14 January 2010

Arts and crafts revival planned at Mount Grace

Work of leading Arts and Crafts designers from turn of 20th Century restored to former glory for the 21st Century.

English Heritage is set to embark on an ambitious new project to revive the little known Arts and Crafts past of one of North Yorkshire’s most beautiful buildings.

Mount Grace Priory

Mount Grace Priory Facade


During its medieval heyday the honey-stoned Manor House at Mount Grace Priory, near Osmotherley, was the guest house for dignitaries visiting one of the nation’s few Carthusian monasteries, whose hermit-like monks led a life of solitude and piety.

But centuries later it was also given an Arts and Crafts make-over under the tutelage of wealthy owner, Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, who made his fortune by virtually founding Teesside’s steel industry.

Now two rooms are to be restored to the vision mapped out for Bell by leading designers at the turn of the 20 century, with one of the rooms being hung with specially made hand printed wallpaper, based on original fragments discovered at the Priory.

Mark Douglas, English Heritage Curator of Properties for the North, explained:  “Arts and Crafts has really never gone out of fashion and was initially a reaction to perceived Victorian fussiness and signalled a return to simpler designs inspired by nature and making a feature of craftsmanship. Ironically, it drew on medieval monasticism for some of its inspiration. This part of North Yorkshire was a real hotbed for the movement, inspired by the enthusiasm and patronage of Sir Lowthian Bell, whose roots were in heavy industry, but whose passion was for naturalistic beauty.”


Wallpaper, Mount Grace Priory

The project will cost £150,000, with the two rooms opening to the public in July 2010.  A new oak floor will be also be installed, ceilings re-plastered and other restoration work undertaken.  A leading UK manufacturer has been commissioned to produce the wallpaper, with each role taking a week to make, featuring a green floral pattern.  Besides surviving wallpaper fragments, experts have unearthed other clues about the rooms’ original appearance from grainy period photographs, a 1945 inventory of furniture and the original architect’s drawing dating to 1898.

During its history the 14th century Manor House was re-modelled twice.  After Henry VIII closed Mount Grace in 1539 and pensioned off the remaining 16 monks and the prior, the property became a gentleman’s des res.  It was extended by Thomas Lascelles in 1653 who added two new wings during the Commonwealth period when England was ruled by Oliver Cromwell.  However, by the 19th century it had fallen into disrepair and faced a bleak future.

The purchase by Sir Lowthian Bell was a turning point.  Not only was he an advocate of the Arts and Crafts movement, but he was also a leading light in the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.  He preserved both monastic and Commonwealth features, while adding his own Arts and Crafts twist, including square black leaded windows, still visible today.  The make-over and restoration took three years to complete.

Becky Wright, English Heritage Custodian at Mount Grace, added: “Without his intervention, the Manor House would probably have been a ruin today instead of the staggeringly beautiful building we see today.  Reclaiming some of the site’s Arts and Crafts heritage will provide visitors with a fascinating experience, but will also be a tribute to Sir Lowthian Bell’s vision and contribution to preserving our heritage.”