We are regular visitors to Beaulieu in the New Forest and always see signs to Buckler’s Hard, but have never been – until now.
Buckler’s Hard has a fascinating history and was first intended as an import and export hub for sugar from the West Indies, but most famously became an 18th-century shipbuilding village, home to the craftsmen who built over 50 wooden ships for the Royal Navy, including the vessels Agamemnon, Euryalus and Swiftsure, all of which fought at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
Now Buckler’s Hard is home to a Maritime Museum which was opened in what had been the New Inn, a stunning village that leads down to the water with living history tours, a Shipwright’s cottage which shows have families would have lived in the 18th Century, a Shipwright Workshop and a river cruise down the Beaulieu River.
Buckler’s Hard Village
Set on the bands of the Beaulieu River, Buckler’s Hard village is quite simply stunning.
Some of the houses are still inhabited, but the historic Shipwright’s Cottage is open to the public and gives a fascinating insight into how Thomas Burlace and his family lived back in the 18th Century.
The kids were fascinated by the house and its contents, especially by the lack of modern facilities that we take for granted these days.
They were also surprised that the whole family slept in one room.
Also open to the public is St Mary’s Chapel which was once a school.
Despite being tiny, it is still a working chapel which can seat 40 people and holds regular services.
The altar frontal was designed and worked by Lady Montagu. The centre cloth features the Tree of Life, which also represents the wood used to build the ships at Buckler’s Hard.
Almost hidden at the back of the chapel is a viewing window next to the altar where you can see where excavations have revealed a hidden cellar, believed to have been used by 18th century smugglers.
At the end of the Buckler’s Hard high street you’ll find The Master Builder’s House Hotel, where you can enjoy a meal in their Yachtsman’s Bar and garden, however there was a wedding happening during our visit, so we could not go inside the restaurant.
At the bottom of the high street to the right is the replica timber framed 18th century Shipwright’s Workshop which was constructed using hand hewn timber from the Beaulieu Estate using traditional building methods.
Beaulieu River Cruise
Once down to the river, you can take a cruise down the privately owned Beaulieu River aboard the Oliver for a small extra charge – £5 per person or £12.50 for a family ticket. Concessions also available.
The Captain of the boat trip gave a fabulous commentary during the 30 minute boat trip, full of fascinating facts about the river, which was originally granted to the monks of Beaulieu Abbey by King John in 1204 but is now owned by the Montagu family.
If you keep your eyes peeled you can see some fascinating wildlife on the banks of the river – apparently there is even a seal that makes an appearance every now and again.
Buckler’s Hard was also a key player in WW2 as it became a motor torpedo base and, further downstream, sections of the Mulberry harbours were constructed in the old oyster beds in preparation for the D-Day landings. In fact, you can still see an old American Landing Craft that had been crashed into the mud flats up stream, whilst on the boat tour.
TOP TIP: The boat costs extra and only takes cash payments, so factor this extra charge in before you leave or book online.
The ice cream kiosk by the cruise entrance is also cash only and serves the most delicious New Forest Ice Cream that is very reasonably priced compared to most tourist attractions.
It is also a lovely spot to sit and take in your surroundings.
Maritime Museum and Buckler’s Hard Story
The Maritime Museum takes you through the history of this fascinating village, along with the story of its ships, and the residents who lived and worked at Buckler’s Hard.
The museum helps you learn how warships were built for Nelson’s Navy, including his favourite, Agamemnon, with models of the Buckler’s Hard ships which took part in the Battle of Trafalgar and what the village would have looked like in its hey day.
There are more displays showcasing how villagers would have lived and worked in the early 1800s which you can compare the cramped home of a labourer’s family with the more spacious shipwright’s cottage that we saw earlier in the village.
The museum then takes you through 19th and 20th century village life, with information and photographs of all the families who lived in Buckler’s Hard.
Having visited Gold beach during our holiday to Normandy a couple of years ago, it was fascinating to learn about the important role that Buckler’s Hard played in the D-Day landings.
The museum then takes you through the remarkable story of the P&O liner SS Persia, tragically sunk by a German U-Boat during WWI, with several artefacts from the ship, recovered during the world’s deepest salvage operation of its type.
Also look out for the living history displays.
On our visit the kids were playing with toys that the children would have played with back in the 19th Century, with varying degrees of success.
Finally, make sure you stop in Captain Cabin’s Tea Rooms before you leave and ask for their Towey Tea, named after the last ship to be built at Buckler’s Hard. It is a selection of sandwiches, cakes & scones with jam & cream served with tea or coffee for 2 people and costs £12.50……..trust me, it’s amazing.
A Family Ticket to Buckler’s Hard costs £19.70 when booked online in advance, or £21.00 on the door.