Mount Grace Priory, in the parish of East Harlsey, North Yorkshire, England, within the North York Moors National Park, is today the best preserved and most accessible of the nine medieval Carthusian houses (charterhouses) in England. Set in woodlands, it was founded in 1398 by Thomas Holland, 1st Duke of Surrey, the son of King Richard II's half-brother Thomas, Earl of Kent. It was the last monastery established in Yorkshire, and one of the few founded anywhere in Britain in the period between the Black Death (1349–50) and the Reformation. It was a fairly small establishment, with space for a prior and twenty-three monks.
Mount Grace Priory consisted of a church and two cloisters. The Great Cloister, to the north of the church, had seventeen cells for monks whilst the southern Lesser Cloister had six cells for the lay brothers.
Upon the abdication of King Richard II, Holland and others of the king's supporters attempted to assassinate his recently crowned successor, Henry IV, at New Year, 1400, but were captured and executed. Holland's body was eventually recovered and, in 1412, re-buried in the charterhouse that he had founded. The orphaned priory of Mount Grace, bereft of its founder and the income that had been granted to it by Holland and King Richard, depended upon royal largesse for its income for more than a decade.
On its founding, Thomas Holland ordered that the monks were to pray for the king, queen and several members of the royal family, and for himself and his heirs, and many others including John and Eleanor Ingelby. The prior of the Grande Chartreuse allowed him to nominate Robert Tredwye as the first rector (although the charter refers to him as the first prior) and to dedicate the priory to "the Blessed Virgin and Saint Nicholas".
The second part of the dedication lapsed and the priory became known as the House of the Assumption of the most Blessed Virgin in Mount Grace. Nicholas Love, prior of Mount Grace, succeeded in creating a link between the priory and the Lancastrian administration, in part by submitting his "Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ" to Thomas Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury, Henry IV's chancellor, in support of the archbishop's campaign against Wycliffism, and by granting Arundel confraternity in the spiritual benefits of Mount Grace in exchange for his provision of material benefits.
In 1410 the house was formally incorporated into the order, and Love named as fourth rector and first prior. (But note the disparity with the original charter.)
** – Grants and Charters – **
The house received a number of grants and charters:
In March 1399 Richard II granted the monks a charter of liberties and franchises in general terms, including the right to mine lead.
In May 1399, at the request of the Duke of Surrey, he gave them the alien priories of Hinckley in Leicestershire, Carisbrooke in the Isle of Wight, and Wareham in Dorset. They were also given, for as long as England and France were at war, lands belonging to the alien priory of Saint Mary of Lire, at Evreux, in Normandy.
When Wareham Priory was lost, soon after Henry's accession, the king granted the monks £100 a year from the Exchequer until they were able to get lands of equivalent value (£1,000) and a barrel of the 'better red wine of Gascony' to be received at Hull every Martinmas.
In 1412 Henry V confirmed the gift of Hinckley to support five monks, to pray for himself and Thomas Beaufort, Earl of Dorset.
In 1421 he gave the monks four further alien priories, Long Bennington, Minting and Hagh (Hough-on-the-Hill) in Lincolnshire, and Field Dalling in Norfolk, which redeemed the yearly grant of £100.
In 1439 the Priory asked parliament to confirm their title – the number of claimants to the estate meant that they dared not continue to build – and Henry VI did so in 1440. Following this, the gifts and income continued:
In 1456 Sir James and Lady Elizabeth Strangways of Harlsey Castle granted the priory the advowson of the church of Beighton, in Derbyshire.
In 1462 the king granted the manor of Atherstone, Warwickshire (part of the alien priory of Great Ogbourne in Wiltshire), for the relief of the poor.
In 1471 the king granted the Yorkshire manor of the alien priory of Begare in return for three daily masses being said for the king and the souls of his family (a practice known as frankalmoign) but in 1472 it was re-granted to Eton College, who had been previous holders of a grant.
In 1508 the Prior of Mount Grace leased the chapel of East Harlsey and manor of Bordelby to the Prior of Guisborough for fifty years of at a yearly rent of £8.
In 1522, in the will of Sir Thomas Strangways, a Lady Chapel at Mount Grace is mentioned and directions given for the priest who sang masses there.
** – The House – **
Goddards was the last major project of Walter Brierley who died in 1926 whilst the house was still under construction. His own home (the Grade 2* listed Bishopsbarns) in St George's Place, York, was in the same street that Noel and Kathleen Terry lived in and 0.6 miles (1 km) from Goddards.
One of the notable architectural features of the house is the vaulted ceiling in the drawing room which is similar to Brierley’s own home with the plasterwork in both houses attributed to George Bankart, probably George P Bankart in both cases, rather than his son George E Bankart, with whom he wrote books about the craft. The National Heritage List for England describes Goddards as “the finest surviving example of the work of Walter Brierley, the Lutyens of the north”, and it still retains many of the original fixtures including its Arts and Crafts wallpapers and panelling and the staircase with its oak carving.
The exterior of the house features handmade locally produced bricks arranged in geometric patterns and decorative chimney stacks typical of a Brierley building. Goddards was built by William Anelay whose initial estimate for the project, including the carriage entrance, was £25,980, however the work suffered a number of delays and was not finished until after the family had moved into the house. Copies of the original plans are displayed in the house.
Mount Grace became an important locus for the production and preservation of contemplative and devotional texts: among writers professed as monks there were John Norton and Richard Methley (the latter known for his Latin translations of The Cloud of Unknowing and of the anonymous English translation of Marguerite Porete's Mirror of Simple Souls). The only surviving manuscript of The Book of Margery Kempe also belonged to Mount Grace Charterhouse.
The priory was closed in 1539 during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. Some of the monks had (in 1534) attempted to avoid taking the oath of supremacy but, after they were imprisoned, the last prior, John Wilson, handed the keys over to Henry VIII's representatives. The site then passed into private ownership.
Mount Grace was valued at £382 5s. 11½d. gross (£323 2s. 10½d. net) which included £104 6s. 8d. from spiritualities in Lincolnshire, £164 from lands outside Yorkshire and the rest from its home county of Yorkshire. In December 1539 the brothers were awarded pensions totalling £195 – £60 plus the house and chapel called the Mount for the prior, £7 for each of eight priests and small sums for eighteen.
Unlike monks of other orders, who live in common, the Carthusians—to this day—live as hermits, each occupying his own cell (more like a small house), and coming together only for the nocturnal liturgical hours, and on Sundays and feast-days, in the church; the other hours are sung by each monk separately in his cell. Except for the singing of the liturgy and conversation "on grave subjects" during a weekly three-hour exercise walk, Carthusians are silent, and their diet is strictly vegetarian.
The monks at Mount Grace were very conscious of hygiene and sanitation; included in the reconstructed cell is a reconstructed latrine and visitors are able to investigate the ditches used as sewage systems. The dissolution of Mount Grace, and life in the priory in the preceding years, is vividly reimagined by Lucy Beckett in her 1986 novel The Time Before You Die.
After the dissolution, the ruins of the guest-house of the priory were incorporated into two later houses: a seventeenth-century manor, a rare building of the Commonwealth period, built by Thomas Lascelles and the larger house of 1900–01, an important example of the Arts and Crafts movement. The Manor House at the priory was decorated in Arts and Crafts style under the ownership of the ironmaster Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell.
The property is owned by the National Trust and under the care of English Heritage. Visitors today can see the layout of the whole monastery, including one reconstructed monk's cell, together with the typically small Carthusian church and the later house. There is also a museum on the site detailing the history of the priory. English Heritage lets the Prior's Lodge as a holiday cottage.
** – Visiting – **
Unique medieval priory.
Discover the most complete surviving Carthusian monastery in Britain. Founded in the late 14th century, you can still see remains of all the priory buildings today. Take a walk around the typically small church with its striking surviving tower, explore the great cloister and don't miss the reconstructed monk's cell. It's the strict Carthusian lifestyle that made the layout of Mount Grace Priory so unique. The priory was created so that each monk could live in solitude.
Reconstructed monk's cell.
Step inside the modest recreated monk's cell and see the rooms where a Carthusian monk was expected to live and work. On your way in, look out for the L-shaped hatch which was used to deliver food and other essentials without any need to communicate. Be sure to explore the newly re-planted monk's cell garden full of herbs, vegetables and flowers. Based on extensive research, the garden reflects how the monks would have used this multi-functioning space. Pick up a planting guide inside the cell to find out more about the plant varieties and their uses.
The manor house.
Wander the rooms, hallways and attics of the Arts and Crafts manor house. Enjoy eclectic interiors where William Morris' designs complement original medieval and restored 17th century features. Stop by the drawing room to see an original William Morris carpet. The manor house building was originally the priory guest house. It was converted into a home in the 17th century and then extended and refurbished in the Arts and Crafts style at the end of the 19th century by Sir Lowthian Bell.
Head to the first floor to delve into the history of Mount Grace, from the medieval monks through to the Bell family.
Explore 13 acres of newly rejuvenated Arts and Crafts gardens. Roam the room-like spaces of the terraces and dell garden, with borders redesigned by award winning gardener Chris Beardshaw. Discover year-round seasonal spectacles with bluebells in spring, the scent of eglantyne roses filling the air in summer, the bright red of the Japanese Acers in autumn, and snowdrops in winter. Pick up a seasonal leaflet from admissions for more highlights. Venture further into the meadows and orchard, which is planted with traditional Yorkshire varieties of apple trees. Then follow mown paths across the pasture to spot birds on the lake.
The Orchard Café.
Sit back and enjoy views of the orchard as you tuck into locally sourced food. Dig into hot, hearty meals inspired by traditional Yorkshire dishes and the history of the priory. There are lighter options too with soups, sandwiches and sweet treats to enjoy along with a hot or a cool drink. They recommend trying their original dish, the 'yoastie' (a Yorkshire pudding toastie), for a truly local taste sensation. Children's options and high chairs are available. And if you're an outdoor type that's no problem - they've got covered seating and a picnic area for you to use. The café is also open to peckish passers-by.
Grab an explorer pack on entry and head out on a garden adventure with Sammy the stoat, then discover the priory with Brother Nicholas. You'll find a handy magnifying glass, binoculars, and a spotter's guide inside to help you get to grips with wildlife in the gardens. Keep your eyes peeled for family-friendly plant markers in the monk's cell garden and find out how the monks would have used the different herbs and flowers. Big and little kids alike will enjoy looking out for our cheeky illustrated stoat, who is just waiting to be spotted hiding on benches and signs. You might even learn a thing or two about these crafty little creatures as you go.
** – Facilities – **
• National Trust members free, except on event days.
• Car park - NB charges apply for all visitors.
• Car park drop-off point.
• Unfortunately dogs are not allowed on site, with the exception of in the café. Assistant dogs are welcome across the site.
• Male, female and disabled toilets.
• Baby-changing facilities.
• Children's quiz/trails.
• Family activity packs.
• Mobility parking spaces.
• Induction Loop.
• Pushchairs and baby back-carriers welcome.
• In the event of adverse weather conditions e.g. snow and ice, please take extra care. Be aware, woodlands may become hazardous in high winds.
• To read the National Trust full access statement (PDF) click here.
There are no buses directly to the site. English Heritage recommend catching a bus to Osmotherley and walking from there (4.5 mile walk).
Location : Mount Grace Priory, Staddle Bridge, Northallerton, North Yorkshire DL6 3JG
Transport: North Allerton (National Rail) then taxi 6 miles. Bus: see above.
Opening Times: April to October, Daily 10:00 to 18:00; else see calendar.
Tickets: Adults £9.00. Children £5.40 Concessions £8.10.
Tel: 01609 883494