Thicket Priory - Our History

Having read a little about our life you may like to know a little of our history.
Our monastery is built on the site of a 12th-century monastery of Cistercian nuns which was destroyed during the Reformation. There is evidence of a devotion to 'Our Lady of Thicket' dating from this time.
Our Carmelite Order takes its name from Mount Carmel in Israel-Palestine where the first Carmelites, a group of hermits, lived in the early 13th-century (for more on the origins of the Order, ). The Carmelite hermits came to England in 1242 and developed into an order of mendicant friars (begging brothers). The  had no nuns as such, but we do know of many lay people  - including women - who had varying degrees of affiliation to the Order.
In continental Europe communities of Carmelite women were given formal recognition in 1452. In the 16th Century a new form of living was introduced into the Carmelite Order by the great Spanish reformer, . Teresa wanted to establish communities of about a dozen sisters who would combine the hermit spirit of the first Carmelites with a joyful community life. This movement became known as the 'Discalced' Carmelite Reform.
The  in the 19th Century. In 1878 the Discalced Carmelite nuns of Paris established a monastery in the  district of London. In turn Notting Hill Carmel founded many monasteries across Britain at a time of numerous religious foundations and new vocations, including a Carmel at Exmouth, Devon, in 1926.
By the 1950s it had become clear that the site of the Carmel in Exmouth was no longer suitable, with a new main road to be built very close to the monastery. The Prioress, Mother Mary of Saint-John Vavasour, came from Yorkshire, and felt drawn to relocate the community to the north of England. After a long search, the sisters found a new home, Jefferson Hall at Thicket Priory, so named after the medieval Cistercian nuns. In 1955 the Exmouth Carmelite community moved from Devon to Yorkshire. The story of the move to Thicket is told in the book From Countryside to Cloister by Marie T. Litchfield.

Jefferson Hall, our home from 1955 to 2009
The house the nuns bought (pictured above) belonged to Lt. Col. Sir John Dunnington-Jefferson and Lady Jefferson, who generously offered their beautiful Victorian manor house and extensive garden to the sisters in return for only the proceeds from the sale of the small Exmouth Carmel (far less than the market value).

The family home of Mother Mary of Saint-John Vavasour had been Hazlewood Castle near Tadcaster. In the 1970s Rt. Rev. William Wheeler, the Bishop of Leeds, encouraged the Carmelite friars to form a community and retreat house at the Castle, which remained until 1995. He also wanted a community of Carmelite nuns within his diocese, thus in 1969, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, seven sisters from Thicket made a foundation at  near Wetherby, which had been the dower house of Hazlewood.

As the new millennium dawned it became clear to us nuns at Thicket that the old Victorian house we lived in was becoming increasingly unsuitable; the cost of renovating and updating the building was completely beyond the means of the community. We decided that we did not want to leave the area, but knew that we should move whilst we had the energy and ability to do so.

After a long period of prayer, discussion and discernment a creative solution was found. The old house and part of the surrounding land was sold as a private residence, and we could then build a new monastery on the land we had retained.

We retained some of our own land to build the new monastery, within the walls of what had been the Victorian vegetable garden. The pear trees along the eastern curved wall behind the chapel are over 150 years old. The ruins you see as you enter the walled garden belonged to an early 18th-century house on the site, which is thought to have been destroyed by a fire. The surviving South-West corner was later incorporated into the vegetable garden wall.

A special service to inaugurate the bell of the new monastery in 2009
The new monastery at Thicket incorportates many "green" features which make it a model of how we can live in harmony with creation.





A cross on the lawn marks the burial site of the bones of the Cistercian nuns who lived in the original Thicket Priory, a medieval foundation dating from 1180, which was dissolved at the Reformation. We discovered after building our new monastery for fifteen sisters that the Cistercian monastery had choir stall for fifteen sisters. They numbered twelve at the time of the Dissolution, and in 2009 when we took possession of our new monastery building, our community also numbered twelve.

A stained glass window we took from the old chapel to the new.


2015 seemed like an auspicious year in which to have the  by the Bishop of Middlesbrough, Rt. Rev. Terence Drainey. 2015 was the 5th centenary of the birth of Saint Teresa, the Year of Consecrated Life within the Catholic Church, and the 60th anniversary of the move from Devon to Yorkshire.


The bishop anointing the walls of the chapel with the oil of chrism.

We have made a video about our move from the old monastery into the new building. To watch it, please click on the play (arrow) button on the frame below.