History of the Poor Clare Order in Britain

The first Poor Clare monastery in England was founded in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1286 in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. This suffered greatly during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII and the ensuing English Reformation.

Mary Ward

So it was that in 1609 a young Catholic gentlewoman from North Yorkshire named Mary Ward saw the need for a religious community for English women. She established this in Gravelines – at the time in Belgium and nowadays in Northern France – beyond the reach of the English Reformation. The community flourished and they were able to make further foundations in France.

In 1793, following the French Revolution, the Rouen Monastery (founded 1664) was confiscated and the nuns were imprisoned for 16 months, together with several other communities. They were released in 1795 and several small groups returned to England. Religious conditions in England had relaxed and one group began a new community at Haggerston Castle in Northumberland. This group moved in 1805 to Scorton in Yorkshire and then in 1857 they founded Clare Abbey in Darlington.

Poor Clare sisters at Darlington 1868

Mother Angela Parker, Foundress of Bullingham

In 1880 a separate group of Poor Clares moved from Bruges in Belgium and formed a new community in Notting Hill, London. In the same year they moved on to found a new Monastery at Bullingham near Hereford.

After more than a century, in 1994 this group moved to its present location at Much Birch in purpose-built modern buildings.

The former Monastery at Bullingham has since been redeveloped into housing apartments. On June 27th 2007 the Darlington Community was united with the Community here at Much Birch to form a new Community.

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