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Luke Honey | Decorative Antiques, Chess, Backgammon & Games

The Story of Nashdom Abbey

April 23, 2013

 

I've had a thing about Nashdom Abbey for as long as I can remember. One my earliest memories- I must have been about five years old- is being taken there by my father to have tea with the monks (it was an Anglo-Catholic Benedictine monastary until 1987) and pulling up in the family Renault outside the rather grand (but austere) porticoed entrance which framed, in turn, a Tuscan style loggia.

 

Nashdom Abbey, Buckinghamshire

 

Nashdom House lies just outside Burnham Beeches, Buckinghamshire; about twenty five miles to the West of London. It was built by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1905-9 for the Russian aristocrat, HH Prince Alexis Dolgorouki and his wife, Francis Fleetwood Wilson, an English heiress from Northamptonshire. They married at the tender age of 50; touchingly it seems to have been a genuine love match. "Nashdom" means "Our Home" in Russian. Like its better known neighbour, Cliveden, Nashdom was really more of a glorified villa- created for fashionable house parties and languid river excursions up The Thames: a retreat from the smoke and chaos of London, rather than as a genuine country house and estate in the old tradition. 

 

H. H. Prince Alexis Dolgorouki

 

Despite its size, it was supposed to have been relatively economical to run. I assume the house would have been crammed with all the latest Edwardian gadgets. And what a splendid house it is!  If anyone is looking for a house that illustrates Edwardian confidence and bravado, this, surely is going to be it. It's got more than a whiff of The Great Gatsby about it, hasn't it?

 

Nashdom Abbey, Buckinghamshire
 

After Alexis's death in 1915, Francis decamped to her Mediterranean villa, where she continued her career as a generous and gregarious hostess. After the First World War, the monks moved in to Nashdom. From 1986, the house was left empty- the interior derelict; a place no doubt haunted by the memory of those Edwardian house parties past. In 1997, the house, inevitably, became luxury flats and apartments for the BMW set.

 

Postscript

A big thank you to all those readers who have bothered to leave comments and send me more information about Nashdom and its fascinating past. I have been amazed by the response. And in the early summer of 2018, I received the following email from a reader, Lawrence, which, I am sure, will be of interest to anybody intrigued  by the history of Nashdom Abbey. In his own words:

 

"Here are a few snippets  of some very secret history on Nashdom, not revealed until now as only I knew…until now.

Nashdom’s Rev. Dom Robert Petit Pierre became my unlikely friend and travelling companion from the hot summer of 1976. He’d walk to Taplow station many weekday mornings, catch a train to Slough then wait for the fast one to London’s West End.

I’d be on Platform 5 too, just in from Windsor. Me 26, undergraduate on way to Uni doing a BA, he (in 60’s maybe) as Britain’s Master Exorcist, on way to Robert Hale publishers in West End, for editorial sessions  on his forthcoming book ‘Exorcising Devils’.

 We were an unlikely pair, he in long black cloak and cassock, barefoot, battered brown sandals and brief case to match, no hair, pebble glasses and bit of stoop; me hippyish looking, long hair with cut down Levi’s and flip flops.

The first time we spoke, he got on the train behind me and said ‘Are you OK now?’ I guess he sensed that I was troubled. I was, having just been parted from a girl who was caught up in all sort of rubbish to do with Tarot Cards. Anyway, we struck up the first of many conversation that always took place from Slough’s Platform 5, through to Oxford Circus.

One morning, standing together, on the same platform at Oxford Circus but waiting for separate trains, I noticed ‘The Exorcist’ film poster had been put on the wall behind us. I asked Dom Robert what he thought and he scoffed that such movies served the purpose of stimulating sexual instincts and won’t forget his main words; ‘The real thing is more frightening’ .

Funnily enough though (and he did have great sense of humour) he added that whenever he was called to do an exorcism, he usually deduced the problem  was more one of mental illness, mostly psychosis, but ‘I perform an exorcism anyway because it won’t do them any harm and usually helps’.

I’ve never by the way bothered to see the film. Ho hum. Dom Robert  also used the term ‘little devils’. I wasn’t sure what he meant, but don’t think it was to describe troublesome spiritual entities, but more as a neat term to describe so called poltergeists, especially when objects moved around without explanation through psycho kinesis.

He said the Astors called him up to Cliveden frequently via a shady walk along Parliament Lane. Apparently, they reckoned Cliveden was troubled by poltergeists. (probably when  Nancy Astor had put plenty gin down her neck).

We lost contact but not before he’d agreed to write an article entitled ‘Do ghosts really exist’, for a youth community magazine I was editing at the time. I still have the letter from Dom Robert to this day, committing to do the article.

Years passed, the monks left, Nashdom became derelict and as I was living nearby, found out. The place had been ravaged by local oiks of its many fixtures  and even a witches' coven were meeting in the 17 acres of ground and disturbed Dom Roberts grave. I told the remaining monks who by then had moved to Speen and I think they tidied things up.

Later, in the middle of the property crash aftermath and contrary to any other speculation, Nashdom was sold for a mere £450,000 in an auction. We all know that since then it has become  a valuable financial investment.

BUT, before all that, with a blessing from the senior monk at Speen, I went into Nashdom and recovered some valuable items from the very deep basement, plus hidden parts of the grounds. One such item I acquired was a wood carving of a figure that I placed in the garden of a local Taplow pub, the Oak and Saw. I agreed with the pub that I’ll retain ownership , even though the figure is with them. There is small plaque I put on the front entitled ‘Mystery Monk’, but in truth, it was early stage carving of a new Christ figure to go in the graveyard at Nashdom. I haven’t been to the pub for a while, but guess they still have the item in the garden. I also recovered and safely stored a large plaster moulding of the so called Dolgorouki coat of arms that is at the centre of the top of the building.

Another curious piece I retained from the dusty basement is a beautifully handwritten wine stock list, entitled BINO (Russian for wine). Probably written by Alex. Anyway, this is just the thin end of the wedge when it comes to Nashdom’s secret history.

The one thing I haven’t revealed here is that when Fairbriar homes who bought, renovated and sold off all the Nashdom apartments, I called in just out of curiosity to see what they had done in all their stud walled apartments and was astounded to hear that one of the sales agents  had just been spooked when going into one of the show apartments to discover that all the furnishings had been trashed, despite there supposedly being nobody who could have got in there.

I nearly passed comment that maybe it was the drunken dissatisfied ghost of Nancy Astor, but thought no, don’t bother, they’d never believe it even if it was true.”

Lawrence ⓒ 2018

Nashdom Abbey, Buckinghamshire

 

Comments

My father use to live here look after and maintain the whole place long before it was made in to luxury flats.We use to have some really awesome days and nights there even the odd rave or barbi that even made the local papers.God we had such good times there so many stories.

Posted by James Hawkes on February 23, 2018

I have been the Estate Manager here at Nashdom for very nearly fifteen years. It’s lovely to read the stories of visitors and friends alike.
Many vistors over the years have either studied here or been members of the Benedictine community.they often want to see the graveyard.

If anyone would like more information, or would like to send copies of any pictures, or details of Nashdom’s wonderful past, I’d be very happy to help or receive.
esm@nashdomabbeyestate.com

Posted by Lawrence May on September 20, 2017

I remember back in the 1970’s visiting Nashdom Abbey with Holy Trinity church vicar Rev John Maxwell Kerr from Windsor and a couple of friends. I remember Dom Cuthbert and Don Dunston. John Hatton, I have a copy of your news report from 3 July 1987, I moved away and one of my friends sent a photocopy of your article and still have it in the Nashdom Booklet with great photos about the Abbey and life of the monks. Your last paragraph reads as follows: “Forty Years after St Benedict died the monastery he founded was destroyed it was this misfortune that forced his followers to move to Rome, and become the influential force that they were over the next 1300 years. Who knows but what the move of the monks of Nashdom may not result in the same? “ I read that the Monks have sold Elmore Abbey where they move to 1987 in 2010, I think they were down to four monks and some of them were over eighty years of age.

Posted by Keith Garner on September 13, 2017

Many thanks Alan Robinson. I did find it!
You have aroused my interest in this famous anglo-catholic priest.
Do you have any idea of the titles of his books and where was his parish?

Posted by Dudley Rickard on July 04, 2017

After meeting Dom Wilfred (who later became Abbot, I believe) in Brighton, I was invited, along with a friend Terry, to spend some time at the Abbey in 1967. We were part of the hippy culture of the time and were allowed to take a supply of (legal) THC, liquid cannabis, with us. We stayed in a guest house but ate with the monks, in silence, as one brother read aloud.
We spent many happy days talking with Dom Wilfred about the many differences and similarities in our lives, and also meditating in the woods while very stoned.

Posted by Nick Williams on June 19, 2017

Dudley Rickard: maybe you will find this ! G.A.C.Whatton was famous anglo-catholic priest, who was never a member of the Nashdom community but was an Oblate (associate) and was probably staying there. He might have been a novice at one time but I don’t think ever a monk. He was a parish priest and wrote sevreral books. He was still alive in the late 1970s.

Posted by Alan Robinson on May 07, 2017

We remember Nashdom so well- I was only allowed to use the restroom behind the Altar and look through the windows being a woman! Remember fondly the Monk who took me on the walk around the Monks cemetery. Our friend was Dom David he used to come to stay with us on furlough.Sadly we lost touch with him does anyone know what happened to him?

Posted by Sue Austen on January 05, 2017

I remember Nashdom very well.

I was born in Cliveden Red Cross hospital, and lived in Burnham. During my younger years, we would get into the garden to get their apples. The monks would often chase us, but their clothing gave us an advantage, and we escaped each time. :-)

In later years, I was a Burnham Retained Fireman, and attended a fire at the abbey. But, regret I do not recall what was involved.

Posted by Patrick Carty on November 08, 2016

I visited the Abbey in 1965 as part of my Confirmation classes. I was aged 12. I seem to recall that they made Communion wine which was used in our Church St Paul’s Egham Hythe.

Posted by Crispin Lancaster on July 15, 2016

I visited the Abbey in 1965 as part of my Confirmation classes. I was aged 12. I seem to recall that they made Communion wine which was used in our Church St Paul’s Egham Hythe.

Posted by Crispin Lancaster on July 15, 2016

My connection is through my great aunt Miriam’s son, Lionel Marshall Walker, who entered the abbey after her death in 1965, and was known as Brother Leo. He remained there for several years, leaving just before he was due take his final vows, whereupon he resumed his previous post with Boots Pharmaceuticals in Nottingham, remarried in 1972, retired early, went on a world cruise aboard the S.S. Canberra, and wrote a book about monastic life, Brothers of Habit, which was published in 1981.
I have yet to read the book. However, I knew the man, himself, and his rather autocratic role, in our family very well….. and, like my grandma, his aunt, found this chapter of his life odd indeed. Grandma, as his next of kin, had to give her ‘permission’ for him to enter Nashdom Abbey, but she recounted to me that, although she did give her approval, she made her real feelings, to the abbot of the time, very clear.
One day I will read the book….. and add it to my family’s history.

Posted by Hilary Drysdale on May 29, 2016

Further to previous note, I now remember the Brother I met and remember so fondly was Dom Dunstan.

Posted by Vivienne England on May 21, 2016

I remember visiting Nashdom Abbey several times in about the late 1970s to 1980s via our own Church, at that time in Hillingdon Middx. We spent a day there, attended Service and had a wonderful and huge lunch. I made contact with one of the Brothers, who had been in Sheffield (my home) in the postwar years. Trouble is I canr remember his name. He was a dear man and so full of life and fun. Told me he had some very funny looks when he joined the queue in the Post Office for his retirement pension – of course fully vested as every day.

Posted by Vivienne England on May 21, 2016

I have lived in this splendid building for three years. As busy company runners and designers, my wife and I had been looking for such a place for a long time. We love country living, the Thames river and the magnificent Cliveden House where my wife is a member of, but we have to commute to London daily and use Heathrow often, and we want our home to be very unique architecturally, within a good sized community of neighbors, etc. etc. People didn’t think we would find such a place, but we made it.
No matter how late we come home, or how tired after a long day, Nashdom will always fresh us up, because it is “Our Home”.

Posted by Jun Huang on April 18, 2016

I have a direct link with Nashdom Abbey. My maiden name is Gill and my grandparents were in service at Nashdom and my father was born there (or in Taplow at least)
Grandad was the Head Gardener and planted many of the plants and trees in the gardens. Grandma was a house maid. She told stories of climbing and sitting in the monkey puzzle tree watching the fabulous house parties. When the Abbey was sold on to the Benedictine monks my grandparents moved on to be in service with the Cornwallis West family at Newlands Manor. When they were both in their 70’s we took them back to Nashdom for tea with the monks. I remember Grandma asking to use the bathroom and gaily waving directions aside to ‘I know where it is young man’ !!! My Grandparents were in service all their lives as was my Great Grandad who was Butler at Ruthin Castle, also owned by the Cornwallis West family. I know there was a lovely picture of Princess Daisy of Pless which my Grandparents had, but this has sadly gone missing after so many years. I treasure the memories and stories passed on to me by my family.

Posted by Marilyn Miller on March 09, 2016

I should have said that my first retreat to Nashdom Abbey was in 1977 not 1997!

Posted by Andrew Gilmour on February 10, 2016

I went on my first religious retreat to Nashdom Abbey in 1997 having been introduced to the place by Dom Robert Petipierre, a learned monk of the community, who visited my college to speak on exorcism. He had been a member of the Anglican churches commission on that subject. He was like many of the community wise and self effacing as the Benedictine tradition fosters.
At the time there was at least 20 monks in the community, who cared for the property, made incense and offered spiritual direction.
The community underwent some upheaval after the Abbot at the time converted to Roman Catholicism. Some monks followed his lead, while others remained.
I continued to find it a sanctuary of prayer until the community left for Elmore.
In respect of the building guests had their own guest wing, although they had free range of the garden, chapel and refectory.
On one occasion I remember being invited to have tea in the monks drawing room, which seemed quite grand and also visiting their very well stocked library.
I still have two booklets about the community with photos.

Posted by Andrew Gilmour on February 02, 2016

I wrote a fairly lengthy feature for the Slough Observer about the place in 1987 when the move to Speen, near Newbury was announced. As I remember, there were ten monks left at that point.

I no longer have a copy of it, but I remember spending a full day with the community.

It was founded, if that is the right word, by a couple of monks who decided not to convert to Rome in 1913, when the rest of their brethren did so.

Those who did convert are now at Prinknash, on the Stroud to Cheltenham Road, where I shall be going to Mass in the morning. They, too are a declining community, only 12 of them are left.

When they celebrated their centenary, a couple of years ago, one of their guests was the sole remaining Nashdom monk, now living in Salisbury.

Posted by John Hatton on September 19, 2015

In the late 1950s my wife and I went to the solemn
profession of s school friend, who became Dom Gregory Silver. Later I took our daughter to visit Nashdom. She was 3 or 4 years old, but was not allowed into most of the Abbey We were fed tea and cakes!

Posted by Geoff Crome on July 17, 2015

In the late 1950s my wife and went to Nashdom for the solemn profession of a friend from schooldays who became Dom Gregory Silver. About 1960 I visited the Abbey with my daughter, then aged 3 or 4. She was not allowed into most of the building, but we were fed tea and cakes!

Posted by Geeoff Crome on July 15, 2015

In the late 1950s my wife and went to Nashdom for the solemn profession of a friend from schooldays who became Dom Gregory Silver. About 1960 I visited the Abbey with my daughter, then aged 3 or 4. She was not allowed into most of the building, but we were fed tea and cakes!

Posted by Geeoff Crome on July 15, 2015

I worked for a developer called Beachmount, based in Langley, in 1990. Three of us from the company conducted a full survey of the place before the recession forced the abandonment of the project. I still have all my old drawings and elevations of the place somewhere here

Posted by john geraghty on June 05, 2015

When I was a schoolboy in the 40s,I stayed with my grandparents during school holidays near Nashdom Abbey. They lived at Abbey Cottage,which belonged to the Abbey.I remember that it had a beautifully kept garden,and that there was a large religious statue in the far corner of the garden.I remember walking to the Abbey on Sundays for Matins,and looking down on the Brothers below,and the Bradford Shooting brake that was used to collect goods;and visitors from Taplow station.It was generally driven by Dom David,a south-Walian with a friendly, humorous manner! He would often take me with him on these journeys. Our connection with the Nashdom was that my Grandfather was Walter Collett, whose brother was Dom Martin Collett,who was Abbott; and I have that surname as one of my christian names. I have a few photographs taken at Abbey Cottage,which I look at from time to time,and they bring back very happy memories of that period of my life.

Posted by John Saunders on January 15, 2015

Thank you for setting up this site, it’s really interesting reading about the history of Nashdom. I currently live at Nashdom – it’s actually a lovely community- not as you put it the BMW set. There is a huge spread of age ranges from very young families to quite elderly residents and we all get on well together and organise several events a year such as bell ringing or fireworks. The graveyard is still there and the grounds are well cared for.

Posted by Clare Smith on March 24, 2014

I remember Nashdom Abbey very well.As children my brother and I lived close to the Abbey and were taken there every year before Christmas to gather sweet chestnuts from the spanish chestnut trees which grew in the beautiful grounds.

Posted by MarielizB on February 23, 2014

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