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Buckland Abbey

The Cistercian Abbey of Buckland


The Monastic history


Buckland Abbey was founded as a Cistercian Abbey in 1278 by Amicia, Countess of Devon and was a daughter house of Quarr Abbey, on the Isle of Wight. It was one of the last Cistercian houses founded in England and also the most westerly. The remains of the church are about 37.6 metres (123 ft) long. 


The original bequest by Lady Amica included 5 Granges and lands in West Devon and as far the North East of the County in Cullompton In the Bishop of Exeter episcopal registers show the abbey managed five granges at Buckland plus the home farm at the abbey. A market and fair at Buckland and Cullompton were granted in 1318 by Edward II.


In 1337 King Edward III granted the monks a licence to crenelate, surviving evidence of this can be seen on the Tower and the Abbots Lodge

The churches at Buckland, Sheep’s Tor and Walkhampton were also under its care.








In the 15th century the monks built a Tithe Barn which is 180 feet (55m) long and survives to this day. It is Grade I listed.

It remained an abbey until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII. At this time the revenues were placed at £241 17s. 9d. per annum[ (equivalent to £163,500 in 2019).The Abbot was given a yearly pension of £60 (equivalent to £40,600 in 2019),[and the remaining 12 monks shared £54 10s. 6d.



The first Abbot was Robert and of those which followed of which the dates area known included Galfridus around 1304 followed by 11 others some of the Abbots as was common are buried within  the Abbey Church itself some within the Transept Crossing and are still there today under the floor of the Great Hall!

The last Abbot John Toker or Tucker 1528-1539 after the Dissolution of the Monasteries became the Rector of St Andrews Church Buckland Monachorum where he was joined by two of his former  monks.


The Abbey and the Abbey Church before the monastery was dissolved was a little different to what we view today and recent archaeological research has revealed  a cloister and a grange and associated monastic structures some of which did survive including the former Abbots Lodge together with the brew and cider houses. Also surviving but not part of the range was the Great Tithe Barn.















Buckland Abbey after the Dissolution of the Monastery

Some very notable Tudor Gentlemen were to help both purchase the granges of Buckland together with the Abbey remains and set about creating a Tudor Mansion using the Abbey Church itself for in1541 Henry VIII sold Buckland to Sir Richard Greynvile the Elder(Sewer of the Chamber to Henry VIII, poet, soldier, last Earl Marshall of Calais the last remaining Cinque Ports) who, working with his son Sir Roger Greynvile (Gentleman of the Privy Chamber of Henry VIII, Captain of the ill-fated, Mary Rose began to convert the abbey into a residence, renaming it Buckland Greynvile. 

Sir Roger died in 1545 when the Mary Rose heeled over in a sudden squall (Whilst joining the English Fleet off Portsmouth in the narrow strait who were engaging with the French Fleet) He left a son aged 3, also named Richard Greynvile who completed the conversion in 1575–76, the date for which is inscribed above the fire place in the Great Hall (former Transept Crossing).

It was the Greynville (later Grenville) who added the Tudor Kitchens and Dairy and some further apartments to the South. The original monastic kitchens were always within a separate building.

After being owned by the family for 40 years, Buckland Greynvile was sold by Sir Richard the Younger to two intermediaries in 1581, who unknown to Grenyvile, were working for Drake, whom he despised.

Drake lived in the house for 15 years, but did very little to the mansion itself. He confined himself to other works and undertakings much of his sea exploits are well known but he was at one time Mayor of Plymouth and also a Cornish MP.

He died at sea when leading a fleet on its way to Panama in a planned attempt to capture it from the Spanish. He did not die in battle but the fleet itself was decimated by fever from which Drake also succumbed. Drake was buried in a lead coffin at sea just off the Spanish Maine.

As he died childless he left his estate to his younger brother. It remained in the Drake line through his collateral descendants including the very last in the line Dowager Lady Elisabeth Fuller-Elliot-Drake, who died on 9 May 1937. She left a life interest to Captain Richard Owen Tapps Gervis Meyrick. In 1946 he sold it to Captain Arthur Rodd, who presented the property to the National Trust in 1947.

The Abbey after Francis Drake was largely left untouched until the Georgian period when a good deal remodelling of the interior was undertaken. Unfortunately much of this remodelling and including the former Tudor long gallery remodelled later was lost in a fire of 1938.


St Andrews Church and the Drake Family

There are links with Drake and his descendants at St Andrews Church, The Drake Chapel now houses the vault of the Drake Family members, The Drake Pew which was formerly in the Drake Chapel contains a carving from part of his coat of arms.(This can be seen best over the fireplace in long gallery of the abbey). The Drakes also left the arms of Charles 11 over the former chapel in 1660 to mark the Restoration of the Monarchy.

Within the village of Buckland they also had constructed an Alms House.

Tithe Barne.jpg
Abbey Great Tithe Barn.jpg

The walls of the nave and presbytery existed almost to roof height with the remains of some window arches incorporated into the later structure. The transepts were each of two bays, aisled on their east sides to contain two chapels. In the southern chapel of the north transept the ribbed vaulted ceiling remained intact. The Nave itself was 2 possibly 3 bays longer at the time of the dissolution.

During the years that followed much of the Abbey was used to make an Elizabethan Mansion removing the 2 Transepts and shortening the original nave.  

The picture to the right shows the crenelated central Tower we can see where the South Transept was as the arch to which is still in view along with the roof line above. The transept was taken down to give light to the floors created within the Abbey Church.

Abbey Transept Arch.jpg

The Abbey at the Time of the Dissolution

Transept Crossing now The Great Chamber.

The picture shows the Great Hall as it is today it is largely unaltered since it was created. Although the date over fireplace 1576 the room was left unfinished as it was to have received a coloured ceiling along with the Grenyville family coats of arms to all the plastered shields 3 of which can be seen in the picture.

So Drake and his family inheritors did little to this room. This was one of the few rooms from this period to have survived the fire of 1938 which gutted most of the old nave and its roof.

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