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Unholy row erupts between nuns made famous by Stacey Dooley and nearby families amid fears their £1.1m convent building could be sold to make huge holiday lets complex


An ancient order of nuns made famous by Strictly winner Stacey Dooley are at the centre of a housing spat over the sale of an historic convent building.

The Order of the Holy Paraclete became known to millions of TV viewers after award-winning presenter Dooley spent ten days with them for the BBC‘s Inside the Covent in 2022.

But now the Order has found itself on a collision course with the residents of Whitby, North Yorkshire, over the redevelopment of their priory.

Currently Grade Two listed St Oswald’s House is being used as a retreat centre and is hidden away down a long private farm track with stunning views over The Esk Valley below.

For more than 20 years it has been a sanctuary of prayer, rest and retreat for paying guests forking out £72.50 each per night.

Now the unique property is on the market for £1.15 million along with three Grade Two listed cottages, outbuildings, landscaped gardens and more than 15 acres of land. Families in the area fear the listing – which mentions ‘scope for alternative uses’ – could see it redeveloped into a huge holiday lets complex.

One local accused the sisters of ‘putting money over God’. 

The Order of the Holy Paraclete became known to millions of TV viewers after award-winning presenter Stacey Dooley, pictured, spent ten days with them

The Order of the Holy Paraclete became known to millions of TV viewers after award-winning presenter Stacey Dooley, pictured, spent ten days with them

Eyebrows were raised when the sisters sold off the old convent, Sneaton Castle, as a commercial wedding venue - complete with bar - four years ago

Eyebrows were raised when the sisters sold off the old convent, Sneaton Castle, as a commercial wedding venue – complete with bar – four years ago

Eyebrows were raised when the sisters sold off the old convent, Sneaton Castle, as a commercial wedding venue – complete with bar – four years ago

Fiercely opposed to this latest sale is best-selling children’s author GP Taylor, a former vicar who was a curate in Whitby.

He said: ‘The estate agent has had lots of offers. We were thinking of taking it over and run it as a retreat.

‘The fear is it will just become a large holiday complex. Whitby needs permanent places for people to live.

‘We would have made sure at least 50 per cent of the property was let permanently because Whitby needs permanent cheap housing.

‘The retreat house is also extremely busy. It is very well attended and provides a really great service, not just for Christians but all sorts of artists and other people.

The nuns ran it themselves for 20 years until a couple of years ago when they appointed the fledgling Christian organisation St Oswald's Community CIO to manage it

The nuns ran it themselves for 20 years until a couple of years ago when they appointed the fledgling Christian organisation St Oswald’s Community CIO to manage it

Since moving out of Sneaton Castle, the nuns have moved into a newly built St Hilda's Priory that some locals have complained looks like a modern business park

Since moving out of Sneaton Castle, the nuns have moved into a newly built St Hilda’s Priory that some locals have complained looks like a modern business park

The main retreat centre and chapel, including 26 bedrooms and 15 bathrooms, is adorned with Celtic crosses and other religious emblems and statues

The main retreat centre and chapel, including 26 bedrooms and 15 bathrooms, is adorned with Celtic crosses and other religious emblems and statues

‘When Sneaton Castle became a wedding venue and the new St Hilda’s Priory was built, it happened right under the radar four years ago.

‘Do they put money over God? You have got something that is providing a service to the community and they are selling it off.

‘I think it is going to be bought by some developer who is just going to rip the heart out of it and Whitby does not need that. It needs long-term rental accommodation so people can work.’ 

The main retreat centre and chapel, including 26 bedrooms and 15 bathrooms, is adorned with Celtic crosses and other religious emblems and statues.

Originally built by Lady Armatrude Grimston in 1960, it was bequeathed to the nuns on her death in 1983 and opened as the St Oswald’s Pastoral Centre.

It is now being marketed on Rightmove as ‘a wonderful opportunity for any prospective purchaser with scope for alternative uses, subject to the necessary consents’. 

The nuns ran it themselves for 20 years until a couple of years ago when they appointed the fledgling Christian organisation St Oswald’s Community CIO to manage it.

Chairman Phil Stone said: ‘We are excited yet apprehensive about what lies ahead of us. So as we face the challenges of this next step we remember our calling to “fly on fragile wings”, courageous and a little scared.

‘St Oswald’s has been on the market for about three weeks now and there have been a number of viewings already.

‘Viewings tend to be on Mondays and Fridays with approximately six parties viewing each time. As you can imagine, this in itself is hugely unsettling for the Community.

‘People are not only looking around guest areas but also our homes. We are thankful for the gracious manner and sensitivity of the viewing agent.

‘They have been incredibly respectful and endeavours to make a painful situation as easy as it can be.’

Since moving out of Sneaton Castle, the nuns have moved into a newly built St Hilda’s Priory that some locals have complained looks like a modern business park.

GP Taylor added: ‘You can see the houses built on a green field site. The whole vista of northern Whitby has been destroyed. The new priory looks like ugly boxes on a hillside.

‘The nuns are selling off the assets on the sly, probably because these vocations like that are declining and fewer women are taking up holy orders.

‘In the past, the nuns were always great fun. They had an incredible sense of humour, and mischief, and did a lot of good work.

‘But I know some people use the word ‘horrified’ when they talk about what has happened since.’

Locals living down the isolated farm track said they had no idea the property was on the market. One woman said: ‘I am very surprised and will have to look into this.

‘We would be concerned if it was turned into holiday lets because this road just could not cope with the extra traffic.’

Another man added: ‘Although there are already privately owned apartments down this lane the owners are specifically banned from renting them out as holiday lets.

‘It would cause chaos on this road and I would be very surprised if anything like that got planning permission because the North York Moors National Park Authority is very strict.’

The Order said it would not be talking to the press, but added: ‘We are selling our property and that is our business.’



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