Saturday, 24 March 2018

History of Stanbrook Abbey


Although the Abbey is no longer a religious establishment it has been sympathetically refurbished into an hotel. There is a new stone exterior entrance, and in spite of the fact that the interior is now used differently it still retains its original character. The building was in a terrible state having had very little attention or maintenance done for 50 years.
Sister Charlotte's Restaurant
Breakfast is taken in what was once known as the Calefactory, or warming room. It was a common room for the nuns where they could gather to warm themselves and out tasks such as sewing. It housed a communal fire, and in the earliest days of the convent would have been the only room that was heated. 
In 2005, the Abbess decided that the Pugin designed Abbey must be sold, and that it would be best to relocate to somewhere smaller. The buildings were too large and extremely costly for the few remaining nuns to manage and maintain.
Now Stanbrook Abbey with its handful of Benedictine nuns have relocated to North Yorkshire. They commissioned an ethical and sustainable contemporary new abbey using the latest green technology. Completed in 2015, it has already won several architectural awards.
This particular order of Benedictine nuns traces its roots back as far as 1625. It was founded by eight, young, well connected, English Catholic women, living in exile in Cambrai, Flanders. At that time England forbade the setting up of Catholic religious houses. The chief foundress was 17 year old Helen Moore, who was the great, great, granddaughter of Sir Thomas Moore. 
Over 150 years later in 1793 French revolutionists, seized their property in Cambrai, and imprisoned the nuns near Paris where they lived under a harsh regime, narrowly escaping the guillotine.  The small handful that survived were eventually set free and returned to England. In 1838 they settled near Malvern having acquired 22 acres of land along with a Georgian manor house called Stanbrook Hall.
Sir Thomas More was a councillor to King Henry VIII, and the Lord High Chancellor of England. However, he strongly opposed the Protestant Reformation - a stance that led to him being executed. He was a leading and much venerated Roman Catholic who was canonised as a martyr in 1935 by Pope Pius XI. 

This corridor called the Priest's Cloister leads from the original Georgian manor house into the chapel. The corridor allowed a visiting priest private access to the eastern end of the chapel only. From behind a screen he would then deliver his sermon to the nuns. The nuns would enter via a different corridor and sit in the main body of the chapel called the Choir.
The chapel has now been deconsecrated and is used for weddings.
The Georgian manor has several bedrooms where a bride along her party can stay and make their preparations for the wedding day.
Augustus Welby Pugin died when he was just 40 years old having designed many dozens of mainly eclesiastical Catholic buildings, but his most notable building must be the Palace of Westminster and the tower that holds Big Ben. 
  Is it possible to die from overwork?
Pugin achieved far more in his short working life than most could ever hope to do given a lifetime twice as long. He left behind a young family of eight children - the youngest was a baby and the eldest eighteen years old. I have previously written two posts about Augustus Welby Pugin entitled God's Own Architect and The Convent School should you wish to find out more about him.
 
When the work on Stanbrook Abbey began Augustus Welby Pugin was already dead, but three of his 8 children, Edward, Cuthbert and Peter all worked on the abbey. They adopted their father's Victorian Gothic Revival style with each one taking reponsibilty for different areas of the abbey. They were also assisted by their brother-in-law George Coppinger Ashlin.
Let's wander down some more gothic corridors until we arrive at the former nuns refectory where they would gather together to eat their meals.

The Crucis cloister has fourteen stone carved stations of the cross by Richard Lockwood Boulton, an English sculptor.
In the nuns refectory, stone family crests of the eight nuns who founded the order in 1625, act as base supports to the ceiling beams. A particular feature of this room were the oak fittings carved by Robert 'Mousey' Thompson famous for carving mice into every piece of furniture that he made. He made 14 refrectory tables and 80 chairs for the room in 1923, but these have now been relocated to the new abbey. Thompson also made a pulpit for the refectory along with some wall panelling which are still insitu. The pulpit bears the coat of arms of the community's original benefactors, and was designed by two of the nuns, Dame Werburg Welch and the abbess, Dame Laurentia McLachlan, the later was described by her good friend George Bernard Shaw as 'an enclosed nun with an unenclosed mind'. It is worth putting these names into google, where you will discover that they were both very talented and interesting women. Early Thompson pieces from the 1920's command very high prices. In December 2003 at Sotherby's, New York, a small Robert Thompson cabinet from the 1920s sold for $70,000.





The panelling
along with Robert Thompson's own ubiquitous little mouse.
Here we played 'hunt the mice' and with difficulty found six running up the bannister.
This is Robert Thompson's own signature mouse. The workshops in Kilburn, Yorkshire continue today with each craftsman using his own style of signature mouse. Although 'brown' furniture is generally in decline, 'mousey' Thompson objects and furniture still continue to be in demand.
The rose window at the eastern end of the chapel was designed by John Hardman, and depicts Our Lady of Consolation protecting the original eight founding nuns. Hardman was a long time collaborator with the Pugin family, most notably in the Palace of Westminster.
 
We had this wonderful building to ourselves. There were a few other guests staying, but we appeared to be the only ones exploring. 

35 comments:

  1. Stanbrook Abbey is so beautiful and interesting, and thank you for the wonderful photos Rosemary. Even Brisbane has a Pugin chapel, alongside our St. Stephens Cathedral. He really must have been an incredible and very quick architect to achieve so much in a short lifetime. I love that you saw some of the Thompson mice - we have seen and admired them on the English antique programmes on television.

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    1. Thank you Patricia - it took me far longer to sort this out than I had imagined, and I still haven't completed it yet.
      Yes, you are correct - Pugin did seven churches in Australia and also three in Tasmania. There are others in various different countries, including 20 buildings in Ireland of churches, convents, and monastries.
      Glad you are acquainted with Thompson and his mice, I did wonder whether he would be known or not in other countries.

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  2. Interesting story with beautiful photos. They made a great job to change it in a comfortable hotel, it looks great.

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    1. It is a great historical story, and makes for a fascinating and interesting stay.

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  3. What a beautiful and fascinating place! Love the mousey furniture!

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  4. What a gorgeous and interesting place. There is so much to see. They did a beautiful job with the restoration. The new furnishings are lovely. 
    It is incredible to think what Augustus Welby Pugin achieved in his short life time. He left a magnificent architectural legacy.
    I remember your previous post about Robert Thompson. I loved the way he signed his work with a mouse.
    I can only imagine how much you must have enjoyed staying there. Thank you for sharing all the great photos and the story of Stanbrook Abbey.

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    1. We loved it there Catherine, and do intend to return again at a different time of year. Glad that you enjoyed the story of Stanbrook Abbey.

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  5. Hello Rosemary, Spiritual and public buildings used to have so much quality built into them, often including depictions of or metaphors for the use of the building. With these buildings disappearing or being altered at a rapid rate, it is nice to know that we can still visit Stanbrook Abbey.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - the restoration work on the abbey has fortunately saved it from further deterioration. Since 1947 all buildings here that are of historical or architectural merit are listed. This means that they are protected and any changes made have to abide by a very strict criteria. This do not only applies to buildings but includes monuments, bridges, gardens, and landscapes etc.

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  6. Exquisitely beautiful! Well worth the restorations, and a good use of the old Abbey.

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    1. The building cost a lot of money to purchase, and I should imagine that the restoration has also cost many millions of pounds too.

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  7. What a joy to explore this beautiful place with you and to follow your links to explore more of its history and to learn more about the incredibly talented and prolific Pugin. Every corner of your part of the world seems scattered with such treasure.

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    1. Thank you for your very generous comment which I appreciate very much. I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing the abbey, learning about its history, and that you also enjoyed the links.

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  8. Dear Rosemary,
    the abbey looks very beautiful! I find the signature mouse very unique. Besides, thank you for sending me that interesting link on snowdrop varieties. I checked it out and also tried to identify the snowdrops in my garden. However, I had my difficulties as for me quite a few varieties described on the site looked similar to mine.
    Have a lovely week!
    Best wishes,
    Lisa

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    1. Dear Lisa - Glad you enjoyed seeing the Abbey and the signature mouse by Thompson. If you could possibly send a decent photo by email to the link that I gave you then I would identify the snowdrop for you.

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  9. Rosemary - thank you for sharing - what a wonderful building. Small parts of it reminded me of my school days at St. Agnex and St, Michael's in East Grinstead. The convent was St Margaret's.

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    1. Thank you Susan - I am pleased that this rekindled childhood memories for you back here.

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  10. Fascinating place and history. Very stylish wood carvings and metalwork.

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    1. It was a completely fascinating place to stay.

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  11. Interesting to read about the once Abby.
    Love the mouse :)
    It's a lovely building and it's nice to see it being used.

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    1. It has been well but sympathetically restored.

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  12. It looks so beautifully restored, it's amazing that you seem to be the only guests who were exploring it. Did it have a calm atmosphere too? I love that flower motif you have shown, it's so simple, those some touches add some much to the design. Sarah x

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    1. We only saw 7 other guests who scuttled off with their bags after breakfast - what a wonderful treat they missed. Yes, the atmosphere was both peaceful and calm - it was lovely, we shall return.

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  13. Love the tiles in the long corridors , and everything seems so beautifully restored !

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    1. It is a lovely place Jane - a credit to those who worked on the restoration.

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  14. Someone did an excellent job transforming the abbey into a hotel,and your photos as usual are stunning. I especially like those light filled corridor shots.I will now try to find more on Pugin who was obviously a gifted architect.
    Had to laugh,I too am always the person scouting about for blog photos. Use to drive my husband crazy but he has finally gotten use to it.

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    1. Hello Janey - if you go into the links that I have shown that will tell you more about Pugin.
      Husbands have to be very patient and tolerant too.

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  15. Dearest Rosemary,
    One thing has to be said that those nuns in the 17th Century ware rather affluent nobility!
    Glad that this beautiful architecture is being saved and put to use as a hotel; looks stunning the way it is now.
    Hugs,
    Mariette

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    1. Dear Mariette - those were exactly my thoughts too. To have your own family crest is certainly out of the norm.

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  16. What a lovely place and beautifully restored. Every image is full of beauty. The Rose window is stunning and the Gothic corridors are gorgeous. I love the mice, a nice quirky touch :-)

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    1. Thanks Polly - it made for a very memorable stay.

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  17. Two wonderful posts about Stanbrook Abbey with beautiful photographs. I shall return to them when I have a quiet moment during this Easter weekend to look at them again. Years ago I sent for a taped recording of the nuns of Stanbrook Abbey and the monks of Prinknash singing plainchant, some in Latin and some in English. There are notes on the cover sleeve about the history of both places. Thank you for reminding me of Stanbrook. I have a CD player with a music tape facility so I will put the tape on today. It looks like a beautiful place and now as an hotel I'm glad you had a restful time there and could wander around and take photos for us to also enjoy. Wishing you and your family a happy, peaceful Easter.

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    1. I was so pleased to receive your comment and to know that there is another blogger who has also read and is familiar with the story of Stanbrook Abbey.
      The monks of Prinknash live very near to here too on the edge of a Cotswold escarpment with views across to the Malvern Hills.
      Dame Laurentia McLachlan was the Abbess at Stanbrook Abbey until she died in 1953 - she was a great authority on church music, and pioneered the restoration of Gregorian Chant. She became posthumously known to the wider public when she was portrayed on the stage in a 1988 play, The Best of Friends - she was played by Partricia Routledge. She spent 70 of her 87 years living at Stanbrook Abbey.

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