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,
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.