At risk: the 1,000 year old landmark that's failing to attract enough visitors to fund repairs

At risk: the 1,000 year old landmark that's failing to attract enough visitors to fund repairs

Picture: Daniel Rushall

Picture: Daniel Rushall

First published in News by

A beautiful building set within a breathtaking landscape is at risk.

Deteriorating Milton Abbey requires more than £300,000 to fix its roof, which was seriously damaged in the recent winter storms.

The iconic 1,000-year-old building, near Dorchester, is failing to attract enough visitors to generate revenue for the required repair and restoration work.

Things have got so bad that the abbey, nestled next to independent Milton Abbey School, is now on English Heritage’s At Risk register.

Although a bid for £700,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund could be approved in September, a boost in visitor numbers will be needed to build new facilities and make the abbey and landscape financially sustainable in the long term.

The ancient abbey is set within a 300 acre landscape designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, and is thought to be one of the top 10 ‘Capability’ schemes in the country.

The perfectly framed vision of moving hills and flowing lake looking down into the valley towards the abbey is described as ‘looking into the cradle of England’.

The Earl and Countess of Wessex recently visited to hear details of the work needed, which will involve repairing and restoring the guttering, walls, ceilings, windows and floor of the abbey.

But just why are visitors staying away?

Michael McAvoy, head of the abbey’s fundraising committee, said: “The building isn’t about to fall down but it has a lot of problems requiring about £300,000 to be spent on it.

“The reason why it hasn’t been dealt with is because there’s limited revenue coming to this place because we have very limited visitor numbers.

“Our problem is that people don’t know the abbey is here.”

Antiques Roadshow expert Paul Atterbury, who lives in Dorset, recently unveiled a new exhibition focusing on the history of the abbey and Augustus Pugin, the designer of the great stained glass window in the abbey.

It would appear as though the building has no problem attracting international visitors.

Hendrik Mesman and Henk Huisman were visiting from Antwerp, Belgium.

Despite the abbey’s hushed and seemingly formal grandeur, pianist Henk was invited to have a go on the abbey’s piano.

Hendrik said: “We’re staying at a B&B in Marnhull because we’re here for the Boogie Woogie Festival in Sturminster Newton.

“Our landlady recommended Milton Abbey to us. It’s very interesting to see and I like the fact that it is often used for services and concerts.”

The visitors’ book records visitors from as far afield as Australia, Singapore, Bangladesh, New Zealand and the USA. Among the comments are ‘larger and grander than anticipated’, ‘a hidden gem off the beaten track’ ‘an unexpected delight hidden by the school’ and ‘an absolutely breathtaking place’.

Cynthia Smith, visiting from Northamptonshire having moved from Christchurch, New Zealand, wrote: “This is England, how beautiful and quiet this valley is.”

One visitor, with the initials JQ, wrote: “My darling Chloe sang to me in the abbey and I was blown away.”

Michael, who has written a book on Milton Abbas and Milton Abbey, said there is a lot of work ahead for the abbey’s awareness campaign.

“We need to make people more aware of the importance of the place and we’re just starting off this long term process. Hopefully we will complete the renovation scheme, including greatly improved visitor facilities, in time for Capability Brown 300 in 2016 when 300 years of his designs will be celebrated,” he said.

Even further into the future, Milton Abbey supporters want to create a cafeteria and longer term dedicated car parking. The abbey seems to hold particular resonance with couples. Some of them get married there and return each year for their anniversary.

Natalie, Dean and family wrote: “Myself Natalie and my husband Dean were married in this beautiful abbey last year by Ray – such a lovely, kind man.

“We will be coming back here every year because we have such wonderful memories. We now have a beautiful baby boy to complete our family with Jessica.

“This place means so much to us and our future happiness.

“Words can’t thank you enough.”

  • The Pugin and 1000 Years of Milton Abbey exhibitions will be open until August 31, daily from 10am to 5pm People who feel passionately about the abbey can help by joining the Friends of Milton Abbey on its website, see miltonabbey.org

Comments (17)

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12:35pm Sun 17 Aug 14

samsmith says...

It is a lovely church in a lovely setting, but being off the beaten track it'll be difficult to pull visitors in... Maybe they need to think outside the box. Would be a good filming location as it's out the way and wouldn't be over run by people getting in the way... If they got a few successful films using it, then that could bring in visitors...
It is a lovely church in a lovely setting, but being off the beaten track it'll be difficult to pull visitors in... Maybe they need to think outside the box. Would be a good filming location as it's out the way and wouldn't be over run by people getting in the way... If they got a few successful films using it, then that could bring in visitors... samsmith
  • Score: 9

12:39pm Sun 17 Aug 14

H2o-hara says...

If people don't know the abbey is there then perhaps it helps to try advertising and promoting through the tourist board . If a bid for £700,000 is being made in September then it may be wise to wait for the result after the bid has been put through .
If people don't know the abbey is there then perhaps it helps to try advertising and promoting through the tourist board . If a bid for £700,000 is being made in September then it may be wise to wait for the result after the bid has been put through . H2o-hara
  • Score: 5

12:58pm Sun 17 Aug 14

royeveleigh says...

People don't go to place like this because it costs an absolute fortune to visit.. entrance fees, parking fees, overpriced cafe's and if you come from a poorer background you have snobs looking down their noses at you. You have insurance but mysteriously your roof wasn't covered!? If I wanted a day out then I would take my Bicycle and pay £30 return as a foot passenger from Poole to Guernsey. Spend the day touring. Load up with duty free. Catch the return ferry to Weymouth and cycle home. Bets that's cheaper/better value than visiting 'Deteriorating Milton Abbey'!
People don't go to place like this because it costs an absolute fortune to visit.. entrance fees, parking fees, overpriced cafe's and if you come from a poorer background you have snobs looking down their noses at you. You have insurance but mysteriously your roof wasn't covered!? If I wanted a day out then I would take my Bicycle and pay £30 return as a foot passenger from Poole to Guernsey. Spend the day touring. Load up with duty free. Catch the return ferry to Weymouth and cycle home. Bets that's cheaper/better value than visiting 'Deteriorating Milton Abbey'! royeveleigh
  • Score: -6

1:52pm Sun 17 Aug 14

PoopScoop says...

royeveleigh says...

People don't go to place like this because it costs an absolute fortune to visit.. entrance fees, parking fees, overpriced cafe's and if you come from a poorer background you have snobs looking down their noses at you. You have insurance but mysteriously your roof wasn't covered!? If I wanted a day out then I would take my Bicycle and pay £30 return as a foot passenger from Poole to Guernsey. Spend the day touring. Load up with duty free. Catch the return ferry to Weymouth and cycle home. Bets that's cheaper/better value than visiting 'Deteriorating Milton Abbey'!

Entry to Milton Abbey is free.
Car parking is free.
There is no cafe.
You can cycle there in two hours and fifteen minutes
Return trip is four and a half hours
Total cost Zero
or
Ferry to Guernsey £30
Depart from Poole 7.00 am
Duty Free spirits typically £12 litre
(Supermarket price £15 = saving of £3)
Return to Weymouth 10.15 pm
Cycle journey back to Poole, three hours and fifteen minutes.
Laden with duty free goods, probably four hours plus - if you make it intact.
Total cost both financially and in terms of time and energy expended?
Considerably more than Milton Abbey!
royeveleigh says... People don't go to place like this because it costs an absolute fortune to visit.. entrance fees, parking fees, overpriced cafe's and if you come from a poorer background you have snobs looking down their noses at you. You have insurance but mysteriously your roof wasn't covered!? If I wanted a day out then I would take my Bicycle and pay £30 return as a foot passenger from Poole to Guernsey. Spend the day touring. Load up with duty free. Catch the return ferry to Weymouth and cycle home. Bets that's cheaper/better value than visiting 'Deteriorating Milton Abbey'! Entry to Milton Abbey is free. Car parking is free. There is no cafe. You can cycle there in two hours and fifteen minutes Return trip is four and a half hours Total cost Zero or Ferry to Guernsey £30 Depart from Poole 7.00 am Duty Free spirits typically £12 litre (Supermarket price £15 = saving of £3) Return to Weymouth 10.15 pm Cycle journey back to Poole, three hours and fifteen minutes. Laden with duty free goods, probably four hours plus - if you make it intact. Total cost both financially and in terms of time and energy expended? Considerably more than Milton Abbey! PoopScoop
  • Score: 20

2:14pm Sun 17 Aug 14

burgerboy says...

PoopScoop wrote:
royeveleigh says...

People don't go to place like this because it costs an absolute fortune to visit.. entrance fees, parking fees, overpriced cafe's and if you come from a poorer background you have snobs looking down their noses at you. You have insurance but mysteriously your roof wasn't covered!? If I wanted a day out then I would take my Bicycle and pay £30 return as a foot passenger from Poole to Guernsey. Spend the day touring. Load up with duty free. Catch the return ferry to Weymouth and cycle home. Bets that's cheaper/better value than visiting 'Deteriorating Milton Abbey'!

Entry to Milton Abbey is free.
Car parking is free.
There is no cafe.
You can cycle there in two hours and fifteen minutes
Return trip is four and a half hours
Total cost Zero
or
Ferry to Guernsey £30
Depart from Poole 7.00 am
Duty Free spirits typically £12 litre
(Supermarket price £15 = saving of £3)
Return to Weymouth 10.15 pm
Cycle journey back to Poole, three hours and fifteen minutes.
Laden with duty free goods, probably four hours plus - if you make it intact.
Total cost both financially and in terms of time and energy expended?
Considerably more than Milton Abbey!
Things to see and do on Guernsey = Loads......
Things to see and do at Milton Abbey= Not a lot.....
I know where I would rather spend a day.
[quote][p][bold]PoopScoop[/bold] wrote: royeveleigh says... People don't go to place like this because it costs an absolute fortune to visit.. entrance fees, parking fees, overpriced cafe's and if you come from a poorer background you have snobs looking down their noses at you. You have insurance but mysteriously your roof wasn't covered!? If I wanted a day out then I would take my Bicycle and pay £30 return as a foot passenger from Poole to Guernsey. Spend the day touring. Load up with duty free. Catch the return ferry to Weymouth and cycle home. Bets that's cheaper/better value than visiting 'Deteriorating Milton Abbey'! Entry to Milton Abbey is free. Car parking is free. There is no cafe. You can cycle there in two hours and fifteen minutes Return trip is four and a half hours Total cost Zero or Ferry to Guernsey £30 Depart from Poole 7.00 am Duty Free spirits typically £12 litre (Supermarket price £15 = saving of £3) Return to Weymouth 10.15 pm Cycle journey back to Poole, three hours and fifteen minutes. Laden with duty free goods, probably four hours plus - if you make it intact. Total cost both financially and in terms of time and energy expended? Considerably more than Milton Abbey![/p][/quote]Things to see and do on Guernsey = Loads...... Things to see and do at Milton Abbey= Not a lot..... I know where I would rather spend a day. burgerboy
  • Score: 1

4:30pm Sun 17 Aug 14

JamesBond0070 says...

I spent twenty-three years of my life living in Parkstone, and I never knew that Milton Abby was open to visitors, because of the lack of advertising, and yet at that time, the fifties and early sixties, I was fit enough to cycle over much of Dorset and Hampshire seeing and visiting places of interest, like Milton Abby.
I spent twenty-three years of my life living in Parkstone, and I never knew that Milton Abby was open to visitors, because of the lack of advertising, and yet at that time, the fifties and early sixties, I was fit enough to cycle over much of Dorset and Hampshire seeing and visiting places of interest, like Milton Abby. JamesBond0070
  • Score: 9

4:46pm Sun 17 Aug 14

H2o-hara says...

I'm quite sure if money needs to be raised then it can be done using the surrounding grounds for an event of some sort .
The Earl of Shaftesbury manages by holding the Dorset Chilli Festival near Wimborne St Giles .
I'm quite sure if money needs to be raised then it can be done using the surrounding grounds for an event of some sort . The Earl of Shaftesbury manages by holding the Dorset Chilli Festival near Wimborne St Giles . H2o-hara
  • Score: 9

5:48pm Sun 17 Aug 14

penhalereturns says...

I would have thought English Heritage could stump up the money for repairs considering how much they charge for membership, more could also be done to advertise the Abbey more so that visitor numbers would increase, no good sitting back and becoming complacent in the hope that people will walk through the doors.
I would have thought English Heritage could stump up the money for repairs considering how much they charge for membership, more could also be done to advertise the Abbey more so that visitor numbers would increase, no good sitting back and becoming complacent in the hope that people will walk through the doors. penhalereturns
  • Score: 4

6:22pm Sun 17 Aug 14

Phixer says...

penhalereturns wrote:
I would have thought English Heritage could stump up the money for repairs considering how much they charge for membership, more could also be done to advertise the Abbey more so that visitor numbers would increase, no good sitting back and becoming complacent in the hope that people will walk through the doors.
Any reason why the Church of England cannot fund repairs from its own enormous pot of gold?
[quote][p][bold]penhalereturns[/bold] wrote: I would have thought English Heritage could stump up the money for repairs considering how much they charge for membership, more could also be done to advertise the Abbey more so that visitor numbers would increase, no good sitting back and becoming complacent in the hope that people will walk through the doors.[/p][/quote]Any reason why the Church of England cannot fund repairs from its own enormous pot of gold? Phixer
  • Score: 6

6:42pm Sun 17 Aug 14

penhalereturns says...

Phixer wrote:
penhalereturns wrote:
I would have thought English Heritage could stump up the money for repairs considering how much they charge for membership, more could also be done to advertise the Abbey more so that visitor numbers would increase, no good sitting back and becoming complacent in the hope that people will walk through the doors.
Any reason why the Church of England cannot fund repairs from its own enormous pot of gold?
No reason what so ever, they seems to be flush with money most of the time.
[quote][p][bold]Phixer[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]penhalereturns[/bold] wrote: I would have thought English Heritage could stump up the money for repairs considering how much they charge for membership, more could also be done to advertise the Abbey more so that visitor numbers would increase, no good sitting back and becoming complacent in the hope that people will walk through the doors.[/p][/quote]Any reason why the Church of England cannot fund repairs from its own enormous pot of gold?[/p][/quote]No reason what so ever, they seems to be flush with money most of the time. penhalereturns
  • Score: 3

8:25pm Sun 17 Aug 14

Audax at Fidelis says...

If there is no charge to get in - how are they going to raise the money? Put in slot machines? A bit of promotion would help, we have never heard of the place.
If there is no charge to get in - how are they going to raise the money? Put in slot machines? A bit of promotion would help, we have never heard of the place. Audax at Fidelis
  • Score: 3

9:02pm Sun 17 Aug 14

gonzo123 says...

Borring old place...
Borring old place... gonzo123
  • Score: -2

9:55pm Sun 17 Aug 14

Jack loveme says...

Now that you've reminded me i will go one day for a short ride . The whole area is beautiful. I have'nt been there for a long time mainly because i'd forgotten about it. So yes advertising is important. But wait ! This is a newspaper with adverts . Maybe the Daily Echo could do a small FREE advert once or twice a week . I'm sure that would help and it would'nt cost the Echo anything and would be public spirited.??????
Now that you've reminded me i will go one day for a short ride . The whole area is beautiful. I have'nt been there for a long time mainly because i'd forgotten about it. So yes advertising is important. But wait ! This is a newspaper with adverts . Maybe the Daily Echo could do a small FREE advert once or twice a week . I'm sure that would help and it would'nt cost the Echo anything and would be public spirited.?????? Jack loveme
  • Score: 2

9:56pm Sun 17 Aug 14

Topographic says...

Hi,

I read with interest about the beautiful abbey at Milton.
If you not been its a hidden gem dating back to the time of King Athelston, there is also the modern house(Milton Abbas school) of Joseph Damner(Georgian period) the beautiful grounds of Capability Brown Style, Milton Abbas chocolate style village, almost a modern town.
Nearby there is the highest point in Dorset at Bulbarrow hill with stunning views.
The Abbey unfortunately doesn't fall under the banner of the Diocese of Salisbury as Milton Abbas has another church.
There is so much more to learn here, the tuck shop is currently a tea rooms and a suggested donation of £3 is payable to view the informative abbey.
A local company do a weekly tour there and the heart of Dorset too, www.discoverdorset.c
o.uk
I would be more than happy to suggest ways to move this absolute gem of history.
Hi, I read with interest about the beautiful abbey at Milton. If you not been its a hidden gem dating back to the time of King Athelston, there is also the modern house(Milton Abbas school) of Joseph Damner(Georgian period) the beautiful grounds of Capability Brown Style, Milton Abbas chocolate style village, almost a modern town. Nearby there is the highest point in Dorset at Bulbarrow hill with stunning views. The Abbey unfortunately doesn't fall under the banner of the Diocese of Salisbury as Milton Abbas has another church. There is so much more to learn here, the tuck shop is currently a tea rooms and a suggested donation of £3 is payable to view the informative abbey. A local company do a weekly tour there and the heart of Dorset too, www.discoverdorset.c o.uk I would be more than happy to suggest ways to move this absolute gem of history. Topographic
  • Score: 5

9:58pm Sun 17 Aug 14

Topographic says...

If people new it was there, its not so accessible by large coaches, but sure it could be with a bit of thought and some clever marketing, where there a wil,l there is a way.
If people new it was there, its not so accessible by large coaches, but sure it could be with a bit of thought and some clever marketing, where there a wil,l there is a way. Topographic
  • Score: 3

1:48pm Mon 18 Aug 14

JackJohnson says...

What are the alternatives?

- A rich benefactor? Not impossible, but very unlikely.

- Let English Heritage/National Trust take it over. Extract the maintenance costs out of the tax payer? Dear God, NOT AGAIN. Don't we pay for enough already?

- Demolish the abbey - sell off the land for much needed housing? Possibly.

- Turn North Dorset into a tourist trap and hope it'll attract enough to fund the abbey? Nah - it's (mostly) unspoilt. Let's keep it that way.

Looks like there's going to be another derelict abbey ruin soon. Won't be the first in the last few hundred years, and won't be the last. It's just another decaying structure that's beyond economic repair. I've been to Milton Abbas many times, but had no idea the abbey was open to the public. I thought it was part of the school. I think I'll take a look over there before the opportunity has gone.
What are the alternatives? - A rich benefactor? Not impossible, but very unlikely. - Let English Heritage/National Trust take it over. Extract the maintenance costs out of the tax payer? Dear God, NOT AGAIN. Don't we pay for enough already? - Demolish the abbey - sell off the land for much needed housing? Possibly. - Turn North Dorset into a tourist trap and hope it'll attract enough to fund the abbey? Nah - it's (mostly) unspoilt. Let's keep it that way. Looks like there's going to be another derelict abbey ruin soon. Won't be the first in the last few hundred years, and won't be the last. It's just another decaying structure that's beyond economic repair. I've been to Milton Abbas many times, but had no idea the abbey was open to the public. I thought it was part of the school. I think I'll take a look over there before the opportunity has gone. JackJohnson
  • Score: 0

4:11pm Mon 18 Aug 14

speedy231278 says...

If they can't afford to fix it, they should sell it to someone who can!
If they can't afford to fix it, they should sell it to someone who can! speedy231278
  • Score: 1

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