Uncovering the past of ‘jewel in the crown’

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An unusual sight has greeted visitors to a Ryedale church recently.

A brand new ”cherry picker” has been temporarily moved into St Mary’s Priory Church, Old Malton, as part of a restoration project which is seeking to clean the interior stonework of the historic building.

The project, led by local stone and building conservator Nigel Copsey, will remove the black sulphur coating which most likely originated from the emissions of a coal burner that was, in former days, at the east end of the church.

The colour of the original stone has been hidden from parishioners for years.

During the restoration work, Nigel and his team have also uncovered evidence of the different phases of the original building, along with structural breaks and architectural features, thanks to the cherry picker which is able to cover all heights of the stone walls.

Once one of the largest and wealthiest houses of the English Gilbertine Order, St Mary’s Priory is still one of the “jewels in Ryedale’s crown” 
despite the fact that alterations over the years have caused it to lose some of its former magnificence.

Small pieces of evidence point to the original splendour and influence the Priory would have had in Malton and its surroundings.

Transitional carvings, from Norman to early English, can still be seen and reveal something of the evolution of the building as it stands today.

“St Mary’s Priory is one of the jewels in Ryedale’s Crown – when it existed as a complete Priory, it was a highly influential hub across Ryedale,” said Nigel. “By the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, the Priory owned much of the building stock in Old and New Malton and may very well have built much of it, controlling and profiting from much of its trade. Beyond Malton, the Priory owned rents and farms in a wide area of Ryedale.”

His admiration for St Mary’s Priory was shared by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 -1878), the English Gothic 
revival architect, who was responsible for some iconic buildings including the Albert Memorial and St Pancras Station.

This year’s cleaning will allow visitors to appreciate many of these magnificent features – so admired by Scott himself – in all their glory.

Mason’s marks, carved into the stone, are also being revealed, telling a story of the age of different parts of the church as each mason had his own mark and these changed down the ages. Some masons worked on Byland Abbey and St Mary’s Priory and this too can be identified through their marks.

Rev Peter Robinson, Vicar of Malton and Old Malton, said: “The current phase of work is expected to be completed this spring, and I hope that those many people in the Ryedale community and beyond, who have over the years generously donated to St Mary’s for important work such as this, will, at last, be able to visit again and wonder at new revelations in the history of this remarkable building.“




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