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Born Benjamin Fearnley Carlyle, he was educated at Blundell's School. In 1892, he commenced medical training at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London. He did not complete his medical training. Instead, influenced by the Oxford Movement of the period, he embraced a vision of monastic life as he envisioned it having been followed in the Middle Ages, full of ritual and tradition. A charismatic individual, Carlyle succeeded where others had failed in having the vision of such a life within the Church of England approved by the Archbishop of Canterbury. By 1895 he had established a community of monks under his leadership, taking monastic vows under the monastic name of Aelred, assuming the role of abbot.
After several moves, Carlyle's community was established on Caldey Island, South Wales in 1906. When the Caldey Island community came into conflict with the Bishop of Oxford in 1913 over conformity to Anglican practices, Carlyle and most of his monks became Roman Catholic. They were only the second such group to be received in a corporate manner into the Roman Catholic Church, the example having been set by the Society of the Atonement (Franciscan) in the U.S. several years earlier. Due to financial pressures, the community moved to Prinknash Park, Gloucestershire in 1928.
It established daughter communities at Saint Michael's Abbey, Farnborough in 1947, and Pluscarden Abbey the following year.  While still a member of the Church of England, Carlyle served as canonical visitor to two Benedictine communities of nuns. The first, the Community of SS. Mary and Scholastica, founded in 1868 in Middlesex, also became Roman Catholic in 1913, and now resides at Curzon Park, Chester.
The second, originally named the Community of the Holy Comforter, had been an active Anglican sisterhood founded in 1891, but adopted the enclosed Benedictine life under Carlyle’s inspiration in 1906. This community remained Anglican and has resided at Malling Abbey since 1916, replacing the other community which had moved to North Wales after their reception in the Roman Catholic Church.
After some years as Abbot of Caldey, Carlyle was exclaustrated in 1921 and released from his Benedictine vows in 1935. He worked for many years as a missionary priest in Canada. Upon his retirement in 1951, he returned to England and became a conventual (i.e., residential) oblate at Prinknash Abbey. In 1953, he was allowed to renew his solemn monastic vows. When he died in 1955, he was a full member of the community he had founded sixty years earlier.
- Rene M. Kollar, "Anglo-Catholicism in the Church of England, 1895-1913: Abbot Aelred Carlyle and the Monks of Caldey Island", The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 76, No. 2 (April 1983), pp. 205-24