Mawson Kerr has completed a new cafe in the grounds of Mount Grace Priory, Northallerton, North Yorkshire. Dating back to the fourteenth century the priory is the best surviving Carthusian Monastery in Britain, and consists of a church, a manor house and a cloister of monk’s cells and private outdoor spaces.
Redevelopment of the priory grounds, which are administered by English Heritage, has been undertaken by landscape designer Chris Beardshaw. Within this, the new building was seen not just as a cafe, but also an opportunity to interpret the historic environment afresh, with views across the newly replanted orchard towards the priory tower and boundary walls. The cafe provides seating for 18 inside and 30 outside, plus a full commercial kitchen and accessible toilet. The interior space and external canopy allow visitors and walkers alike to enjoy the facilities.
From the outset the aim was to conserve and enhance the site and its cultural heritage. Within metres of the Scheduled Ancient Monument of the priory, the design of the cafe refers to traditional woodworking techniques, vernacular forms and traditional materials while employing contemporary construction techniques. In reference to the arrangement of the priory, with its communal areas and private cells, the cafe incorporates an oak screen that forms a series of ‘outdoor rooms’ with different atmospheres and outlook, reminiscent of the monks’ private gardens. The screen extends into the landscape, and the double-pitched form mounted above refers to the crossing of thresholds – the boundary walls of the monk’s cloister and the array of monks’ cells beyond.
The building is nestled among mature trees and gardeners’ sheds in the corner of the grounds, outside the Scheduled Ancient Monument boundary, so that views in and out of the site were unaffected. Taking its place among the collection of low-rise pitched-roof buildings, it seems that it has always been there.
The oak screen was made from unused 30-year-old boards from English Heritage’s store at Helmsley, North Yorkshire, helping to minimise the use of new hardwoods. The slate for the roof and external walls, chosen for low maintenance and easy repair, was sourced from a reclaimed stock of local slate. “The design features a reclaimed solid oak screen to the north elevation”, says Mawson Kerr. “Traditional joinery details, including mortice and tenon joints, connect the construction techniques to the historic context of the Arts & Crafts manor house (designed by Ambrose Poynter) attached to the priory. It’s great that we could use English Heritage spare oak planks that have been looking for a home for over 30 years. Much attention has been paid to the detailing of the reclaimed slate roof and external walls to create a simple, elegant, pitched roof form. This allows the building to be interpreted as a contemporary addition to the context.”