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HER Number:MDV76193
Name:Buckland Abbey Tudor Mansion


The abbey church was converted into a mansion house by Sir Richard Grenville following the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century. In 1581 the property passed to Sir Francis Drake in whose family it remained for over 300 years. Further alterations to the house took place in the 18th century and it was renovated in the mid 20th century.


Grid Reference:SX 487 667
Map Sheet:SX46NE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishBuckland Monachorum
DistrictWest Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishBUCKLAND MONACHORUM

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Old Listed Building Ref (I): 92635
  • Old SAM County Ref: 246
  • Old SAM Ref: 24846
  • Tide Project: 10/07/2020

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • MANSION HOUSE (Created, XVI - 1501 AD (Between) to 1600 AD (Between))

Full description

Gaskell-Brown, C., 1986 - 1987, Buckland Abbey, Devon (Report - Survey). SDV242027.

The abbey church was much altered by Richard Grenville in the 1570s who converted it into a Tudor mansion. The roof was lowered, floors inserted, the transepts removed and a kitchen built at the south-east corner. The building was further modified in the 18th century and again after a fire in 1939.

Devon Religious Houses Survey, 1986/87, Devon Religious Houses Survey 1986/87. Preliminary Assessment Form. Buckland (Un-published). SDV358417.

The Grade I listed house incorporates most of the monastic church. The shell is 13th century, converted in the 16th century.

English Heritage, 2010, Historic Houses Register (List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest). SDV154869.

Buckland Abbey. Built as a Cistercian Abbey, converted into a house and at present used principally as a museum. The abbey was founded in 1278 by Amicia, Countess of Devon. At the dissolution it was acquired by Sir Richard Grenville in 1541 and it was converted by his famous grandson of the same name, into a house with various additions in circa 1576. Further alterations were made in the 18th century and the building was extensively renovated in the mid 20th century. Rubble walls with granite dressings. Gable ended slate roof with coping stones. Numerous rubble stacks some with moulded granite caps dating from the 16th and 17th centuries.
The original abbey church had a cruciform plan of nave with north and south transepts and 2 adjoining chapels each side. There was a central tower over the crossing. The accompanying abbey buildings appear to have been situated mainly to the north, some fragments still survive. Sir Richard Grenville probably demolished a large part of these buildings but an 18th century print portrays the building as extending further to the north-east than it now does. When Sir Richard converted the abbey church into a mansion house he incorporated a large part of the medieval fabric, adapting it to his own uses. The transepts were demolished and the nave divided the eastern end being converted into a single storey great hall with a screens pasage to the east. This room was sumptuously fitted out and a fireplace inserted with the overmantel dated 1576. To the south of the hall a stair wing was added to the west of the former transept. Grenville also built on a large kitchen and service wing at the rear of the screens passage with 2 large fireplaces in the kitchen. 2 further floors were inserted, subdivided into smaller rooms. Other, more minor late 16th century alterations were made by Sir Francis Drake, who bought the property in 1581, including probably the addition of a porch in front of the hall. In the later 18th century a staircase was inserted in the service wing at the rear of the screens passage, the gothic refenestration and dormer windows at the east end of the building probably date from this period. Few major alterations then seem to have been made until after the 1st World War when Lord and Lady Seaton excavated the former Chancel of the Abbey Church - then the servants hall - to discover the position of the High Altar; they then converted the room into a chapel. In 1938 a severe fire damaged the west end of the house which was afterwards restored. The next major work took place in 1949-51 when an extensive restoration and modernisation programme was undertaken in preparation for opening the property to the public by the National Trust and Plymouth City Museum.
The main block is 3 storeys with basement and an extra storey in the tower. The south wing is 3 storeys with attic. Asymmetrical and crenellated north entrance front of 8 windows with single storey projection to left and single storey porch at centre. The plain square tower over the original crossing is to the left of centre. On the lower ground floor level are 3 single light granite framed windows to right of centre, the centre one is very narrow with a trefoil head, probably 15th century; the right-hand one has a depressed 4-centred arched head and may be early 16th century. The left-hand one is square-headed and later 16th century. Above it is another single light window with a late 16th century 3-light mullion to its right and a similar 2-light mullion to the far right with a hoodmould. Between these 2 is a circa late 15th century 2-light mullion with cinquefoiled heads and square hoodmould. On the 1st floor are late 16th century granite mullion windows, predominantly 4-light but also some with 3-lights with a 2-light and single light window towards the left-hand end. The far left-hand window on this floor has clearly been built into the pointed arch of an original window and there is evidence of original windows over some of the other windows on this floor. The 2nd floor windows occur only to the right of the tower; they are granite mullions in hipped dormers incorporated in the crenellation; 3-light to the left, the 2 right-hand ones have 4 lights. The 1-room projection to the left on the ground floor was originally a chapel adjoining the chancel and transept - the blocked transept arch is clearly visible at its right-hand end, inserted into which is a late 16th century 3-light mullion window. On its front wall three 2-light mullion and transomed windows were inserted probably in the 17th century, the right-hand of which has had a stone arched doorway built into it in the 19th or early 20th century. The projection has probably original granite ashlar buttresses between the windows and diagonally on the corners. The central late 16th century porch also has diagonal buttresses. At its front is a heavily moulded granite segmental headed doorway with leaf design to spandrels. 19th century double doors part-glazed with gothic tracery in the fanlight. Above the doorway are 3 plaques bearing various Drake heraldic symbols; the left-hand one has an upraised glove, the right-hand one a Knight's helmet and the central one carries the Drake arms. If Drake himself did not build the porch then he probably added these designs when he bought the house. The right-hand wall of the porch has a similar but simpler doorway, now a window. The main front of the house also has buttresses - the 3 to the right are of rubble and were probably added by Grenville; the 2 left-hand ones, now partially obscured by the former chapel, are of ashlar and may be original. On the north face of the tower the position of the steeply gabled transept roof is evident with the blocked transept arch below. The fenestration of the south front dates mainly from Grenville's time apart from 2 windows with Perpendicular tracery to the left. The principal features are Grenville's stair projection to the left of centre, the blocked transept arch to its right (the infilling and hall windows are early 20th century) and Grenville's kitchen wing to the far right which shows evidence on the ground floor of 2 blocked arches to the south chapels from the transept. The east front has arched windows with gothic tracery inserted probably in the later 18th century).
Interior features reflect the status of the building with some evidence of its original function still visible. In the chapel, originally the chancel, the shafts of its original pillars are visible in the corners. 2 piscinas have also been revealed. The former north chapel retains its stone cross vaulted roof. On the 2nd floor at either side of the partially exposed chancel arch are 2 carved corbels at the point of the springing. On the 3rd floor the crossing of the abbey church can be clearly distinguished with all 4 arches surviving. The chancel arch was lower and directly above it was a Decorated window of which the head with its tracery and rear arch can still be seen although it has had a door inserted beneath. Much more survives of the late 16th century domestic conversion and modernisations carried out by Sir Richard Grenville and then Sir Francis Drake. The great hall is the most impressive result of this and remains little altered. Its north, south and west walls are lined with ornate high quality panelling. The top panels are arcaded each with a carved lion's head at the apex. The panels are divided verticlaly by fluted pilasters with Corinthian capitals. Above each pilaster are figures, some grotesque, in high relief. The frieze is inlaid with arabesques and has a modillion cornice above. It is arguable however that this may be the later work of Drake as stylistically it is more typical of circa 1600. A decorative plaster frieze above has a running foliage and flower motif. At the east end of the hall are 4 fluted pillars with inlaid frieze running above, the screen may have been open at this end. On the north wall of the hall is a large moulded granite fireplace with the heavy roll moulding rising to an ogee at the top with a ball motif underneath. The fireplace back is constructed of slates in a herring-bone pattern. The granite framing is enclosed by a probably 18th century wooden surround. Above is a plaster overmantle depicting the figures of Justice, Temperance, Prudence and Fortitude with the date 1576 at the top in Roman numerals. Elaborate narrow moulded rib plaster ceiling in geometric design of interlaced squares and lozenges with 2 pendant finials. The ceiling curves downwards to meet the plaster frieze and on this curve are 4 moulded plaster corbels with satyrs on them holding scrolled shields. At the west end of the hall is an allegorical plaster frieze depicting a knight seated under the tree of life with his war eauipment beside him, his shield hung in the tree and his unsaddled horse resting nearby. A skull and hourglass are beside him. The corresponding frieze at the east end is purely decorative. The floor may also be contemporary and is laid with triangular slabs of red tile and white limestone. The 16th century kitchen has 2 very large fireplaces. One in the gable end wall had a segmental arched lintel inserted below. The lateral fireplace has a square opening with chamfered lintel and 2 stone ovens. Partly obscuring this fireplace are four 16th century charcoal burning ovens. The high ceiling with simple plaster cornice is probably 18th century. Adjoining the lateral fireplace is a 4-centred arched granite doorway, chamfered with pyramid stops. Grenville's original staircase has been replaced by a 20th century one but the 16th century roof of the stair wing survives consisting of substantial principal rafters with morticed curved collars, all richly moulded, purlins and wall plate are also moulded. The room on the first floor at the west end was probably a parlour in the late 16th century. It is also panelled, in a very similar style to the hall except the panels are not arcaded. There is a small depressed 4-centred arched granite fireplace with decorated spandrels and moulded jambs. A similar fireplace survives in the adjoining room. Beyond it is a room refitted in the 18th century with a fielded panel dado and doorcases with projecting frieze and cornice. A bolection moulded wood surround with projecting cornice frames an earlier granite fireplace. The back of one panel bears the inscription 'Mr Tho.Rowe, April 1st 1772, Master of this job and foreman of the Sawyers' - presumably this refers to the 18th century joinery in the room although the panelling and fireplace surround are of a slightly earlier style. The 18th century staircase is however fairly typical of this date being open well with cut string and 3 turned balusters to each step, carved scrolled thread ends and wreathed handrail. Fielded dado panelling to stairs incorporates fluted pilasters opposite the newels. There are also 2 good dog gates both of open fretwork with inverted segmental tops. In the tower room is one of the few features definately attributable to Drake. It is a granite framed moulded fireplace with a plaster overmantel bearing Drake's arms with the Latin inscription 'Sic Parvis Magna' (Thus great things from small). Alterations appear to have been made, however, as one side of the overmantel bears the date 1655 and initials R.N.
This building has an unusual historical background. It is one of the few medieval abbeys to undergo conversion into a house, incorporating much of the medieval fabric. It has also passed through the ownership of 2 illustrious Elizabethan sailors and adventurers and remained in the Drake family for over three hundred years. It is the combination of these historical associations with the preservation
of so much of the early fabric and high quality internal features of the later 16th century which give this building its importance.
Date first listed: 14th June 1952.
Other details: LBS No. 92635.

Ordnance Survey, 2010, MasterMap (Cartographic). SDV344030.

Bullen, A., 2018, A souvenir guide. Buckland Abbey, Devon, 21-25, 46, 47, 51 (Monograph). SDV363761.

Buckland Abbey was surrendered to the crown, following the dissolution of the monasteries, in 1539 and together with about a quarter of the estate was sold to Sir Richard Grenville in 1541. Grenville died in 1550 (his son Roger had died onboard the Mary Rose in 1545) and it was not until the 1570s that his grandson, also Richard, who, after a number of years spent privateering, set about transforming the abbey church into a country seat. The space beneath the crossing became the great hall, two floors were inserted into the chancel and nave, and the south transept was demolished to allow more light into the great hall. Its roofline can still be seen on the south wall of the tower. A kitchen wing with a large open hearth was also added at the east end.
The upper storey of the nave was originally an open space, a Tudor long gallery but was divided into rooms in the Georgian period. It was badly damaged by fire in 1938 and restored with new floors and a new roof.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV154869List of Blds of Arch or Historic Interest: English Heritage. 2010. Historic Houses Register. Historic Houses Register. Website.
SDV242027Report - Survey: Gaskell-Brown, C.. 1986 - 1987. Buckland Abbey, Devon. Devon Religious Houses Survey. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV344030Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2010. MasterMap. Ordnance Survey. Map (Digital). [Mapped feature: #103224 ]
SDV358417Un-published: Devon Religious Houses Survey. 1986/87. Devon Religious Houses Survey 1986/87. Preliminary Assessment Form. Buckland. Devon Religious Houses Survey. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV363761Monograph: Bullen, A.. 2018. A souvenir guide. Buckland Abbey, Devon. A souvenir guide. Buckland Abbey, Devon. Paperback. 21-25, 46, 47, 51.

Associated Monuments

MDV5451Part of: Buckland Abbey (Monument)
MDV128757Related to: Monastic church at Buckland Abbey (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events: none recorded

Date Last Edited:Nov 26 2021 11:39AM