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Arts and Crafts vision restored at Gertrude Bell's family home
Mount Grace Priory. Copyright: English Heritage
A Teeside steel magnate gave the priory an 'Arts and Crafts' makeover

Two magnificent rooms, that celebrate the Arts and Crafts movement, at the family home of Gertrude Bell have been fully restored.

Mount Grace Priory, near Osmotherley, was purchased by the Teeside steel magnate Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell as a weekend retreat in the 19th century.

He was a major patron of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Gertrude Bell is best-known for her role in the development of modern Iraq and her passion for archaeology.

Mount Grace Priory was founded in 1398 and during it's medieval heyday, the honey-stoned Manor House accommodated dignitaries visiting one of the nation's few Carthusian monasteries, whose monks led a life of solitude and piety.

The priory was closed during the Reformation and the property became a gentleman's residence. But by the 19th century it had fallen into disrepair and faced a bleak future before the arrival on the scene of Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell.

Arts and Crafts makeover

Not only did he sensitively restore the crumbling monastic and 17th century architecture, but he also put his own imprint on the monument by giving the rooms an Arts and Crafts makeover.

Mark Douglas, English Heritage Curator of Properties, said:

"Sir Isaac is a major figure for his patronage of the Arts and Crafts movement, popularised by figures such as William Morris, and for his passion to save historic buildings."

Victorian wallpaper being reprinted. Copyright: English Heritage
Original wallpaper was found behind panels in the drawing room

"Reinstating the rooms at Mount Grace is something we have wanted to do for years. We were faced with the need to make structural repairs to this part of the Priory so this was the perfect opportunity."

The year long project has cost £150,000 with money being raised through donations to English Heritage.

Experts were helped in their task by the discovery of a patch of original Arts and Crafts wallpaper hidden behind panels in the drawing room.

Sir Isaac employed the best designers of the day so a sample of the paper was sent to the William Morris and Co archive for identification.

They were able to confirm it was a floral design called Double Bough, dating to 1892, and also found the 22 original Applewood printing blocks used to make it.

These were used to recreate an almost exact handmade copy of the wallpaper, with each roll taking over one week to make using 19th century technology.

Speaking about the restoration of the Bell family's country retreat, Martin Allfrey, English Heritage Head of Collections said:

"This has been a fascinating project and we think the public will be thrilled with the results. The rooms also stand as a fitting tribute to a great Victorian visionary."

Gertude Bell
Bell played a major role in the creation of modern Iraq

Gertrude Bell

Sir Isaac used Mount Grace as a weekend retreat entertaining his friends and family including his granddaughter, Gertrude.

Her life story reads like a film script. She was the first woman to graduate from Oxford with a First and developed a passion for archaeology. She travelled widely across the Middle East and Persia.

She would go on to lead numerous archaeological expeditions, serve as an intelligence officer and became an associate of Lawrence of Arabia.

Bell was the only woman represented at the Cairo Conference, which redrew the map of the Middle East after the First World War and laid the foundations for the modern state of Iraq.




SEE ALSO
The British 'queen' of Iraq
02 Dec 04 |  Magazine
Iraq presents a lesson from history
10 Dec 08 |  Middle East


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