Mount Grace Priory – National Trust

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Mount Grace is one of the best preserved Carthusian priories in Europe. It is a lovely site on the edge off the North York Moors nestling under steep wooded hillsides. The family of stoats living around the ruins became famous after featuring in a TV documentary in 2005 and many people come just to watch them.

Also known as Chaterhouses, these were founded by courtiers or soldiers that had done well out of the French wars. Mount Grace was founded in 1398 by Thomas de Holland, Duke of Surrey and a nephew of Richard II. After the death of Richard II, many of the priory lands were confiscated. Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter and half brother to Henry IV decided to be buried at Mount Grace in 1429 with five additional monks to pray for him. The church was extended beyond the choir for his tomb. The monks continued to accept other burials and extended the church to accommodate them. Although they also obtained additional funding from saying obituary masses for those buried elsewhere, it was never as wealthy as some of the other major Yorkshire abbeys.

It was one of the last monasteries in Yorkshire to be suppressed and monks received generous pensions. After the Dissolution, the guest house of the Priory became a manor house. This was restored and extended in 1900-1 in the Arts and Crafts style by the Bell family, who also restored one of the Carthusian cells on the north wall of the cloister. The family owned the house until 1953 when it was given to the National Trust in lieu of death duties. The priory ruins were placed in the guardianship of the state, eventually passing to English heritage. The house is much as it was left by the Bells and two of their rooms have recently been opened to the public.

The priory has the typical ground plan with two enclosures, the cloister with the monk’s cells and the inner court with the guest house, kitchens, lay brother’s cells and other outbuildings. Between the two is the small church, chapter house and cells for the prior and sacrist. The Prior was the only member of the religious community allowed access to the outer world.

The church and gatehouse were built first around 1400. This was followed by the cloister with the monk’s cells between 1425-50. More cells for lay brothers were added in the C16th along with the stables and guest house.

The church was small as the monks spent most of their time in their cells only coming together in the chapel for night services and on Sundays and Feast Days. The monks used the east end of the church. The lay brothers who were responsible for running the domestic side of the priory used the nave.

The Carthusians were a silent order and strict vegetarians. The monks lived as hermits and each had his own cell with a small garden attached where they worked, prayed and slept. The monks cooked their own food which was provided through a dog leg opening in the cell wall. Water was supplied by three springs on the hillside via a well house to the individual cells, kitchens and guest house. The Carthusians were very conscious of hygiene and sanitation and each cell was provided with a latrine.

It is a short walk from the car park passed the restored terrace gardens in front of the manor house with the ticket office and small shop. On the ground floor are two arts and crafts rooms furnished by the Bell family. The first is the entrance hall, with stone flag floor and oak panelling around the walls. The fireplace has an attractive tiled surround. There is a grandfather clock, high backed settle and old chests. Behind it is the sitting room with green patterned Morris wallpaper and tall ceiling. It is furnished with easy chairs and small tables.

A lovely old wooden staircase with shallow treads leads up to the first floor. One room with Morris wallpaper is now a reading room for visitors with easy chairs and a selection of books about the Arts and Crafts movement. The other rooms contain and exhibition and information about monastic life. There is also a model showing what the priory would have looked like.

The tall slender tower of the cruciform church dominates the site. The pointed arches supporting the tower are still standing as is the north transept arch. The transepts and nave stand nearly to their full height. Only the foundation of the chancel are left with a few medieval tiles. Steps lead up to the position of the high altar. A modern carving of the Madonna of the Cross now stands where the high altar stood. The Virgin, with her arms forming the arms of a cross, is holding a baby. A sign explains she is “dedicating the Child to the purpose of the creator”. The rest of the buildings are just foundations.

The cloister was enclosed by a tall stone wall, still standing to its full height. Round the outside are the foundations of the monk’s cells. The drains can be seen in some of them.

In the north wall of the cloister is a reconstructed cell with its garden. The cells had a blank wall facing the cloister with a single doorway with the dog legged hole next to it, their only contact with the outside world.

Inside is a screen passage with a step into the parlour designed to cut down on draughts round the feet. This has a small fireplace and a glazed window with shutters overlooking the garden. It is furnished with a table, chair, stool and a small cupboard.

Off it are two smaller rooms separated by a wooden screen. At the front is the bedroom with a small four poster bed with hessian hangings, thin mattress and hessian covers. There is a chest and cupboard and a small glazed and shuttered window looking out to the wall of the adjacent cell. Behind is the study with a sloping writing desk and a big chest with a carved and painted front. Light comes through a glazed and shuttered window overlooking the gardens.

Steep wooden stairs lead off the main room up to the workroom in the attics. This has a large trestle table, hand loom, spinning wheel and a large cupboard. It is lit by four small glazed windows.

A passageway to the left of the entrance door leads to a corridor with windows overlooking the garden. To the right, an roofed but open corridor runs along the side of the wall to a small latrine at the far end. Two water barrels collect rain water and there is the remains of the pipe supplying water in the wall.

The garden contains low, neatly trimmed box hedges surrounding a small herb gardens. Gooseberry and currant bushes are planted along the open corridor.

Mount Grace is a delightful setting and makes a pleasant stop on the A19. There are picnic tables in the grounds. There is a refundable £4 charge for the car park.

DISABLED ACCESS There is one disabled parking space near the entrance, but booking is advisable. Otherwise it is a short walk from the car park up a gentle gradient. There is a wheelchair available to borrow. There is ramped access into the Manor House and the grounds of the priory. The ground floor of the manor house is accessible but not the first floor. The church is accessible with a wheelchair, as are some of the ruins. There are three steps into the cloister, although this may be avoidable by going round the outside. There is a small lintel into each of the rooms in the monk’s cell and doorways aren’t very wide. There are disabled toilets.


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