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Stoneleigh Abbey's history began in 1154 when Henry II granted the lands to a community of Cistercian monks who built a small but prosperous Abbey on the site. More than 800 years later the structural development of the main house and adjacent buildings can be clearly seen, providing a rich tapestry of architecture, landscape, events and people.
The Abbey sits in 690 acres of parkland and gardens with the River Avon flowing through. Great landscape architects such as Repton and Nessfield have influenced the design and form of the land and created a beautiful backdrop for leisure and sport.
All of the most historically interesting parts of Stoneleigh are open to the public. However within the private residences there are two elements of specific interest which, with the kind assistance of the owners, are made available on a series of 'Through the Keyhole' tours. One of these is the Leather Room within the Jacobean House which forms part of the original twelfth century Cistercian Abbey building. The main feature of the room, and what gives it its name, is the Spanish sixteenth century leather wall covering on two walls. Originally there were thirty-six panels of which thirty-two still remain. The other residence is the Undercroft. Along with the Gatehouse the vaulted Undercroft is the most complete survival of monastic architecture at Stoneleigh. It is a magnificent sixty-three feet long, stone vaulted room which now forms the ground floor of a private residence. Through the Keyhole Tours form part of the guided tours and are only conducted on specific published dates and times which are given on the web site.
Jane Austen at Stoneleigh Abbey
Would you like to walk in the footsteps of Jane Austen and see the portraits of some of her ancestors? Would you like to know who was the inspiration for the story of Anne Elliot in Persuasion or visit Sotherton Court as it is described in Mansfield Park? Well you can, at Stoneleigh Abbey.
For 400 years Stoneleigh Abbey was the country seat of Jane Austen's relatives, the Leighs. In 1806 Jane, with her mother and sister, travelled to Stoneleigh Abbey in the company of her mother's cousin, Reverend Thomas Leigh, to secure his inheritance of the estate. During her stay Jane Austen was so inspired by the house, by its parkland and by its family intrigues that she wove descriptions of the interiors, views of the grounds and cameos of the family into her novels.
Stoneleigh Abbey has changed little since 1806, the rooms and much of the furniture are still as Jane Austen would have known them. Her fascination with Stoneleigh is revealed during the Abbey's Jane Austen Tour (every Sunday and Wednesday at 1pm) using original letters and readings from her works.
The Gardens at Stoneleigh Abbey
In the early nineteenth century, reflecting the changing taste for 'Picturesque' ideas, Stoneleigh became the focus of improvements which were to provide an exceptional example of landscape design in this style. Humphry Repton considered the estate as one of his more important commissions as shown in his Red Book for the Abbey. The current landscape reflects not only Repton's work but also that of a series of designers, including C.S. Smith, W.A. Nesfield and Percy Cane.
The park and gardens at Stoneleigh reveal a long history of landscaping undertaken over four centuries at the behest of the Leigh family. As early as 1154 a group of hermits, recently converted to the Cistercian order, petitioned the king to allow them to transfer their home from Radmore in Staffordshire to the manor of Stoneleigh in Arden. The site chosen for the original abbey complex was situated on one of the meandering loops of the Avon which forms
the boundary with the adjacent parish of Ashow, also part of the Stoneleigh estate.
In 1640 Thomas Lord Leigh obtained a license to empark 800 acres at Stoneleigh, the first stage in the formation of the deer park which exists today. The early park measured only 320 acres and focused on the lands between Stareton and Stoneleigh and it was not until the mid-nineteenth century that the park was to reach the size described in the 1640 license.
Improvements to the gardens commenced when Edward, the fifth Lord Leigh, came of age in 1763. Educated at Oriel College, Oxford, Edward took his seat in the House of Lords in 1764. He had great plans for both the house and grounds and accounts for the period show vast expenditure on both the interior and environs of the Abbey.
There are details of planting ordered from John Whittingham's nursery at Charterhouse near Coventry as part of the restoration of the walled garden. The south front with its lawned embankments falling to the meandering river, is shown clearly in a survey of about 1770.
Samuel Ireland in his book, Picturesque Views of the Avon, published in 1795, describes the full charm and unchanged quality of Stoneleigh Abbey:
""The situation of this abbey is truly beautiful: the Avon, winding before the house at a proper distance, supplies the corn and fulling mills, whose distant sound aided by the rushing waters falling from the stream, contribute in no small degree to render a complete landscape delicious to a reflecting and contemplative mind.""
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Stoneleigh on 14-16 June 1858. The Queen had come to Warwickshire to open the People's Park at Aston and her reception at Stoneleigh was a brilliant occasion. There was great festivity at Stoneleigh; a great banquet was served and the band of the Second Life Guards was in attendance all evening to entertain the great mass of people who were assembled in the home park. On this occasion not only the old Abbey
Gateway was illuminated with coloured lamps, but also all the flower beds and borders in the garden. In a ceremony on the following day the Queen planted an oak and the Prince Consort a Wellingtonia gigantia. When Prince Charles visited the Abbey in 2003 to mark the completion of the restoration programme he too planted an English oak tree.
Stoneleigh Abbey is a landscape which in the last two hundred years has benefited from the attention of several of the most significant designers of their time and reflects the continuing care and attention of generations of owners.
Since the completion of the restoration programme funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage and the European Regional Development Fund in 2001 the management team at Stoneleigh have been slowly bringing the gardens back to life. Under the guidance of Derek Robinson the riverside gardens are again filled with colour and every season more of the walks are opened up for visitors to enjoy.
Leave the M40 at junction 15 and take the A46 north towards Coventry. Leave the A46 at the Kenilworth/Leamington Spa exit, turn right at the roundabout towards Leamington Spa on the A452. After 100 yards, turn left onto the B4115, signposted Stoneleigh Abbey and Ashow. The Abbey entrance is 1 mile along this road on the right.
Stoneleigh Abbey facilities include:
Stoneleigh Abbey accessibility includes: