ONE of the “jewels in Ryedale’s crown” is being restored, revealing a number of hidden features.

Stone and building conservator Nigel Copsey is leading the project to clean the interior stonework at St Mary’s Priory Church, Old Malton.

An elevated work platform is being used so restorers can remove a coating of black sulphur that most likely came from the outputs of a coal burner which was, in former days, at the east end of the church.

The colour of the original stone has been hidden for years and evidence of the different phases of the original building has been revealed, along with architectural features.

Using specialised equipment, Nigel and his team can reach the top of the stone walls and have been paying special attention to the “arcade” of arches at roof level, which have been particularly badly affected.

St Mary’s Priory was once one of the largest and wealthiest houses of the English Gilbertine Order and is still a fine building despite the fact that alterations over the years have led to the loss of some of its former magnificence.

Alterations and recent styles are clearly identifiable, but there is some evidence still of the original splendour and influence the Priory would have had in Malton and the surrounding area.

Carvings from Norman times to early English can still be seen and reveal something of the evolution of the building.

The Priory is unusual in that some of the materials used centuries ago have not been replaced, as has happened in many old church buildings.

Nigel said that aspects of the original fabric could still be seen at St Mary’s, albeit under a layer of soot.

He said: “St Mary’s Priory is one of the jewels in Ryedale’s crown – when it existed as a complete Priory, it was a highly influential hub across Ryedale.

“By the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, the Priory owned much of the building stock in Old Malton and New Malton and may very well have built much of it, controlling and profiting from much of its trade. Beyond Malton, the Priory owned rents and farms in a wide area of Ryedale.”

Nigel’s passion for St Mary’s Priory is shared by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the 19th century English Gothic revival architect, who was responsible for some iconic buildings, including the Albert Memorial and St Pancras Station.

He said: “St Mary’s was the magnificent remain of one of the noblest periods of mediaeval art”, adding: “No period is, in my opinion, so replete with beauty and vigorous and original art, and few examples of this are finer than the work at Old Malton, which I presume dates about 1190 or in the later years of the great transition from Romanesque to pointed architecture; and is a most valuable national monument, the loss of which would be irreparable.”

The Reverend Peter Robinson, vicar of Malton and Old Malton, said: “The current phase of work is expected to be completed this Spring, and I hope that those many people in the Ryedale community and beyond, who have, over the years, generously donated to St Mary’s for important work such as this, will, at last, be able to visit again and wonder at new revelations in the history of this remarkable building.”