In the 1990s, some members of Guisborough Town Pride (a local charity working to improve the town) suggested that the historic gardens associated with Gisborough Priory should be restored and opened to the public. In 1999, Guisborough Town Pride held a public meeting to promote this idea. As a result of this meeting, a small group of people started to look at how the gardens might be restored, and also how to promote Gisborough Priory more widely. They formed a sub-committee to do this and also organised events and raised funds to support their work.
In 2003 the sub-committee became a separate company (number 4684000) and, in 2005, a registered charity (number 1109285) under the name Gisborough Priory Project. By 2004, in agreement with Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council, volunteers had taken on the task of maintaining the flower borders in the Gisborough Priory – a task that we continue to this day – more volunteers are always needed.
Meanwhile background research and discussions with the landowner went on until, in 2007, a lease was signed allowing work to start on 2.5 acres (1 hectare) of the gardens, mainly woodland. The initial work, funded by a grant from the Local Heritage Initiative, included:
- An archaeological investigation to assess the impact of the proposed work on any medieval archaeology and to provide some context to the garden features, such as the Monks’ Walk, which were proposed for restoration. Here is the archaeological report.
- A tree survey to assess the current state of the numerous trees in the area leased.
- The services of a landscape architect and landscape historian to review the historic features and make plans for the future use of the gardens. See the report on significant trees here.
- Recruitment of volunteers who worked on clearing the undergrowth and opening up the gardens, particularly the Monks’ Walk, to visitors on guided tours.
The photos show how much work has been done, since we started in 2007.
In 2008, volunteers worked with English Heritage to clean, catalogue and photograph the stone collection, at the east end of the Monks’ Walk which resulted in some 970 items being catalogued.
Since then, Gisborough Priory Project volunteers have cleared and replanted many areas in the Woodland Gardens, the aim being to represent each of the major phases of the site somewhere in the garden. A picnic area has been created, along with a story telling area and a children’s play area and the garden is home to much wildlife. Regular volunteer sessions continue to take place and more volunteers are always welcome.
In 2015, Gisborough Priory Project signed a local management agreement with English Heritage, to provide volunteers to open and manage the site, the first time English Heritage had worked with a voluntary organisation in this way. This required a whole new class of volunteer – the custodians, responsible for opening the site and welcoming the public. If you are interested in becoming a custodian, you can find out more here.
Special events are held throughout the year including the annual Picnic In the Priory (being upgraded to the Pageant in the Priory in 2019 to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the founding of the Priory), Snowdrop Sunday, an Easter Funday, a Teddy Bears’ Picnic (featuring the Teddy Bear zip wire and storytelling) and a Halloween event.
Volunteers also recycle wood from the garden, making wooden items which can be bought from the Gisborough Priory shop. Volunteers give talks and presentations and lead guided tours of the site, underpinned by the continuing research that is unravelling the fascinating history of the priory and gardens.
Needless to say, the volunteers continue the unending work in the Woodland Gardens, on the Gisborough Priory flowers borders, at events and welcoming visitors – new volunteers are always welcome.