The extra-parochial liberty of the White Friars
occupied the northern part of an island between two
branches of the Soar. The southern boundary of the
liberty was marked by Bridge Street, which ran
across the island from the West Bridge, to a road
called Duns Lane, near the island's eastern bank.
The greater part of White Friars is now occupied by
a railway marshalling yard. The area of the liberty
was approximately 15 acres. (fn. 1)
In the Middle Ages White Friars was occupied
by a house of Augustinian Hermits, (fn. 2) and it was no
doubt from having been the site of a religious house
that the area derived its status as an extra-parochial
area for ecclesiastical and civil purposes. The Augustinian friary, while it existed, presumably stood
virtually outside the normal parish organization.
Whether during the Middle Ages White Friars was
considered to be within the borough seems uncertain;
in 1306 the friars' church was outside the borough,
but it is evident from the borders of the town wards
as described in 1484 that part at least of the island on
which White Friars stood was within the borough
boundary. (fn. 3) During the litigation over the borough's
boundaries in the 18th century it never seems to
have been disputed that White Friars lay within the
borough, and the boundaries as established under
the Municipal Corporations Reform Act (fn. 4) of 1835
included it in the borough. (fn. 5) In the 19th century
White Friars was usually described as an extraparochial place, (fn. 6) and from 1836 onwards it was
certainly a distinct unit for poor relief purposes. (fn. 7)
White Friars ceased to exist as a unit for civil purposes in 1896. (fn. 8)
Little is known of the friary's buildings; they
included a cruciform church of some size. (fn. 9) The friary
was surrendered to the king in 1538, (fn. 10) and granted
in 1545 to two speculators, John Bellowe and John
Broxholme; (fn. 11) in 1597 the property was in the hands
of Robert Temple, who sold it in that year to Robert
Heyrick, a Leicester ironmonger. (fn. 12) About 1815 the
owner was Joseph Craddock of Gumley. (fn. 13) In 1830
the liberty was the site of a factory for the manufacture of braces; the owner, a Mr. Kelly, lived in a
house adjoining. (fn. 14) Shortly after that date most of the
land was acquired by the Leicester and Swannington
Railway, which established the Leicester terminus of
the line there, and almost the whole of the White
Friars was occupied by railway sidings and coal
merchants' offices and warehouses. (fn. 15) British Railways
were in 1956 the chief landowners in White Friars.
Bow Bridge joins White Friars to the west bank of
the Soar. This bridge is first mentioned in about
1600, but probably existed already in the 14th century. (fn. 16) Until the 19th century Bow Bridge was a stone
structure of five arches. (fn. 17) In 1863 the old bridge was
demolished, and replaced by the existing iron one. (fn. 18)
Until 1791 the river was crossed near to Bow Bridge
by a footbridge, made up of a single gently curving
arch. It is possible that it was the footbridge, from
its shape, which was originally known as Bow Bridge.
It was swept away by flood water in 1791, and never
rebuilt. (fn. 19) The courses of the two branches of the Soar
which enclose White Friars were considerably altered by flood prevention schemes executed in the
late 19th century. (fn. 20)
For ecclesiastical purposes White Friars seems to
have been regarded as part of St. Nicholas's parish
by 1846. (fn. 21)
|| This figure is an estimate, based on T. and G. Ellis,
Plan of Leic. (1828).
|| On the site of the friary, see Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin
Smith, i. 16. The term 'White Friars' was usually applied
to the Carmelites, who never possessed a house in
|| Leic. Boro. Rec. 1327–1509, 307; 1509–1603, 88–89;
|| 5 & 6 Wm. IV, c. 76.
|| Rep. Com. on Boundaries and Wards of Certain Boros.
Pt. 2, H.C. 238 (1837), xxvii.
|| Ibid.; Curtis, Topog. Hist. Leics. 109; it is returned as
extra-parochial in the census reports up to 1891 inclusive:
V.C.H. Leics. iii. 179.
|| White Friars is not listed as a place maintaining its own
poor in 1776, or in 1783–5, in the returns for the whole
country printed in Rep. Sel. Cttee. appointed to consider
Returns Made by Overseers of Poor, Rep. of H.C. (1st Ser.),
ix, pp. 385, 619. In the returns relating to poor relief made
for the whole country in 1803 the liberty of the Friars at
Leic. is mentioned, but this was probably the larger liberty
of the Black Friars: Abstract of Returns Relative to the Ex.
pense and Maintenance of the Poor, H.C. 175, p. 262 (1803–
4), xiii. When Leic. Poor Law Union was formed in 1836
White Friars was not included in it, perhaps in error, and
the liberty remained outside the union until 1862: see
above, p. 257.
|| See above, p. 288.
|| Leland, Itin. i. 16.
|| V.C.H. Leics. ii. 35.
|| L. & P. Hen. VIII, xx(1), p. 656.
|| Nichols, Leics. i. 301
|| Ibid. 302.
|| Curtis, Topog. Hist. Leics. 103.
|| T.L.A.S. xxx. 64, 78; White, Dir. Leics. (1846), 178–
9; V.C.H. Leics. iii. 112.
|| V.C.H. Leics. iii. 86.
|| Nichols, Leics. i. 301.
|| V.C.H. Leics. iii. 86.
|| Nichols, Leics. i. 301–2.
|| See above, pp. 277–8.
|| White, Dir. Leics. (1846), 50; cf. ibid. (1877), 305.
White Friars is erroneously stated to be part of St. Mary's
ecclesiastical parish in Census, 1871 and 1881.