Curator's choice: five must-sees at Mottisfont

Mottisfont has been many things. A religious community, a home to one of King Henry VIII’s most trusted advisors and a place for art and fashionable gatherings. Elements of all these histories and their stories remain today. The running water of the River Test sits alongside decorative architecture once seen by monks, as well as private art commissions marking a relationship between a patron and an artist. Here are my five must-sees to help you to start to unravel its past…

George Roberts, Regional Curator George Roberts Regional Curator
A detail of Rex Whistler's murals in the saloon at Mottisfont, Hampshire

Is that brazier on fire? 

The Whistler Room was a key part of Maud Russell’s plan to modernise Mottisfont Abbey in the 1930s. Out went the dark Victorian wood interior and in came the vibrant, playful design painted by Rex Whistler. The room is a true meeting of minds – Maud’s vision and Whistler’s skill, full of playful tricks and imagery. This includes what seems to be a burning brazier on one of the walls. As Whistler’s final work before his death in the Second World War, it also serves as a memorial to his talent and career.

A Boris Anrep mosaic depicting an angel at Mottisfont

Mottisfont’s guardian angel 

Art and artists played a major part in Maud Russell’s life. The most important of these was Boris Anrep, a Russian-born artist, famed for his mosaics. He became her partner after the death of her husband Gilbert, and she decorated Mottisfont with two of his mosaics. One of these is The Angel of Mottisfont, hidden on the exterior of the main house. Look carefully at the figure – surely a portrait of Maud herself?

The Cellarium at Mottisfont, Hampshire

A hidden church 

In the 1540s, when Lord Sandys converted the priory into his home, he simply built within the church rather than demolish it. This means that hidden within the house are surviving parts of this earlier building. This has delighted generations of the house’s owners, who often retained these features inside cupboards or in corners of rooms. On your visit keep your eyes peeled to see if you can spot them too.

The River Test and north face of Mottisfont in early spring

A stroll along the river 

The fishing along the River Test is world-famous. Gilbert Russell was a keen angler and he kept the rights to fish along the Abbey Stream all to himself. A short walk will allow you to find the 19th-century hut from where he would have fished. Along with the stables block, it shows how important sports such as hunting and fishing were to Mottisfont’s owners. A walk also allows you to admire the trees along the river which have long brought fame to Mottisfont.

A waterwheel at Mottisfont

Water-powered cooking 

It was never easy to cook for a large household like Mottisfont. As technology developed, so houses looked for ways to save on labour costs. The waterwheel at Mottisfont is Victorian and uses water to drive the spit for the range next door. It also brings the sound of running water – so much part of the spirit of Mottisfont - into the house.