The main rooms of Abbey House look straight down the ruined nave of Glastonbury Abbey, which was built on the most ancient Christian site in England, and for hundreds of years was a religious house famous throughout England and Europe. At the dissolution of the monasteries, with the great Abbot Whiting executed, and bereft of its monks, the Abbey became no more than a piece of secular property and a convenient source of building stone for the neighbourhood. Some of the stone in the cellar chapel actually comes from the Abbey!
In the first half of the 19th Century (1830) Abbey House was built to the east of the abbey as a gentlemen's residence. In 1836 this house was owned by James Austin who lived here with his wife and nine children. At the time, owning the house also meant he owned the grounds surrounding it so this included the Abbey itself and about 22 cottages.
In 1907 the Abbey ruins, House and the land were all sold by Stanley Austin at public auction. The entire property was bought for £30,000 by Mr Ernest Jardine of Nottingham who then offered it to the Church of England at cost price; his offer was accepted by Bishop Kennion of Bath and Wells who succeeded in raising the necessary funds by 1909.
In 1909 the western entrance to the abbey was re-opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales - who were entertained by Mr and Mrs Jardine at Abbey House - and Divine Service was conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
After 1909 it was rented by a succession of tenants and at one time was used as a Vicarage. Then a great change took place. On March 31st 1931 Abbey House was dedicated as a House of Retreat, Conference and Prayer by the Bishop of Bath and Wells, accompanied by the Bishop of Bristol, and the first Retreat took place a week later.
The first Lady Warden was Miss Weston and she was followed in 1938 by Miss Sybil Beck - a real Chatelaine in the memory of the writer who was a pale young curate in those days. In 1961 she was succeeded by Miss Sylvia Hawkins and in 1971 the Sisters of Charity, whose Mother House is at Knowle in Bristol, took charge, first with Sister Bridget and then Sister Mary Joseph. The sisters of Charity left Glastonbury in 1984, and since had a number of lay wardens. Today, the House is run by the Director with the help of the Duty and Catering Managers.