The Warden of Ascot Priory, Paul McLaren-Cook, reflects on the history of the Priory and its continued service to the Church

Set in in 40 acres of beautiful woodland and gardens Ascot Priory is one of the little known gems of the Oxford Movement. For a century and a half, Ascot Priory was the mother house of the Society of the Most Holy Trinity, the first of the Religious Orders re-founded in the Church of England after the Reformation.

Revival of church life

Religious orders of monks and nuns were one of the early fruits of the Oxford Movement, the nineteenth-century revival of church life that continues to influence English Christianity. It is a sad truth that the Establishment of the Church of England has seldom valued them, and has indeed often been only vaguely aware of their existence and their excellent work. Many were founded in the face of great opposition from bishops, who came to accept them only as an attractive but harmless accessory.
Corporate religious life in the Church of England began as the Sisterhood of the Holy Cross in 1845 with a little community of two at No. 17 Park Village, near Regent’s Park. Within a very short time the number rose to eight. Priscilla Lydia Sellon formed a community in Devonport in 1848, and some of the Park Village sisters subsequently went to help her during the Plymouth cholera epidemic. When Florence Nightingale appealed for nurses to go to the Crimea, sisters from Park Village and Devonport volunteered. In 1856 the communities amalgamated to become the Society of the Most Holy Trinity.

Responding to need

The property at Ascot was purchased with the aid of gifts from Mother Lydia’s father and the Revd Dr E.B. Pusey, and the present buildings were begun in 1860, with the aim of supporting the London hospitals by providing convalescent care in healthy surroundings.

The history of the Community – like so many founded during the high-water mark of Anglicanism in the nineteenth century – has been long and honourable and the sisters responded to various needs as circumstances demanded, from nursing during the dreadful cholera epidemics which plagued the nineteenth century to sending sisters to accompany Miss Florence Nightingale to the Crimea, from the convalescent nursing home to the orphanage at St Christopher’s, from St Augustine’s School at Ascot to St Dunstan’s School in Plymouth and the schools in Honolulu. Over the years the Community adapted to changing times and needs, but underpinning all its work was the daily round of worship in the Catholic Tradition of the Church of England, the care of souls and the monastic custom of welcoming guests.

The death of Mother Cecilia of the Transfiguration on 12 February 2004 rounds off a significant chapter in the history of religious orders in the Church of England. In the 65th year of her profession, she was the last Reverend Mother of the Society of the Most Holy Trinity.

Retreat centre

A new scheme for Ascot Priory was sealed by the Charity Commissioners on 5 October 2000, to provide for the Priory’s continued service to the Church, ‘in particular in accordance with the doctrines commonly known as Anglo-Catholic, as resource for retreats and conferences and other charitable work.’

The Priory is now a centre for Retreat and Spiritual Renewal; a place where in silence and peace God can be encountered, life renewed and hope rekindled. The Divine Office and Mass are celebrated daily (except Saturdays) and on Sundays Solemn Mass is at 10:00am.

We are available to parishes and church organizations for retreat or quiet days, conferences, PCC away days or Alpha weekends. Individuals are also welcome for private retreat or just for a quiet break away. For further information about the Priory or to make a booking please go to our website . ND