Bruern Abbey: past and present

The Garden Fete Bruern Abbey 1911

Most residents of the Wychwoods are familiar with Bruern Abbey, located close to the Evenlode river and the London to Worcester railway.  The site has a long history but one or two names in the past will be well known to the present generation.

Back in 1147, a Cistercian abbey was built on the site.  Here the so-called ‘white monks’ carried out their Christian duties, duties which began each day at 2:00 a.m. Then, together with the lay brothers, the main role was looking after a large flock of Cotswold sheep.  The over reliance on falling income from wool sales and the growing costs of providing hospitality caused serious intermittent difficulties in the economic fortunes of the abbey. After a period of corruption and misrule by the Abbot in the 1530s, Bruern Abbey was surrendered to King Henry VIII in 1536, a victim of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

A succession of owners took over. The monastic buildings were replaced by a large private manor house and the former granges became leased farms.  Between 1593 and 1781, the Cope family were the lords of Bruern. In the early morning of 7th January 1764 the manor house was destroyed in just three hours by a devastating blaze, leaving just the blackened outer walls. The rebuilt house was let to a farmer, Richard Harris. Other prominent tenants took on the leases of other properties associated with Bruern such as Bruern Grange. One of these, Tangley, was the location of the infamous and unsuccessful burglary in the late 18th century by the Dunsden brothers, Tom, Dick and Harry whose bodies hung in chains for some years from the Gallows Oak just off the Shipton to Burford Road.

The most significant rebuilding had to wait until the 1880s when the property was refurbished by local builders, Groves of Milton.  Another familiar name, Michael Astor, bought the abbey in 1947. In 1970 the size of the property was reduced to make it more manageable.

A new period in the abbey’s life began in 1982 when it was bought by an American lawyer, Stirling Stover, who converted the building into a boys’ preparatory school, housing up to 140 boys and gaining a reputation for its teaching of dyslexic youngsters.

Another modern name featured when the abbey changed hands in the first years of the 21st century, purchased by Sir Anthony Bamford of Daylesford, his name associated with the worldwide firm of JCB as well as the notable enterprises in Daylesford itself. In 2012, the current owners Sir Michael Bishop, Baron Glendonbrook and his partner Martin Ritchie bought the house and have since carried out extensive refurbishment of the house and gardens.

 Bob Forster

August-September 2021