Mount Grace Priory sits in an idyllic location surrounded by woodland. It is at the foot of the Cleveland Hills in the northwest of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. However, it is easily accessible by car as it is only a short distance from the A19, not far from Northallerton. The site is easy to find as there are plenty of Brown Signs. It is probably one of England’s best-preserved Carthusian monasteries. With fine weather, a visit here makes a great day out. The Priory is only half a mile from the Cleveland Way footpath, well worth a detour if you are walking that route (Osmotherley to Clay Bank section).
Mount Grace Priory – History
The Priory was founded in 1398 by the Duke of Surrey, Thomas Holland. The monks who lived here took a vow of silence and lived in solitary cells. They ate a strictly vegetarian diet. Each monk’s cell had its own garden. The cells had an angled hatch so that the monks wouldn’t even see the person serving their food. They only ever met at Matins, Vespers and feast-day services. Those who attempted to escape because they couldn’t endure the rigours of the lifestyle faced imprisonment as a punishment.
Mount Grace Priory was Yorkshire’s last monastery, and one of only a few established anywhere in Britain between the outbreak of the Black Death plague in 1349/50 and the Reformation.
The priory was not a large site and only had room for a prior and just over twenty monks. It consisted of a church, a northern and a southern cloister. The cloisters between them had 21 cells where the monks lived. There was also the Prior’s house and the Chapter House. To the west were the lay brothers’ quarters and the guest house.
During its medieval heyday, the honey stoned manor house at Mount Grace Priory housed visiting dignitaries.
The priory closed in 1539 during the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII. The priory was sold and its buildings were partially dismantled and left to fall into ruin. Two subsequent developments incorporated the guest-house ruins. First a 17th-century manor house and then a larger house built in 1900/01. The wealthy industrialist, Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, owned the manor house which he decorated in the Arts and Crafts style.
The Bell family gave the site to the nation in 1953. The National Trust own the house and English Heritage manages it.
Ruins and Wildlife
The ruins of the priory include the former prison, gatehouse and outer court, barns, gatehouses, cells and the church. The 14th-century church, the best-preserved section of the site is particularly small as it was rarely used by the wider community. Reconstructions of a monk’s cell and outside herb plot give an impression of monastic life.
The ruins and open grassy areas have become home to a variety of wildlife including several species of bat and ground-nesting birds.
Underneath the priory is a number of passages. A famous colony of stoats inhabit the passages. The stoats were the subject of a BBC Wildlife On Two documentary (Stoats in the Priory) narrated by Sir David Attenborough.
English Heritage has recreated two rooms at the manor house complete with their full arts and crafts finery. This includes timber oak beams, polished wood flooring, and handmade wallpaper. This has been specially created to match a fragment of the original William Morris wall coverings.
There is a cafe on site that serves various hot meals along with lighter options such as sandwiches and soup. Dogs (except guide dogs) are not allowed on site. There are toilets on site and car parking for about 80 cars. There is a parking charge for non-members. However, members of the National Trust and English Heritage get free parking as well as free entry.
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