Blackfriars

The Dominican priory at Blackfriars was founded in 1239. The main building work, on the site of the first Norman castle in Gloucester in the south-west corner of the Roman/Medieval walls, was completed by c.1265, resulting in a quadrangle around a cloistered courtyard. A church, consecrated in 1284 with north and south transepts added in the 14th century, stood on the north side, and ranges lined the east, south and west.

 

The ground floor of the east range contained the chapter house and possibly a vestry, parlour and warming house, above which was the dormitory. The south range was occupied on the ground floor by a buttery and farmery, while above was a study dormitory, believed to be the oldest purpose-built library in the country. The north side of this library was lined with carrels – small cubicles below windows where the friar's would study, and there is today in one of the windows some monastic graffiti scratched into the stonework. Attached to the south range was the lavatorium, where the friars would wash. The west range contained the refectory and possibly the kitchen and guest accommodation.

The friary benefitted from royal patronage, King Henry III having granted it timber from the Forest of Dean and royal forests in Shropshire and Dorset for the roofing. It acquired more land in 1295 and again in 1364–1365, and was accessed via two gates, one on Southgate Street at the entrance to Blackfriars Lane, the other on Longsmith Street at the entrance to what would later become Ladybellegate Street. In 1991 a burial site was discovered on former priory land north of Blackfriars Lane (the line of which was an internal boundary of the friary), on the site of today's Ladybellegate Street car park.

At its height Blackfriars accommodated up to forty brethren, but by the time of the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s, it was occupied by a prior and six friars living in extreme poverty. The friary was sold in 1539 to Alderman Thomas Bell. He shortened the church at both east and west ends to convert it into a mansion known as Bell's Place and converted the remaining properties for use by his clothier business. The mansion subsequently went through several owners and was sub-divided into two homes c.1710. In the early-19th century the central part of the west range was heightened and converted into a terrace of three properties. Later, the surviving north end of the west range accommodated a printer's works and the south range was occupied by a bottling business.

Between 1955 and 1962 the remains of the friary were purchased by the Ministry of Works, which undertook extensive restoration. It is today one of only three Dominican friaries in the country to have survived relatively intact. The church, in the form of Bell's mansion now with sub-division removed, survives with its original timber roofing, as does the south range and the heavily altered west range in the form of the privately occupied 19th-century terraces. Of the east range, only the northen part incorporating a post-monastic kitchen survives. The site is owned today by English Heritage and leased by Gloucester City Council, which uses it as a public and private events venue. It is open to the public Sundays and Mondays from April to October.

Acknowledgements

 

I am indebted to the Blackfriars team for allowing me privileged site access outside of normal public viewing times in order to take photographs.

See also

Sources

Listed Sites
Brackets indicate the grade at which the sites are listed

  • 1245989 (I) – Former church and remains of east range – Originally 13th century, extensively remodelled mid-16th century during conversion to private mansion

  • 1245992 (I) – South range and south end of west range – 13th century

  • 1245991 (I) – North end of west range – 13th century, with later wings

  • 1245990 (II*) – North-west boundary wall – Erected 1540–1545 following the purchase of Blackfriars by Thomas Bell

  • 1245752 (II*) – No. 13 Ladybellegate Street – Originally part of the 13th-century west range, heightened and refronted early 19th century during conversion to terraced property

  • 1245753 (II*) – No. 15 Ladybellegate Street – Originally part of the 13th-century west range, heightened and refronted early 19th century during conversion to terraced property

  • 1245754 (II*) – No. 17 Ladybellegate Street – Originally part of the 13th-century west range, heightened and refronted early 19th century during conversion to terraced property

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