Reason to visit: see cars such as the original Bluebird and that car they made into a caravan on Top Gear (as you’ll find ‘The World of Top Gear’ here).
Of monastic origins, part of Palace House was formerly the 13th century Great Gatehouse of Beaulieu Abbey. The dining room and sitting room boast impressive vaulted ceilings, having been formed out of the original abbey. Elsewhere, the house is a Victorian extension and it reminds me of poorer version of Holker Hall in Cumbria (without the impressive gardens that Holker has): country house Victoriana with oak panelled rooms, green leather, dark pub carpets and chunky furniture, with house stewards dressed in period costume.
Hands up I’m not a fan of Victorian interiors but my point is, if you aren’t either and you’re not planning your visit to Beaulieu because you’re a car passionista, then you probably won’t want to pay circa £16.75 entrance fee. However, as it’s free with HHA cards it is a bargain and children and car fans alike would really appreciate visiting here. Just expect ‘more Flamingo Land/Alton Towers than Chatsworth House‘.
Beaulieu is a Treasure House btw: www.treasurehouses.co.uk
One gets the impression that the rooms open to the public are not used at all by the family and therefore I’d recommend enquiring about visiting the family’s private apartments, which can be visited by prior arrangement when the family are not in residence.
The house has been in Montagu family ownership since 1538, when Sir Thomas Wriothesley, later 1st Earl of Southampton, bought the Estate after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The ruins of the monastery remain to view and there is an impressive conversion of older buildings housing an exhibition on the monasteries.
The gardens outside are lawned, full of bushes & boast views over Beaulieu River to the village. The side gardens have formal beds for cut flowers and vegetables but the ever present monorail overhead and the vintage bus dropping off bemused car fanatics whose wives have asked to go also see the house makes for a rather odd visit for someone there to see the house.
In fact, Beaulieu is a product of the 1950s in the same way as Longleat is: when estate owners sought additional income they commercialised their existing resources; while Lord Bath opened a wildlife park, Lord Montagu turned his passion for cars into his bread and butter. There’s a proper school canteen and lots of tarmac and metal sheds, all kitted out to make the perfect day for eyeing up some stunning cars. I do watch Top Gear every week so I’m not a ‘caraphobe’ either. Poor D though, didn’t know what to make of it all. Consolation was a roundtrip on the monorail.
The house and car attractions are separated but there’s only one price option: either visit everything or nothing at all. I really like Longleat so I’m not anti-commercialisation. However, although I enjoyed the drive there through the New Forest, spotting ponies and donkeys, I won’t be returning to Beaulieu in a hurry. Sorry Lord Montagu.
When visited: 2011
Stars out of 5 (house): **
Stars out of 5 (garden):**
Theme tune: Top Gear theme tune