Forde Abbey, Dorset
South facade of Forde Abbey, Dorset
In the borderlands of Dorset, Somerset and Devon, Forde Abbey was a cistercian house founded by Richard Fitzbaldwin in 1136 with monks from Waverley (Surrey), the first cistercian foundation in England. Its first location was at Brightley in Devon, but the house shortly afterwards moved in 1141 to a site close to the River Axe in the parish of Thorncombe. In 1171, monks from Forde founded a daughter house at Bindon, also in Dorset. Forde's most famous abbot was
Abbot Baldwin (Balduini de Forda), abbot from 1168-1181, who later went on to become Bishop of Worcester and Archbishop of Canterbury. Famous for a dispute over property and privileges with the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury, Baldwin died whilst on Crusade at the siege of Acre in 1190. As Archbishop, Baldwin had spent time in 1188 travelling throughout Wales, preaching the Third Crusade - a journey that has been immortalised in the entertaining Itinerarium Cambriae of Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis). One of Baldwin's most famous successors was the writer John of Ford, abbot of the daughter house from 1186, then of Forde itself from 1191 to 1214. He was the author of a life of the well-known local hermit, Wulfric of Haselbury (the Vita Wulfrici Anchoretae Haselbergiae). John also produced a number of theological works, including a continuation of the series of sermon-meditations on the Song of Songs that had been begun by St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
Some of the surviving monastic buildings (e.g. the chapter house
and dorter) date from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. However,
shortly before the Dissolution, Abbot Thomas Chard (1521-1539) began rebuilding
the monastery. Pevsner (p. 210) notes that this was "on a scale to
justify the Reformation and the Dissolution." A new abbot's lodging
was built, and part of the cloister rebuilt. Pevsner writes that Chard's
"princely great hall is preceded by a porch of equal pretence. It is
a tower so elaborate that it must be described motif for motif. An
entrance with a basket arch leads into a fan-vaulted lobby. Above is a
two-storied oriel, each tier with six narrow lights and a transom
At the Dissolution, the abbey passed to Henry Pollard, and by the
seventeenth century it was owned by Edmund Prideaux, Oliver Cromwell's
Solicitor General. Prideaux carried out an extensive re-modelling of the
abbey buildings. He retained parts of the medieval abbey and Abbot
Chard's additions, but remodelled the west range and abbot's
lodgings considerably. The RCHME (p. 240) notes that some of this work has
been ascribed to Inigo Jones, but that it would have been mostly executed
after his death.
The house is open to the public on certain days throughout the summer,
and the gardens are open all year round.
Forde Abbey, Dorset
- R. G. B., "Forde Abbey cloister." Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries, Vol. 20, no. 174, September 1932, pp. 250-253 + plate.
- Baldwin of Forde, Balduini de Forda Opera: Sermones de Commendatione Fidei, ed. David N. Bell (Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaeualis, 99). Turnhout: Brepols, 1991.
- Baldwin of Forde, Spiritual tractates, tr. David N. Bell (Cistercian Fathers series, 38; 41), Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1986 (2 vols.)
- Baldwin of Forde, The commendation of faith, tr. Jane Patricia Freeland and David N. Bell (Cistercian Fathers series, 59), Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 2000.
- H. Brakspear, "Forde Abbey." Archaeological Journal, 70, 1913,
- M. M. C. Calthrop, In: The Victoria history of the County of
Dorset, Vol. 2, edited by William Page. London: Archibald Constable,
- Hilary Costello and Christopher J. Holdsworth, (eds.), A gathering of friends: the learning and spirituality of John of Forde (Cistercian Studies series, no. 161), Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1991.
- A. Clapham and A. R. Duffy, Forde Abbey. Archaeological
Journal, 107, 1950, pp. 119-120.
- Peter Fergusson, Architecture of solitude: Cistercian abbeys in
twelfth-century England. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press,
1984, p. 125, plate 109.
- Steven Hobbs, ed., The cartulary of Forde Abbey. Somerset
Record Society, v. 85. Taunton: Somerset Record Society, 1998.
- C. J. Holdsworth, "John of Ford and English Cistercian writing, 1167-1214." Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., Vol. 11 (1961), pp. 117-136.
- C. J. Holdsworth, "John of Ford and the Interdict." English Historical Review, Vol. 78, no. 309 (1963), pp. 705-714. [Includes an extract from John of Forde's commentary on the Song of Songs, from Balliol College, Oxford, MS. 24]
- C. J. Holdsworth, In: Die Zisterzienser: Ordensleben zwischen Ideal und Wirchlichkeit. Ergänzungsband, hrsg. Kaspar Elm and Peter Joerissen (Schriften des Rheinischen Museumsamtes, Nr. 18), Cologne: Rheinland-Verlag; Wienand Verlag, 1982.
- Christopher Holdsworth, "Baldwin, c.1125-1190." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 3, pp. 442-445. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
- Christopher Holdsworth, "Forde [Ford], John of (c.1150-1214)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 20, p. 350 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
- John Hutchins, The history and antiquities of the County of
Dorset, 3rd ed., edited by William Shipp and James Whitworth Hodson.
Westminster: John Bowyer Nichols, 1861-1874.
- Arthur Mee, (ed.), The King's England: Dorset - Thomas Hardy's county.
London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1939, pp. 105-106.
- Alan Miller, The monasteries of Dorset. Bournemouth:
Albemarle Books, 1999.
- John Newman and Nikolaus Pevsner, The buildings of England:
Dorset. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972, pp. 208-211.
- Christopher Norton and David Park, eds., Cistercian art and
architecture in the British Isles. Cambridge: Cambridge University
- Daniel J. Pring, "Thomas Chard, D.D., last abbot of Ford." Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, Vol. 73, 1927, pp. 29-34.
- David Robinson, The Cistercian abbeys of Britain: far from the
concourse of men. London: Batsford, 1998.
- John Roper, Forde Abbey, near Chard, Somerset: an illustrated
guide to the former Cistercian monastery, now the home of the Roper
- J. B. Rowe, Cistercian houses in Devon: Forde. Transactions of the
Devonshire Association, 10, 1878, pp. 349-370.
- Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England), An inventory
of historical monuments in the County of Dorset, Vol. 1, West Dorset.
London: HMSO, 1952, pp. 240-247, plates. 185-201.
- F. W. Weaver, "Thomas Chard, D.D., last abbot of Ford." Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, Vol. 38, 1891, pp. 1-14.
- David H. Williams, The Cistercians in the early Middle Ages.
Leominster: Gracewing, 1998.
Other Web sites:
More information on Forde Abbey and Gardens:
Forde Abbey, Dorset: Remains of cloister, with the old monastic chapter house converted into a chapel
Forde Abbey, Dorset: The monastic dorter (monks' dormitory)
Churches Index Page
Maintained by Michael Day,
Last updated: 3 June 2008.