Take a riverside stroll through history at Mottisfont

George Roberts, Regional Curator George Roberts Regional Curator
The River Test and north face of Mottisfont in early spring

Running water, and the River Test have been always been central to the people living at Mottisfont. Once a source of food and power, the Abbey Stream just to the east of the main house is now a wonderful place for a stroll. Doing so allows you to see yet more of Mottisfont’s history.

The Abbey Stream is tributary of the main River Test which runs to the east of the house. It may have been a natural feature which was then straightened and improved, or it could have been entirely artificial.  

This could have been for the original Priory, or possibly by Lord Sandys in the 1540s when he built his new house on the site. Whatever its origins, Sandys certainly used some stone from demolished parts of the Priory to line the banks of the stream. 

A mill stream 

There was a mill along the stream, probably providing flour for the house, who would have also been supplied with fish caught from it as well. By the 1700s, however, the stream became part of the house’s designed gardens, or pleasure ground.  

Walks along both sides of the river were created, with trees planted to help landscape the area. By the 1860s, these trees were already noted for their size and appearance, with the plane trees being especially large and old. 

Weeping willow creating a graceful arch above our river
A weeping willow arches over a bridge in the grounds of Mottisfont, Hampshire
Weeping willow creating a graceful arch above our river

Messing about on the river 

But the Abbey Stream was also used for fun. Surviving photographs show family members in boats and if you go along far enough, you’ll find the old fishing hut built around 1850. This has had a variety of uses, sometimes for fishing – Maud Russell’s husband Gilbert was a keen angler and kept this for his private use – as well as a changing room for swimmers.  

The hut is an interesting design with a thatched roof and is similar to root houses which were popular in many Victorian Gardens. It is decorated with a timber mural using coloured wood to show a bear and a swan. The bear is used on the crest of the Barker-Mill family who owned Mottisfont in the 1800s when the structure was built. 

I often take a walk along the river when I’m at Mottisfont and doing so allows you to see and understand so much more about the estate’s history and development.