Netley Abbey was founded in 1239AD by Peter des Roches as a Cistercian house. Following the untimely death of des Roches, initial building work was delayed, as the collection of the abbey's endowments was incomplete. The abbey was taken under the wing of Henry III, allowing work on the church to start in the mid 1240s. In 1251AD, Henry officially assumed the role of patron.
The abbey prospered for the remainder of the 13th Century, but by 1328AD it had entered a period of financial difficulty. Bad management led to the king appointing an administrator to resolve the abbey's debts, largely by sale of church estates. Although this resolved the immediate financial crisis, the loss of land meant that the church never truly recovered, and it spent the remainder of its years as a relatively poor institution.
At the time of the first wave of dissolution in 1536AD, only seven monks remained in residence, along with 29 servants. The majority of the monks chose to join the abbey of Beaulieu, which was itself dissolved in 1538AD. The site of Netley Abbey was subsequently granted to Sir William Paulet, who converted the buildings into a Tudor mansion. His family remained in residence until the 17th Century, when the property was sold with the intention of demolition for the recovery of saleable materials. Following an accident resulting in the death of one of the contractors, the work was halted. The abbey was then abandoned and allowed to fall into decay, until eventually being taken into the hands of the state in 1922AD.
Today, the abbey is a picturesque ruin, nestled in a park-like setting in the care of English Heritage. The proximity of the town and the lack of an entrance fee make this a popular attraction for local families. Despite the adverse impact upon the tranquillity of the site, it is pleasant to see a historic site remain a vibrant centre of activity for a local community.