Mediaeval ruins & modern gardens at Mount Grace
- 10 August 2021 -
Set in woodland and gardens at the north western edge of the North York Moors National Park, Mount Grace Priory is considered England’s best preserved Carthusian monastery. Located just a quick 20 minute drive up the A19 dual carriageway from Coxwold Cottages, Mount Grace is an interesting mix of mediaeval ruins and modern gardens in the Arts & Crafts style.
Only nine houses of the Carthusian Order existed in England in the Middle Ages. Founded in 1398, Mount Grace was the last monastery to be established in Yorkshire and only functioned for just over 140 years, closing in 1539 as part of the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. The site then passed into private ownership.
In its heyday, Mount Grace housed a relatively small community, with space for a prior and just twenty-three monks. Unlike monks in other orders, the Carthusians (to this day) live as hermits, each occupying his own cell where they lived and worked, coming together only for nocturnal worship and on Sundays and feast-days. Otherwise each monk lived in his cell, the only conversation being on important subjects during a weekly exercise walk. Carthusians are silent, and their diet is strictly vegetarian.
The monastery incorporated a church and two cloisters. The Great Cloister had seventeen cells for monks and one of these that has been reconstructed. Although it seems a harsh life to us today, each monk’s cell had a small garden, he had his meals brought to him (via an L-shaped hatch to discourage communication) and the stone cell itself, although modest, would be considered large enough to create a small holiday cottage today – a far cry from the squalor in which most people lived at that time…
After the dissolution, the ruins of the guest-house of the priory were incorporated into two later houses. First, a seventeenth-century manor created by Thomas Lascelles (unconnected to the Lascelles of Harewood House) and then a larger Arts & Crafts house of 1900–01 during the ownership of the steel magnate Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell.
Today, the property is owned by the National Trust yet run and cared for by English Heritage. English Heritage spent much of winter 2017/18 transforming the priory’s sloping gardens using a planting scheme by Chris Beardshaw, the multiple Chelsea Flower Show gold-medal winner. The results can now be enjoyed. If you are lucky you might even catch a glimpse of the famous priory stoats who are probably the best-known colony in Britain. Then you can come back to Coxwold over the North York Moors to Helmsley and on to nearby Coxwold to enjoy our luxury holiday cottage or shepherd’s hut! So much to see in the North York Moors national park…