Today, Rufford Abbey is an evocative ruin, incongruously set in a neat country park run by the local authority. The bulldozers that moved in during the 1950s seem to have sliced cleanly through the huge Nottinghamshire house, exposing the strata of the centuries: clear as layers of rock in a geologist’s sample, and just as illustrative of history.
Half buried in the ground are the remains of the twelfth century Cistercian abbey, where birds now fly straight through the glassless windows of the cellarium. Above them gawp the gigantic windows – ruined in their turn – of the Tudor mansion built by the noble Talbot family, after the Cistercians were turned out in the dissolution of the monasteries. The hound dogs of the Talbot crest still prance above the stable doorway. The formal grounds, and yet more brickwork, were laid out in time for the royal house parties of Rufford’s second, Edwardian, heyday: the epoch which led D.H.Lawrence to borrow it for ‘Wragby Hall’, oppressive home to his Lady Chatterley. Finally – after the Second World War, after the council took over – there were added the railings and notices, the disabled access ramps, of the late twentieth century.