursery

The nursery is next to the walled kitchen garden. You can visit it and the shop without having to purchase a ticket for the house and gardens. From March each year the abbey nursery sells a seasonally changing selection of herbaceous, perennials and grasses plants. They have rare and unusual plants which are considered to be good in the garden, and most of what they sell is produced on site and can be seen growing in the gardens. Opening Times are 1st March to 31st October each year 7 days a week from 10am to 5pm.

One of the many statues around the grounds, this one is in the Park Garden

Photography Competition

They run an annual photographic competition which runs throughout the season, for photographs that have been taken on your visit. You can upload the digital photos via their website. At the end of the season they choose their favourite and the photographer receives a gift box made up of items from the Gift Shop. You can see entries they have selected so far for the current year and past winners entries on the Photo Competition page on their website.

Forde Abbey Panorama

Further information Grid



Forde Abbey, Chard, Somerset

Ceremonial County: Dorset and  Somerset

Grid Reference:


OS Landranger 193

Map Link:


Aerial photo: Google Aerial



Best Times to Visit:

Spring and Summer, however the gardens are open during the winter months.  The waterfall, Autumn to winter, arboretum - autumn. Summer for the flowers. January for Snowdrops





Other useful websites:

Wiki   Tesco Clubcard Days Out 

Nearby Locations:  
Other Relevant pages:

Forde Abbey, Somerset    Tesco Clubcard Deals



Planning Grid


Forde Abbey, Chard, Somerset

Grid Reference:


OS Landranger 193

Getting there:

Situated 4 miles southeast of Chard. Leave the A303 and join the A356 towards Crewkerne at where you take the A30 towards Chard.


The ground floor of the house is accessible to all. Most of the garden is accessible although the Bog Garden may present a problem for wheelchairs.


Yes lots of it


The House, Gardens, Tea Room (closed winter months), Gift Shop and Pottery Exhibition and Nursery (closes for winter). Benches at strategic points around the garden to take in the views

Things To Do, See and Photograph:

160ft Centenary Fountain. Garden landscapes, waterfalls, ponds, the Abbey, spring flowers, wildfowl and dragonflies, large ponds and statues and other structures.

What to take:

Range of lenses from wide angle to telephoto, tripod and reflectors.

Nature highlights:

Snowdrops and Crocus from January. Red Ruby Devon beef cattle


Forde Abbey




TA20 4LU


01460 220231

Opening times:

The Gardens: All year round Daily 10am-4.30pm. Closes 6.30pm

House: Closes for Winter. Opens 1st Apr-31 Oct Bank Holiday Mondays and Tues-Sun 12noon-4pm


Garden Only: Adults 8.50; Seniors 7.50; Child (<15) FREE

House & Garden: Adults 10.50; Seniors 9.50; Child (<15) FREE

HHA Members: FREE; RHS members FREE

Accepts Tesco Days Out Vouchers

Photo Restrictions:

No photography allowed in the house/abbey. Encouraged in the garden for amateurs with a photographic competition for those taken in the garden, which can be emailed to them via their website. No commercial photography without written permission.

Other Restrictions:  
Special Needs Access: to ground floor of house only, majority of the garden is accessible to those in wheelchairs.
Special Needs Facilities: toilets
Children Facilities: Trails around gardens to find hidden boxes and stamps to mark the trail map. Children's Pack.
Dogs Allowed: Not in house. In gardens if on a short lead.

Please let us know any other information that we can add to the Further information and Planning Grids or page and any errors that you discover. Before making a long trip to any location it is always wise to double check the current information, websites like magazines may be correct at the time the information is written, but things change and it is of course impossible to double check all entries on a regular basis. If you have any good photographs that you feel would improve the illustration of this page then please let us have copies. In referring to this page it is helpful if you quote both the Page Ref and Topic or Section references from the Grid below. To print the planning grid select it then right click and print the selected area.

Please submit information on locations you discover so that this system continues to grow.


By: Tracey Park Section: Abbeys Gardens Key:
Page Ref: forde_abbey Topic: Abbeys    Gardens   Last Updated: 09/2012

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