Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead. Originally published by Mackenzie and Dent, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827.
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This was one of the most eminent of the four orders of Mendicants. They were called Franciscan Friars, from St. Francis, their founder; Grey Friars, from the colour of their habit; and Minors, through humility. Before persons could be admitted into this order, they were obliged to give a convincing proof of the disinterestedness of their motives, by selling all they had, and giving it to the poor. Their habit was a loose garment reaching to the ancles, with a cowl and a cloak over it when they went abroad. They were girded with cords; and the Observants, a rigid branch of this order, went barefooted. They came into England in 1224, and are said to have been established in Newcastle by the Carliols, wealthy merchants in the time of king Henry III. At a general chapter of this order, held at Narbonne in France in 1258, it appeared that the English province had seven custodies. The custody or wardenship of Newcastle included nine convents, viz. the monastries of Newcastle, Richmond, Hartlepool, Carlisle, Berwick, Roxburgh, Dundee, Dumfries, and Haddington.
On the king passing through Newcastle in 1299, the brethren of this house received 11s. 4d. for their pittance of one day; but on a similar occasion in 1322, their pittance was only 8s.
This convent (fn. 1) had a conduit from a fountain called the Seven-head Well, which was walled about and locked up. The spring being abundant, they gave the public leave to use it; but the favour being abused, by breaking up the conduit, and changing its course, the brethren obtained a royal grant in 1342, from Edward III. who was then in Newcastle, to wall it in again, lock it up, and keep the key, as formerly, without infringement of their exclusive right. This well is at the head of Lork Burn, and is still kept in good repair.
At this period, the Franciscans were divided into two parties; the Conventuals, and the Observants, or Recollects. The former adopted the relaxation introduced into that order by Pope Innocent IV. in 1368, which allowed the brotherhood to hold property and possessions; but the latter embraced the reformation introduced in 1400 by St. Bernard of Sienna. The Observants were patronized by king Henry VII. who, previous to his death in 1509, expelled the Conventuals from this house, and filled it with Observants. In consequence, however, of the imposture of Elizabeth Barton, the Holy Maid of Kent, in 1534, which the Observants countenanced, they were removed out of their houses, and the Conventuals again took possession of this convent. But it was induced to surrender on January 9, 1539, at which time it consisted of John Cragforth, prior, eight friars, and two novices. As the Franciscans subsisted chiefly on charity, their house here had no rents. (fn. 2) Speed, on the authority of the royal records, says that this order was principally supported by a charitable and free donation of five-pence, once in three months, from every house or family. Tanner informs us, that their convent in this town was granted to the Earl of Essex, James Rokesby, and others.
Leland says, "The Observant Freres house stood by Pandon Gate. It is a very faire thing." But Pandon has evidently been written in mistake for Pilgrim. The scite of this monastry must have been somewhere in Major Anderson's grounds, adjoining the High Friar Chare, which must have conducted to it. The Milbank MS. says it stood near Pilgrim Street-Gate, and that there was a lane between it and the walls. The burial-ground of the convent was immediately opposite to Ficket Tower, where the new Presbyterian meeting-house now stands. It was usual for persons of note to be buried among these Grey Friars, and also in the habit of their order. Brand says he "found, built up in the wall of a house adjoining to the scite of the monastry, the fragment of a grave-stone, which has, no doubt, been taken out of their burial-ground. A sword is marked on it. The mutilated inscription runs thus, 'Hic jacet ........eming.' The last, I suppose, has been 'Fleming,' a name which often occurs anciently among the magistrates of Newcastle." (fn. 3) The house Mr. Brand alludes to stands in Pilgrim Street, at the corner of High Friar Lane. The gravestone of the Rev. William Durant, as will be noticed hereafter, was also found here.