Marrick Priory

Conversion to Youth Centre

Date: May 1968
Headline: Conversion of historic Marrick Priory into Youth Centre
Source: Youth Service Magazine

Almost hidden against the background of the fells, eight miles up Swaledale from Richmond stands the thirteenth-century tower of the priory church of Marrick.  This, and the shell of the ancient chancel, are all that can be seen from a distance of the remains of the historic Benedictine nunnery there.

The nunnery was built in 1144 by Roger de Aske, Four centuries later the then prioress voluntarily surrendered the priory to Henry VIII, and she and the 16 nuns then in the community went into retirement.  Now, after another four centuries, the priory is undergoing a massive conversion that will make it into an important residential centre for adventure courses for young people.  The cost of adapting it will be more than £25,000, half of which will be provided by the Department of Education and Science.

The project, whose architect is Mr. George G. Pace, FSA, FRIBA, himself a specialist in ecclesiastical work, originated some eight years ago.  The idea was to create a centre for rough and ready outdoor pursuits.  However, at the suggestion of the Department of Education and Science, the scheme has gradually developed into its present proportions.  Now the plans provide for a much more comprehensive and comfortable centre.  They include converting the present church – rebuilt in 1811 – into a two-storey building containing refectory, quiet room and chapel downstairs, and two dormitories accommodating up to 35 young people upstairs.  The historic and architectural features of the original priory that were incorporated into the rebuilt church included the ancient chancel arch, Jacobean woodwork and remains of ancient pillars, and these are being retained and incorporated into the centre.

Article Photo
Tower bells and dining room renovation
Scaffolding at Marrick Priory
Reconstruction work in progress at Marrick Priory

A new building, sited at the north side of the old one and designed to blend with it, will contain kitchen and cloakrooms, etc., downstairs; while upstairs will be two suites of wardens’ or leaders’ rooms, showers and lavatories, and drying rooms.

The new centre could be used not only for adventure courses, field training courses, Duke of Edinburgh courses and holiday parties but also for other sorts of residential courses such as school leavers, industrial and apprentice, senior member, junior leader and in-service training for, say, youth leaders, teachers and clergy.

It was the Archdeacon who first had the idea of putting this disused church to good purpose in the service of young people.  In 1961 a Deed was enacted to close the Church and put the building in the hands of four Trustees: the Archdeacon of Richmond, the Mayor of Richmond, the Lord Lieutenant of the North Riding, and the Vicar of Grinton, whose parish contains the priory.  As the individuals in these positions would change from time to time, the trusteeship was to pass into the hands of the person holding the office.

The scheme’s sponsors believe that there is a need for such a centre in the area to enable young people to develop their physical, mental and spiritual abilities.  It will be available to all local authority youth organisations throughout the north-east region, to all voluntary youth organisations and also to bodies such as industrial firms who wish to use it for training young employees.  The organisations or clubs using it will be expected to arrange their own courses, and for their own staffing and leaders, though it is likely that a part-time warden will be appointed.  Other (domestic) staff will be recruited locally as needed.  However, groups using the centre will be expected to help with the chores and general cleaning of the premises. 

The project has the support of local education authorities, diocesan youth services, and voluntary organisations in the area, and the Department of Education and Science has accepted the scheme as a regional project.  The Trustees have appointed an Action Group to oversee the centre’s development.  Chairman is the present Archdeacon of Richmond; secretary, the Bishop of Ripon’s Youth Officer for the Archdeaconry; the task of raising funds to meet the remaining half of the cost of conversion, from voluntary sources, is in the hands of an Appeals Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Rupert Hart-Davis.


Modern Facilities

Three-quarters of the required amount has been promised, including generous grants from the Carnegie and Leche Trusts.  Individual cheques and postal orders ranging from 5s. upwards have been received with gratitude, and it is hoped these will continue to arrive.

One might say that Marrick started its youth work some years ago. Since the conversion was first envisaged many visits to the priory were arranged by the Student Christian Movement in Schools.  Indeed, many young people from schools, universities and also from youth groups and industrial centres have stayed at the priory, acting as working parties.  They mainly cleared and moved sections of the dilapidated interior and the neglected tombstones from the churchyard. The last service to be held was about five years ago at the request of students working there.  Today boys at Richmond Hill approved school are doing the interior woodwork – making bunk beds, cupboards and other items in their school workshop.  The town’s Grammar school boys are also doing much to help.

When the conversion of Marrick Priory is completed later this year it will provide a magnificent centre for young people, offering as it does not only modern facilities but also an historic atmosphere. Set amid some of the finest scenery in the country, Marrick will provide an opportunity for quiet study, relaxation, discussion and worship. It can be used according to the aims and purpose of each group – sometimes as a conference centre, sometimes as an ecumenical work project, or as a base for an Outward Bound venture. There is little doubt that many organisations and youth clubs will take advantage of its facilities. Rightly, perhaps, Marrick Priory in its new role has been described by the project’s sponsors as a worthwhile and inspiring project.

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