Our heritage

The name ‘Minsteracres’ goes back to medieval times when the land around the present retreat centre was already in use as farmland. Some suggest that its origin lies in a quarry for millstones (‘mill stone acres’). Other suggest that the name goes back to the times that the land belonged to a monastery, which is quite possible with its close proximity to Bywell and Blanchland.

In the 18th century the Silvertop family became associated with Minsteracres. This Roman Catholic family from Stella had done well in the coal mining industry. They used their money to buy land at Minsteracres, build a mansion and develop the estate.

After the first section of the house had been completed (in the 1750s) they opened a Roman Catholic mission (in 1765). A chaplain was appointed and a room in the house was converted into a chapel.

During the next century the estate was extended and further cultivated according to the latest agricultural methods. George Silvertop (1775-1849) played an important part in Catholic emancipation. In 1830 he was the first Roman Catholic to become high sheriff of Northumberland after the reformation.

After his death his grand-nephew Henry Charles inherited the Minsteracres estate. He built the church (opened in 1854 after a design of Joseph Hansom) and extended the house with the ballroom and dining room (now the chapel), also designed by Hansom.

The family then experienced tragedy upon tragedy. Henry Thomas inherited the estate from his father but died suddenly in 1893. His son Francis Sommerled and other family members were killed in World War I. The heir, Charles, decided to sell the estate. Most of the land (around 5,000 acres) was sold to the Cookson family. Most of the original estate (110 acres) was sold to the Passionist congregation.

The Passionists converted the mansion into a monastery with space for around 35 priests and brothers. It was intended to become a model Passionist community that offered the right environment for the training of Passionist students. This happened throughout the 1950s till the middle of the 60s.

The students then moved to other centres and Minsteracres became a novitiate house. At the same time another dream was realised, namely to open a retreat house. In order to achieve this, the old stable block was converted into residential accommodation, mainly with the help of volunteers from the Consett area who generously gave their time. The retreat house was opened in 1967.

Over the years many people have come here on retreat. During the first decennia of its existence parish retreats were very popular. Apart from this the centre offered a programme with themed retreats and there has always been the opportunity for individuals to come on retreat.

New initiatives were launched, such as the beginning experience for widowed separated and divorced. And in the 1980s the Manpower Service Programme used Minsteracres as one of its bases.

The number of Passionists in the community decreased and in 1976 a partnership started with the Selly Park Sisters. At a later stage the Mercy Sisters from Sunderland got involved. Over the years the community has become more inclusive through membership of lay women and men who shared its life on a full time or part time basis.

In 1999 the Passionists in England and Wales decided to adopt different priorities. A new structure was developed for Minsteracres to safeguard its future development. In 2012 a new charitable trust and company were set up which runs the retreat centre on behalf of the Passionists. The board has Passionist representatives and the community continues to be a Passionist community.