The beauty of Beaulieu and the National Motor Museum

There’s No Time To Die for Michael Edwards as he explores Beaulieu’s many attractions.

Palace House Beaulieu Aerial
Palace House, Beaulieu, from the air.

Beaulieu is renowned as the home of the National Motor Museum but there is far more to Beaulieu than just cars – and retro motor bikes and milk floats and beer wagons and vintage double decker buses …

Visitors strolling around Beaulieu’s 200 acres take in a diverse range of attractions, from the remains of the Cistercian Abbey founded in 1203 by King John through to the latest crazy japes of Top Gear presenters. On their journey they can walk through the remarkable restoration of the flourishing Victorian gardens. It really is a full day out for all the family. 

Bond In Motion No Time to Die launch
Aston Martin DB5 with persuasive machine gun headlamps.

Until November 2022 a major attraction is The Bond in Motion – No Time To Die exhibition. It features vehicles, gadgets and costume from the latest 007 film ranging from a bullet-spattered Aston Martin to the Royal Alloy Scooter on which James Bond hitches a lift. 

In complete contrast, there is the Robin Reliant Regal driven by Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses. The plaque, in the On Screen Cars exhibition, announces that when new the yellow three-wheeler would have cost £437. Parked nearby is the Flying Ford Anglia from the Harry Potter films as well as an Absolutely Fabulous Piaggo Ape. 

Palace House beaulieu national motor museum
Beaulieu once had a more sedate pace.

Another tasty starter before visiting the main attraction of the motor museum is the bonkers Top Gear exhibition. Perhaps the most mind-blowing exhibit is the Robin Reliant Rocket but Mr Nippy, a dramatically souped-up ice-cream van, and a high testosterone “hearse-power” creation both run it close. You emerge questioning the sanity of presenters Clarkson, Flintoff, Hammond, McGuinness and co, wondering if any of them ever read the small print of their contracts. 

The Motor Museum begins its story even before the days when a man with a red flag walked in front of motor vehicles and the speed limit was a daring 4 mph. Before that, designers had toyed with steam cars, basically mobile kettles, which unlike steamboats and trains never proved successful. 

National Motor Museum Interior
Inside the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu.

Amongst the gleaming chrome of the Bentleys, Mercedes and Rolls Royces there is a reminder of motoring for the more ordinary family. As Henry Ford said, possibly optimistically, “Any man holding down a steady job, should, if he do wished, be able to have his own car.”

Initially, when the Model T Ford was introduced to the UK buyers could chose blue or green, it was only after 1914 when quick drying black paint was introduced that Ford famously pronounced, “You can have any colour you like, as long as it’s black.”

In the early days of motoring, it was the village blacksmith who sold petrol and who used his anvil, forge and hammer to undertake any repairs. A nostalgic exhibit of a 1930s garage demonstrates how mechanics needed a range of skills and spare parts to cope with the variety of cars they saw. 

Dining Hall at Palace House
Victorian costumed guides recount daily life at the home of the Montagu family

Away from the Motor Museum, The Secret Army exhibition recalls Beaulieu’s role in the Second World War as a training camp for the Special Operations Executive, the SOE. Film and displays demonstrated the bravery of the men and women who were parachuted to “set Europe ablaze” as Churchill ordered. Many were captured and executed before they had the opportunity to take the pill marked “L”. It contained cyanide and was lethal. The fatality rate for carrier pigeons, parachuted into Europe for resistance communication, was even higher. 

Finally, a tour of the Palace House has a Downton Abbey feel. Victorian costumed guides tell of their daily life and put the home of the Montagu family and the estate into perspective. The family’s vision and astute management have created a national treasure for all to enjoy. 

Beaulieu National Motor Museum Fact file 

For more information and the National Motor Museum, you can learn more at Beaulieu.co.uk.

If you enjoyed The beauty of Beaulieu and the National Motor Museum, you’ll find more fantastic ideas for days out in England on our Travel channel.

Tags: , , , Last modified: February 20, 2022

Written by 10:18 am Around The UK

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