Marrick Priory

History and Early Years as Outdoor Centre

Date: September 1973
Headline: Untitled
Source: Vernon Mortimer

Marrick Priory like any ancient building, must be a psychometric paradise. It was founded as a priory in 1154 by Roger de Aske for Benedictine nuns, and in 1971 was opened as an adventure centre. The intervening period, but for the depredations of Henry VIII, was “reposeful” to use the word of a late Victorian antiquarian.

The Priory, which inspired Hilda Prescott’s Man on a Donkey, was well endowed by the founder, who gave 400 acres of land and the already existing Church of St. Andrew. The 16 nuns with several servants tended poultry, milch cows, horses, goats, and a kitchen garden. The rest of the land was let to independent farmers who came on rent day, with some of the householders from Marrick village, to pay to the prioress rents which amply covered the needs of the priory. So for nigh on 400 years, generations of nuns lived out their lives in the calm and peace of Marrick.

By 1530 there were already fears that Henry VIII had his rapacious eyes on the wealth of the priories and monasteries, Christabel Cowper, who was then prioress, was the daughter of a prosperous wool merchant of Richmond and was later to show her resource in postponing the seizure of her priory by bribing Thomas Cromwell. While she was prioress, Isabella Beaufort sought the sanctuary of the priory from the passion, and probably the wrath, of the king. She was a conspicuous beauty who had early taken his eye when she went to court but had no wish to compete for his attentions with the determined Anne Boleyn. She dressed as a page, fled the court and found her way to Marrick Priory. When the priory was dissolved she had taken no vows, the king had forgotten her and history relates she married happily of her own choosing.

In 1539, the priory, at last dissolved and plundered, passed into the ownership of John Uvedale, one of the king’s “council-men”, and remained in private ownership and “reposeful’’, until modern times,

The Church of St. Andrew has always served the parish of Marrick, and this use continued after the Dissolution. The villagers used a path through the woods known as the nun’s causey. The path had 365 steps which, according to legend, were at some remote time placed there by the nuns as a penance, one for each day of the year. It is still in use today though predators have removed some of the stones.

The nave of the church, used, for services until 1811, was pulled down with the exception of the tower, and re-built in a manner quite out of keeping with the tower and the remains of the old priory.

After the Second World War the population of Marrick had become so small that the church was closed and began to become derelict. It was then the late Archdeacon Graham of Richmond conceived the idea of creating an adventure centre for young people.


An independent trust, under the auspices of the Diocese of Ripon, was set up with the Archdeacon of Richmond as chairman. The well-known church architect, Mr. George Pace of York, was consulted and he drew up plans. His designs and drawings were enthusiastically received, and indeed were exhibited at the summer exhibition of the Royal Academy in 1971.

All that was then needed was money; fortunately the philanthropy started by Roger de Aske was continued. The project found favour from enlightened people in charge of public trusts and also from private individuals. All considered, the idea would help to fill a gap, and give young people an opportunity of learning how best to fill the increasing amount of leisure time available nowadays.

Private donations and public trusts amounted to £20,000 of which £12,000 was subscribed by the Carnegie Trust. A further £15,000 was given by the Department of Education towards the development of the centre as a regional youth project. In addition to this, Lord Normanby, one of the trustees, has been a generous benefactor. The day-to-day expenses of running the centre are met by the fees of those who stay.

Work was begun in 1958 and the adventure centre opened in the spring of 1971.

The centre is run by a warden, 33-year-old Liverpudlian Jonathan Bailey, who stresses that he and his charming young wife with their small staff work as a team. The centre, which is open all year round, provides full facilities for a serious seminar, and at the same time caters for the whole person. Churches of all denominations from all parts of the country are attracted by the facilities Marrick Priory offers as a centre for conferences and training for their young people.

Several sessions are available for booking by individuals, but the main emphasis is on group bookings of up to 38 for either weekends or full weeks. The countryside appeals to schools and youth groups who are able to make use of the wide range of outdoor facilities which include canoeing, climbing, and Orienteering. There are no resident instructors, but the centre is fortunate in being able to draw on the help of recognised teachers in all fields who give their services freely and voluntarily. Trips to local museums and other places of interest are also arranged.

Many people who care about youth consider boredom to be a spur to bad behaviour. No one has time to be bored at Marrick. The warden has yet to see any vandalism or graffiti!

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