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Plaque will mark the spot of a friary born out of great wealth

PUBLISHED: 10:53 02 October 2015 | UPDATED: 10:53 02 October 2015

Greyfriars’ Cloister.
This ruin is all that remains of Great Yarmouth's 13th Century Franciscan Friary. Inside, there are two stone-vaulted cloisters, two tomb recesses and some 14th-century wall.  


Picture: James Bass

Greyfriars’ Cloister. This ruin is all that remains of Great Yarmouth's 13th Century Franciscan Friary. Inside, there are two stone-vaulted cloisters, two tomb recesses and some 14th-century wall. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2012

It was one of five large medieval religious houses that dominated a seaside settlement at the height of its wealth and power.

A blue plaque is set to mark the site of the former Black Friars Monastery.
Burial remains were discovered on the site when the fire station was built in 1970.
A blue plaque is set to mark the site of the former Black Friars Monastery. Burial remains were discovered on the site when the fire station was built in 1970.

More than 800 years ago Great Yarmouth was among the five richest towns in England thanks to its port and herring.

So great was its status, many 
merchants having plenty of money to spend, that it was able to support five friaries often vying with each other for influence and donations.

Now, one of the biggest – Blackfriars – is to be recognised with a blue plaque.

Members of the Great Yarmouth Local History and Archaeology Society will gather on Monday to unveil the marker 
on the town’s fire station, where the buildings once stood – amid warnings they will have to shift quickly in the event of a call-out.

History of the site

-In 1271, Henry III gave the Black Friars permission to take in a piece of ground 500 feet square called Le Stronde (The Strand).

-The first buildings were complete by 1273. Edward II then gave permission to add to their site in 1314.

-They also obtained some land from Sir Edward Charles who owned a fleet of ships. He had the title of ‘Admiral of the North’ covering the Thames to the Scottish boarder at Berwick.

-At the end of the thirteenth century Thomas Fastolfe benefited the order and many of his family were buried there.

-The church for the friary, which is now lost, was said to have been built by William of Worcester who died in 1304. This may have been completed posthumously. The Black Friar’s property eventually stretched the entire length of Friars Lane and was bounded in the east and the south by the town wall. As well as it buildings it had large gardens, orchards and a dovecote.

-It had the power to grant sanctuary to fugitives which was not taken away until 1623.

-The last Pryor was Edmund Hercock and as the property was presumably derelict it was surrendered to Henry VIII in 1542 and sold to various people over the years,

-At the time of the Armada scare in 1588 the town walls were built up on the inside with soil and sand to reinforce them against cannon fire.

-The work around Blackfrairs road caused the wall to fall down and it was rebuilt with various pieces of stone some of which suggests it came from a religious building.

Paul Davies, society chairman, said friaries were dedicated to helping the poor – the scholar Thomas Aquinas counting himself among famous Blackfriars’ brothers.

“Initially they were committed to their cause and they gave services to the local people. Because of that they were much more influential than the church priests who people felt were isolated from the ordinary person, accepting money and doing nothing for it.

“Eventually the whole thing became corrupt and they started feathering their own nests, hence Henry VIII’s disapproval.”

The site was subject to archaeological investigations in 1970 when the fire station was built. The dig revealed walls, buttresses, a stone coffin and gargoyles as well as the remains of 15 people who had been buried there.

For years the coffin remained at the fire station but was donated to the Maritime Museum in 2002. It now forms the centrepiece of the archaeological display at the Time and Tide Museum, close to the spot where it was first buried.

Records reveal the church was burned down in 1525 and never rebuilt.

Mr Davies said the plaque was part of a drive to get all the friaries recognised.

The only remaining structure is at Greyfriars which is in the hands of English Heritage and permanently locked.

The old tower next to the friary remains and was recently converted into a holiday let by the borough’s Preservation Trust.

The plaque unveiling will take place at 10.30am at the Blackfriars Road fire station.

Do you have a story about our local heritage? Email newsdesk@archant.co.uk

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