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Visiting Buckland Abbey and Great Barn

A panoramic view of Buckland Abbey seen from the north. The Great Barn stands out prominently to the left.
A panoramic view of Buckland Abbey seen from the north. The Great Barn stands out prominently to the left. | © National Trust Images / Andrew Butler

As you wander around Buckland Abbey, you'll discover fascinating tales spanning eight centuries. It’s been home to Cistercian monks, and seafarers who changed the shape of the house and the fate of the country. The Abbey is part museum, part house, and filled with treasures. Among the highlights are the medieval Great Barn, which has remained virtually unchanged since it was built centuries ago, and a Rembrandt self portrait.

A medieval Abbey

The house today still holds evidence of the original medieval complex, with hidden staircases, archways and original plaster work to discover.

The medieval abbey was pulled apart after the Dissolution of the monasteries and bought by the Grenville family. It was eventually inherited by Sir Richard Grenville, who converted it into a Tudor mansion home and carried out major renovations, creating the house seen today.

Evidence of Grenville’s conversions can be seen when approaching the Buckland Abbey; markings on the wall show where the south transept of the church once stood.

The house was later sold to the privateer Sir Francis Drake, and information on Drake’s life can be found on the top floor of the Abbey in the Lifetimes gallery.

A mural depicting the Armada and the south east coast of England
A mural depicting the Armada and the south east coast of England | © Barry Mitchell

Inside the house

The Pym Murals

On display in the Nave gallery, the Pym Murals commemorate Buckland Abbey’s most famous resident Sir Francis Drake and his circumnavigation of the globe and participation in the battle against the Spanish Armada fleet.

The paintings were commissioned in the 1950s by the Astor family and created by Roland Pym, an established mural painter and set designer who undertook many large-scale designs.

They vary from 1.4 to 4.8 metres wide and illustrate events from Sir Francis Drake’s life including his ship, The Golden Hind, the route he took from Plymouth and circumnavigated the globe, the capturing of the Spanish flagship, ‘The “Nuestra Senora del Rosario” and the final, victorious battles as part of the Armada.

The Tudor Great Hall

The Great Hall at Buckland Abbey was possibly the first room created when it was converted into a house in the 16th century. This was built on what would have once been the cross-section of the church, and where the monks came to pray.

The hall today displays evidence of the flamboyance of the Elizabethan era. There are original stone flooring and plaster carvings, which demonstrate both Grenville’s and Drake's travels around the world, and Tudor wooden panelling.

Tudor Kitchen

Other than the Georgian additions such as the charcoal range, the kitchen today remains a traditional Tudor kitchen. In fact, it's still sometimes used by volunteers for cooking demonstrations.

Buckland Abbey's chapel

The chapel at Buckland Abbey is particularly special, as it was discovered by the last Lady Drake who lived here in 1917.

During her repair work, the site of the high alter of the monks was uncovered, and today it’s possible to look in and see this focal point of the Cistercian worshippers.

The Great Hall at Buckland Abbey, Devon showing the decorative plaster ceiling and stone floor.
The Great Hall at Buckland Abbey, Devon | © National Trust Images / James Dobson

A 20th century fire

In 1938, some 400 years after the Dissolution of the monasteries, the house was destroyed once again after a fire broke out on the middle floor. While Buckland’s original house layout was destroyed, the bottom floor was left intact.

Years later, Plymouth City Council and the National Trust joined to repair the property. The aim was to convert Buckland Abbey into a museum to showcase the life of Sir Francis Drake and the Abbey’s naval history.

The Abbey today still houses some of the special treasures that are on loan from the Plymouth City Museum.

View of large medieval stone barn from the garden with rose bushes in the foreground
The Great Barn at Buckland Abbey, Devon | © National Trust Images/Sarah Davis

Buckland Abbey's Great Barn

The Great Barn was used by the Medieval monks to sort and winnow corn. Today it houses the cider press, which acts as a reminder of the 27 acres of orchards and farmland that once stretched down to the river.

Accessibility

The Nave Gallery, the kitchen and the Great Hall can all be accessed on the level. The chapel can be viewed from the corridor but there are deep steps into the room itself. All of the other rooms within the Abbey are accessed via staircases.

There is level access into the Great Barn.

For more information, please see the Access Statement on the visitor information page or call 01822 853607.

The exterior of Abbot's tower at Buckland Abbey in the evening light

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Find out when Buckland Abbey is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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