We’ve whizzed up the A19 many a time visiting family in the North East, and never noticed the brown sign for Mount Grace Priory, a property managed by English Heritage. We checked out what we might visit when we were heading north up to Sunderland after out short stay in York, and thought it would be worth a short stop.
It’s the site of a former Carthusian priory, with substantial ruins of the monastery (dissolved in 1539 by Henry VIII) and a 17th-century manor house which had been extended and remodelled as a holiday home for a wealthy industrialist, Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, at the beginning of the 20th Century. There’s also a relatively small (by Stately home standards, anyway) at the front of the house.
The brown sign was hard to spot and we then had to make a right turn pretty soon after, crossing over the south bound carriageway of the busy A19 to turn into the narrow driveway that led up to the property. A bonus when we arrived – National Trust members are allowed free entry. as the property, although managed by EH is actually owned by the Trust.
First of all we had a look round the house. A couple of the rooms on the ground floor have been done up in Arts and Crafts style, including William Morris and Co. wallpaper, recreating the look from when the house was owned by Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell.
This is the Drawing Room
with an attractive fireplace, which reminded me of those at Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House in the Lake District.
And this is the entrance hall
A room at the back of the house has been simply furnished
and has a particularly attractive stone fireplace – very Arts and Craft in style.
On the first floor there was an exhibition about the history of the house and the attic space, which was used for the bedrooms for Isaac Bell’s children, has recently been opened to visitors. One interesting feature was the marks on the wall indicating the changing heights of the three children.
Once we’d finished looking round the house we went out the back door outside to where the remains of the monastery are found.
It had belonged to the Carthusian order (the same as that to which the monks in France who produce the Chartreuse liqueur). Unlike other orders the monks live a solitary lives, praying and meditating, working and taking their meals in their own “cells” and only congregating for short periods during the day. So the church was relatively small and the site is dominated by two large cloisters surrounded by the remains of the cells where the monks lived.
English Heritage have recreated one of the cells so it’s possible to gain an impression of how the monks lived
The word “cell” conjures up an image of a dingy space with bars on the windows, but this was far from the case at the Priory. The cell was a reasonably large house
with a kitchen and living room,
space for prayer and study
and bedroom on the ground floor
and a workshop where weaving and the like was done on the first floor (accessed by a steep ladder)
with it’s own kitchen garden.
The cells had toilets at the end of the garden, provided with running water
and accessed by a covered passage
Very sophisticated for its time!
To maintain the seclusion, the cells were separated by a high wall.
The standard of living of the monks, and the standard of hygiene, would have been much better than that experienced by the majority of the population. But I don’t know how many people would be able to put up with a life of work and prayer where there was very little contact with other human beings.
The gardens at the front of the house, although not particularly extensive, were very pleasant.
Even today, the site is very secluded. It’s miles from anywhere and surrounded by woodland. The traffic on the A19 rushes past, mainly oblivious to the fact that the Priory is there. It would be perfectly peaceful, but traffic noise from the busy road does intrude a little. Nevertheless, it was a good way to break our journey.