The history of Mottisfont
Eight centuries of history are buried within Mottisfont’s walls. An Augustinian priory was founded here in 1201, laying the foundations for the 18th-century structure that’s now visible. Today, hints of Mottisfont’s medieval past live alongside the stylish redevelopment that took place in the early 20th century.
Take a look at this plan of the house to see some of the dramatic changes that have taken place here: Mottisfont's layers of history (PDF / 3.5MB) download
In 1201 William Briwere, right-hand man to four Plantagenet kings, founded the Priory of the Holy Trinity here. Mottisfont held the forefinger of St John the Baptist as a scared relic, and eager pilgrims came to be blessed by the Augustinian canons.
Hundreds of prosperous years were followed by devastation from the Black Death and other disasters. In 1536, the dissolution of the monasteries saw the Mottisfont estate gifted to Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain, Lord Sandys.
A Tudor palace
Lord Sandys set about transforming the priory into a grand house. During the 1500s and 1600s the Sandys divided their time between Mottisfont and their family seat, The Vyne.
Queen Elizabeth I visited Mottisfont twice. But in 1684 the eighth and last Baron Sandys died childless, and Mottisfont was left to his nephew.
The Mill family transformed Mottisfont into the building and landscapes recognisable today. The estate was used for country pursuits.
The Great Plane tree was planted in this period: it’s now thought to be the largest and oldest of its kind in Britain.
The eccentric end of a century
In 1884 Mottisfont became home to Daniel Meinertzhagen, his wife Georgina (the sister of social reformer Beatrice Webb) and their ten children. They took the house on a lease from Mrs Marianne Vaudrey-Barker-Mill, under terms that forbade electric lighting or central heating.
The Meinertzhagens entertained noted intellectuals including George Bernard Shaw and Charles Darwin. The children grew up with a whole estate as their playground.
Following their departure Mrs Vaudrey-Barker-Mill spent the equivalent of £3 million restoring Mottisfont, exposing medieval masonry. But she still refused to contemplate electric lighting.
The arrival of the Russells made Mottisfont the centre of a fashionable artistic and political circle. Imagine the sparkle of 1930s house parties, where ‘Bright Young Things’ rubbed shoulders with writers, painters and poets.
When they bought the house in 1934 the buildings were in a state of disrepair. Huge changes were made inside under Maud Russell’s guidance to create a luxurious, neo-classical setting for their weekend retreats.
The Second World War and beyond
Mottisfont was requisitioned during the war to become a convalescent home for wounded officers. Children evacuated from London lived in the Stable Block. Gilbert Russell died in 1942 and Maud moved to London to work for the Admiralty, travelling down to Mottisfont at weekends.
After the war, however, she made Mottisfont her main home and lived here for around 30 years. Anxious that it should be preserved, Maud gave the house and estate to us in 1957.