Beaulieu, England: Motor Museum, Palace House, Abbey Ruins, Gardens, And Spies

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Stone building at edge of grassed cloister that was once part of a Cistercian Abbey
Beaulieu, an attraction in the New Forest area of England, features a motor museum, a palace house, abbey ruins, beautiful gardens, a spy exhibit, and Russian art

Beaulieu is a small village located on the southeastern edge of the New Forest National Park in Hampshire, England. The village is home to the National Park’s most popular attraction, the National Motor Museum, Palace House, and Beaulieu Abbey, collectively known as Beaulieu. The attraction includes gardens and several special exhibits as well, all included in one ticket price.

Beaulieu Village

Village of red brick houses among greenery of mature trees as viewed from across a small river

Beaulieu village is little more than one street with red brick houses, a few shops, and the Montague Arm Hotel and pub. Albeit small, it is picturesque and was rated among the “20 most beautiful villages in the UK and Ireland” by Condé Nast Traveler in 2020.

Three-story red brick and black and white timber hotel in English village

The village, which sits on the southern bank of the Beaulieu River at the head of the tidal section, dates to the 13th century when it developed around the Cistercian Abbey founded in 1204 on land given by King John. The land had once been a royal hunting lodge. In the 1530s, King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and confiscated their lands. Beaulieu Estate was sold to Thomas Wriothesley, first Earl of Southhampton, a direct ancestor of the Montague family, who currently own the Beaulieu estate that houses the motor museum, palace house, and abbey ruins.

Note: The name Beaulieu comes from the French beau lieu, which means “beautiful place.” The English pronounce it as “bew-lee.” Coming from Canada where we have many French place names (although not all are always pronounced in proper French), my husband, daughter, and I pronounced it as “bow-lew.” We and our British friends talked about what seemed to be two different locations until we realized we were talking about the same place. Our friends laughed at our pronunciation, but I still maintain ours was more correct, even if it isn’t what the locals use or how the Beaulieu attraction says it should be pronounced in the FAQ section of their website.

Beaulieu National Motor Museum

Row of old cars in a motor museum

The National Motor Museum’s collection of 285 vehicles includes cars, commercial vehicles, and motorcycles. The oldest vehicle dates to 1875. There is also a lot of motoring memorabilia.

Old green roadster with other vintage cars beside it inside a motor museum

The museum began with a small motor museum in the front hall of Palace House in 1952, created by Edward John Barrington Douglas-Scott-Montagu (1926 – 2015), third Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, to increase interest in visits to the house and as a tribute to his father, a motoring pioneer. By 1956 the collection had outgrown the space and Montague created a separate home for the vehicles in sheds on the grounds. The Montagu Motor Museum was born. The collection continued to grow. In 1959, a new building was constructed. In 1972, the 40,000-square-foot National Motor Museum opened.

At the museum now, you’ll find early motor carriages, speed record breakers, vintage vehicles, and examples of pioneering motoring. You’ll also find a range of iconic Ford vehicles. Ford became a sponsor of the museum in 1971.

Area in a 1950s garage in a motor museum containing vehicle for service and shelves lined with tools and jars of engine items
Part of a garage area

Jack Tucker’s Garage recreates a rustic 1930s garage full of artifacts, fixtures, and tools from that era.

On Screen Cars

The On Screens Cars exhibit features an ever changing collection of TV and film vehicle favourites.

Motor museum exhibit of lime-yellow mini car used by Mr. Bean in the TV series with a cardboard cutout of Mr. Bean in the driver's seat
Mr Bean’s car was a family favourite

The World Of Top Gear

The popular BBC television program Top Gear, which first aired in 1977, examines and reviews motor vehicles. It also incorporates motoring-based challenges and special races.

The World of Top Gear at Beaulieu pays homage to the show with vehicles from every era of Top Gear and a timeline history of the show. For an extra charge, you can test your driving skills with remote-control models of Top Gear challenge cars on a scaled -down version of the Top Gear Test Track.

Beaulieu Abbey

Green grassed are with the stone ruins of a Cistercian abbey in the background

Beaulieu Abbey was founded by Cistercian monks in 1204 and operated until the 1530s when King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. Most of the buildings are now destroyed, but the ruins hold their own beauty and peaceful feeling.

Interior of an surviving old abbey building with stone walls and timbered roof, room empty but for a few chairs along walls and display information on the walls
Exhibition telling story of the Abbey

An exhibition in the surviving Domus building tells the story of the Abbey and its monks.

Stone church, once part of a Cistercian Abbey, with cross on top and three long narrow arched windows on upper story
Beaulieu Parish Church

Another surviving building, once the Monks’ Refectory, has been the Beaulieu village parish church since shortly after the Abbey was destroyed.

Women sitting on wooden bench in shade of tree with brick wall behind here
Enjoying the shady, peaceful Abbey grounds

Beaulieu Palace House

Gothic-style palace house surrounded by hedges

When Thomas Wriothesley purchased Beaulieu in the 1530s, he converted the abbey’s gatehouse into a manor house. In the late 1800s the house was transformed into the fine Victorian country house you can tour today.

Grand high-ceilinged green-carpeted drawing room in Victorian-era palace house with piano, fireplace, and white and gold wallpaper

The Palace House opened to the public in 1951. The rooms are decorated with furnishings collected by past and present members of the Montagu family.

Victorian-era palace house dining room with vaulted ceiling and long table with wooden chairs

Note: Beaulieu Abbey and Beaulieu Palace are reputed to be among the most haunted places in Great Britain. People say they’ve seen ghostly monks wandering the ruins, accompanied by the sound of Georgian chanting and the scent of incense. Other sightings have included a “blue” or “grey” lady walking the halls of Palace House and making sounds. She is believed to be Isabella, Countess Beaulieu, who died in 1786. I saw none of these in my visit.

Beaulieu Grounds and Gardens

Lawn area on estate grounds with trees and flowering bushes in background

A network of footpaths run through Beaulieu’s beautiful grounds. The Mill Pond Walkway features river views. The Wilderness Garden was established in the 1770s. The Victorian Kitchen Garden has been restored to its 1872 layout. There is also a Victorian flower garden and a topiary garden featuring Alice in Wonderland characters.

Looking through a greenery lined archway into a garden with a garden path down the centre bordered by flowering bushes and leading to a statue

You’ll also find a picnic area on the grounds as well as an adventure playground known as Little Beaulieu that features a wooden replica of Palace House with secret passageways, a treetop boardwalk, and a zip wire.

Woman standing in greenery-lined archway leading into a garden

Beaulieu Secret Army Exhibition

During World War II, Beaulieu was a top-secret training establishment for special agents of the Special Operations (SOE). Over 3,000 agents were trained there. Learn about how they trained and who they were at the Secret Army Exhibition.

Beaulieu Art Russe at the Clock House

The Clock House houses a collection of nineteenth and twentieth century Russian art set up by the Art Fusse Foundation founded by Ukrainian-born entrepreneur and philanthropist Andrey Filatov. The collection was set up in 2016 (first in the Palace House and moved to the Clock House in 2019), which is after the time of my visit, so, unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to view this art.

Beaulieu Monorail

Green train on a monorail

A mile-long monorail, the oldest in England, runs at frequent intervals throughout the day offering views of the grounds and gardens along with informative commentary. It runs right through the roof of the National Motor Museum. Note that it may not operate during high winds.

Green monorail train entering the pointed roof area of a museum
Monorail entering roof of Motor Museum

A replica 1912 open-topped London bus also rides through the grounds between two bus stops at opposite ends of the estate.

Visiting Beaulieu

Beaulieu is open daily except for Christmas Day. Parking is free on its lot. The majority of the attraction is fully accessible. There are a limited number of manual wheelchairs and electric scooters available for hire. Guide dogs are welcome. Large print information and induction loops aid the visually and hearing-impaired.

A coffee shop offers sandwiches, baguettes, pastries and hot and cold drinks. The restaurant, open from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, serves hot food. You are also welcome to bring your own picnic.

With all there is to see, allow at least half a day and up to a full day for your visit. See the Beaulieu site for more information.

Beyond Beaulieu: Buckler’s Hard

Rows of eighteenth century brick cottages on either side of grass area and path leading to river

The tranquil village of Buckler’s Hard lies 2 miles (3.25 kilometres) downstream from Beaulieu on the western bank of the Beaulieu River. It was once a thriving shipbuilding village where the ships for Nelson’s fleet at Trafalgar were built. Here you’ll find eighteenth and nineteenth century cottages, almost unaltered, lining a wide central street leading to the river.

The settlement was laid out as a planned town in the 1720s by John, second Duke of Montagu. It was intended to be a free port for the import and export of sugar from the West Indies. However, the Duke’s colonizing enterprises failed. By 1730 only seven houses had been built. In the 1740s, the settlement became a civilian shipyard for the Navy. At its height in the nineteenth century, the settlement contained nearly 40 houses. Many were demolished in the second half of the century. The river became popular with yachtsmen and pleasure boats in the early twentieth century.

Grassing area in front of and behind river lined with pleasure boats
Beaulieu River at Buckler’s Hard

Today, you can take step back in time at Buckler’s Hard and explore the shipwright’s cottage, the shipwright’s workshop, and St. Mary’s Chapel at no charge. A small admission charge applies to visit the Buckler’s Hard Museum and learn about the village’s maritime heritage.

More About The New Forest

Tall trees and ground ferns in a forested area of the New Forest

Located 90 miles from central London, the New Forest in South West England boasts outstanding landscapes of ancient woodlands, glades, moors, and scenic coastal routes. The countryside offers countless opportunities for hiking and biking. Quaint and picturesque villages contain restaurants, pubs, cafés, and tearooms service locally sourced food. Many run weekly markets.

Man petting New Forest pony in a village street with a stone pub on other side of street
New Forest pony in a village street

The area is known for it ponies. No taller than 598 inches, the ponies have lived in the New Forest for 2,000 years. They roam freely, although they are not completely wild, Local residents own the ponies and have the right to allow their ponies and cattle to graze in the open forest.

The Forest was once a royal hunting ground for William the Conqueror. Today, the New Forest National Park covers much of the district. The New Forest has been a holiday destination in the United Kingdom throughout the ages.

New Forest deer in a meadow
New Forest deer in a meadow

You can read more about what to do in the New Forest in this article I wrote for Travel Awaits and by visiting the New Forest official tourism site.

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    1. Ken, the grounds are peaceful. It wasn’t very busy the day we visited. They might not feel so peaceful on a busier day.

  1. I had a good chuckle about the difference in pronunciation of Beaulieu and how you had to determine that you and your friends were talking about the same place. I’m with you on the French pronunciation, even if the locals don’t agree. LOL!

    1. Eva, it was pretty funny when we realized we were talking about the same place, but I still don’t think our friends’ amusement at our pronunciation was justified.