‘The Great Stare’

‘The Great Stare’ 150 150 Milton Abbey Church and Landscape

The project aims to restore the Abbey, revitalise its internationally significant Capability Brown landscape surroundings, reveal the rich history of the site, provide visitor facilities, and provide activities and events which will involve visitors and volunteers.

Development funding of £105,000 was awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2015 to help a partnership of the Forestry Commission, Milton Abbey School and the Diocese of Salisbury, under the leadership of the Diocese, to progress its plans to apply for a full grant of £760,000 in due course towards the estimated overall project cost of just over £1m. A grant of up to £240,000 has been offered by Viridor Credits towards the repair and conservation element of the Abbey church.

The project receives its name from the lips of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, the renowned landscape artist who created more than 200 gardens and parks surrounding some of the finest houses and estates in the country – including Milton Abbey. He referred to his dramatic flight of steps between the Abbey and St Catherine’s Chapel as ‘The Great Stair’. Subsequently, he was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the Milton landscape that he called the whole site ‘The Great Stare’.

The project tackles essential repair and conservation work to the Abbey church, completes the first phase of restoration of the historic landscape and includes a long-term strategic plan for its future. The project will also see new visitor facilities, visitor car parking, improved access and signage and interpretation work in St Catherine’s Chapel.
Another focus of the project is the development of an on-going programme of exhibitions, events and activities for visitors, schools and volunteers. The work opens up an exciting new chapter in the 1,000 year story of the Abbey.

Michael Wood’s BBC Four series on King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons brought Milton Abbey and St Catherine’s Chapel at Milton Abbas into the forefront of public consciousness as witnessing the origins of the English kingdom and the English language. The site is not just a magnificent collection of Grade I Listed buildings, a Registered Historic Park, Scheduled Monument and Conservation area – it is an extraordinary landmark in the heart of Dorset defined by its unique setting, its history, and the lives of the people associated with it (King Athelstan, King John, the Benedictine abbots, ‘Capability’ Brown, Augustus Pugin and Thomas Hardy among them). The startling view of the site from the Hilton approach is one of the finest in Dorset; that from the Chapel down into the valley towards the Abbey is like looking into the cradle of England.

The Abbey shares its picturesque setting with Milton Abbey School, a small co-educational boarding and day school which celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2015. Referring to the crucial role which the Abbey has historically played in life at Milton Abbey school, Headmaster, Magnus Bashaarat, says, “We have the unique privilege of sharing our site with Milton Abbey church, and the Abbey remains an integral part of School life to this day. As a partner, we are proud to support this exciting project which will protect the future of this most valued landmark.”

In the last 60 years alone, thousands of people have delighted in Milton Abbey church – students, worshippers, local people, dignitaries, musicians, scholars and visitors from all over the world. Almost all have been stunned by the breathtaking setting of the church, its iridescent honey-coloured interior, and its quiet spiritual atmosphere. The landscape is recognised as one of the ten finest produced by Brown anywhere in England.

The Bishop of Salisbury commented “This is an inspiring project to mark an important anniversary. Much more significant is its potential to create a long-term sustainable renewed life for one of the most exquisite and significant places in England.”

John Lockwood, CEO of Viridor Credits, said “Milton Abbey is among the most important heritage projects that Viridor Credits has funded. There are few places that match it for national importance, history and beauty, and I am pleased that Viridor Credits is able to support the efforts of the Diocese to restore this remarkable place.”

2015 has seen the development phase of the project where many ideas have been explored and woven together. It is fitting that 2016, the Capability Brown Festival year, witnesses the beginning of the delivery phase when the vision becomes reality.

First to get going will be the conservation and repair works which will begin to address the frail condition of the built fabric of the Abbey Church. By the Summer of 2016, the Capability Brown Festival displays and events will be in full swing, and key players in the fulfilment and purpose of the project – community volunteers and participants – will, we trust, be increasing in numbers and making their own unique mark on this unique project.

Heritage Lottery Fund continues to examine and guide us on the many complex aspects of the project and, hopefully, by the Summer we will have passed its rigorous testing and the ongoing delivery years will have the HLF seal of approval. A challenging time for us all, but no more than can be expected at this historic moment in the life of this internationally important site.