The monastery at Beaulieu was founded in 1204 by King John, and its Abbey Church dedicated to St. Mary in 1246. Most of the Abbey fell into ruins after the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII, but domus, cloisters and refectory remain.
The refectory of the original abbey became the parish church of Beaulieu, and so it has remained ever since. Once inside the church, especially if the sun is shining, you may realise that the church is not oriented - that is, it does not run west to east. Instead, because of its position on the south side of the original abbey cloisters, the church lies north to south and the altar is at the south end.
Since 1538 several changes have been made: formation of a chancel and sanctuary, construction of a gallery chapel and vestries, importation of oak pews, and installation of a Walker pipe organ which is a delight to play.
One of the most interesting architectural features is the prominent stone lectern, from which one chosen monk would read improving books to the other monks as they sat silently eating their meals. The lectern is now used as a pulpit, from which the preacher gives his sermon, or address, during services. The pulpit is approached by a stone stairway cut into the width of the west wall, an unusual feature found only here and in Chester Cathedral.
The gallery at the North end of the church has been used down the centuries for varying purposes. Old prints of the church show that in the 18th century a wall across the nave separated the gallery from the rest of the building, and for a time it served as the village school. In 1965 a new staircase was built, and the Chapel was restored and refurbished. It was consecrated on the Eve of All Saints, 1965, by the Bishop of Winchester, and dedicated in honour of St. John the Evangelist.
Near the pulpit is the Tubby Clayton Memorial, a finely carved slate roundel in memory of the co-founder of Toc H, who lived in Beaulieu as a boy and returned regularly to preach throughout his lifetime. The plaque, with the Toc H lamp and cross in gold at the top, was dedicated by his Grace Dr Robert Runcie Lord Archbishop of Canterbury in June 1984. Toc H members from all over the world attended the special service and today many especially ask to be shown this memorial.
The Standard of 84 Squadron RAF is laid up in the Abbey Church to commemorate the founding of the Squadron as part of the Royal Flying Corps on Beaulieu Airfield during the First World War in 1917, since when they have never been based in the British Isles.
Either a 'Parish Communion (Common Worship)' or an 'All Age Family Service' are normally held in the Abbey Church on Sundays, starting at 9.30 am. On a few Sundays throughout the year, the 9.30 service is held elsewhere in the Benefice. Everyone is most welcome. [Click 'Services' for up to date details]