A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
HOUSE OF CARMELITE FRIARS
19. THE CARMELITE FRIARS OF LUDLOW
The Carmelites were the last of the four chief orders of friars to reach Shropshire. They were established at Ludlow in 1350 by Sir Laurence of Ludlow. (fn. 1) grandson of the great wool merchant of Edward I's reign (fn. 2) and lord of Stokesay Castle, who then obtained licence to grant a messuage in Ludlow to the Carmelite order to build a habitation for the friars there. (fn. 3) Building began at once: ordinations of Carmelite friars from Ludlow begin in December 1352 (fn. 4) and in 1358 the prior and three brethren of the house were licensed to hear confessions in the diocese of Hereford. (fn. 5) When Laurence died in November 1353 the building of the church was sufficiently far advanced for his body to be buried in the sanctuary, (fn. 6) though later evidence suggests that the church was still far from complete. The site was enlarged at this time: in 1355 the prior and brethren were pardoned for having acquired seven further messuages or burgages adjoining their holding without licence and pulling down houses to clear the site for occupation. (fn. 7) After the funeral of Laurence of Ludlow an agreement was reached with the Rector of Ludlow that any bodies buried by the Carmelites should first be brought to the parish church and the offerings given to the rector; (fn. 8) apart from this dispute relations with the secular clergy seem to have been good.
The convent stood at the northern end of the suburb outside Corvegate on a site later occupied by the cemetery of St. Leonard's church. It probably adjoined the medieval chapel of St. Leonard, maintained by the Hospitallers of Dinmore; (fn. 9) Laurence of Ludlow had held this site from them (fn. 10) and the Carmelites continued to pay a rent of 5s. to the preceptory of Dinmore until the Dissolution. (fn. 11) Building apparently progressed slowly after the founder's death. A will of 1381, whereby William Pope of Ludlow left 20s. for the building of the 'new church of the Carmelite brethren in Ludlow' (fn. 12) implies that it was still incomplete. In 1399 James Burley left £4 towards the building of a new chapel in the Carmelite church, to which the bones of members of his family buried there might be transferred. (fn. 13) Early in the 15th century the church was either greatly enlarged or completely rebuilt; a papal indulgence of 1420 granted remission of penance to those who should visit and give alms on certain feasts for the fabric of the church, which had lately begun to be built. (fn. 14) A note in a Hereford bishop's register attributed the building of the church to Bishop Robert Mascall, himself a Carmelite, who died in 1416; (fn. 15) he was perhaps responsible for the choir and presbytery. (fn. 16) The house was sizeable by this time; a provincial chapter met at Ludlow in 1416. (fn. 17) The completed church was, in the words of Leland, who saw it just after the suppression, a 'fair and costly thing' (fn. 18) with the spacious proportions of so many friars' churches; at that time it had three bells in its steeple and a choir 'well stalled round about'. (fn. 19)
When the Carmelite friars first came to England they still cherished the traditions of the earlier, eremitical phase of the order in Palestine. But the constitutions of the order were revised c. 1250 and modelled very closely on those of the Dominicans. (fn. 20) The emphasis after that date was on study and preaching; houses were established only in towns and studia generalia were appointed. To this second phase the Ludlow house belonged. In its heyday, in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, it produced a number of learned and distinguished men. Robert Mascall, Bishop of Hereford from 1404 and confessor to Henry IV, was a Carmelite of Ludlow and left his body to be buried there. (fn. 21) David Chirbury, who entered the order at the Ludlow convent, was a lector in theology at Oxford with a reputation for deep learning, exemplary life, and energetic preaching; he became Bishop of Dromore in 1431 and in his will bequeathed all his books to the Carmelites of Ludlow. (fn. 22) John Stanbury, the Carmelite Bishop of Bangor (1448) and Hereford (1453), was less closely connected with the Ludlow house, though he bequeathed 40s. to the brethren there to keep his obit (fn. 23) and died there in 1474. (fn. 24)
The house suffered when Lancastrian soldiers sacked the town of Ludlow in 1459. (fn. 25) They plundered the house of all its furniture and the friars of their utensils and other goods, reducing them to such poverty that, it was claimed, they could scarcely support themselves, let alone repair their buildings. With the help of Edward IV (fn. 26) they secured a papal indulgence for all who should visit and give alms for the restoration and completion of the house and church; the Pope also licensed the prior to appoint for 20 years as many confessors, regular and secular, as he considered necessary. (fn. 27) The house was sufficiently restored for the provincial chapter to be held there in 1469. (fn. 28)
The Carmelite order experienced many troubles in the later 15th century, but there is little evidence of conditions at Ludlow in this period. A papal dispensation was granted to a Carmelite prior of Ludlow to hold a benefice (fn. 29) but this example on its own does not amount to evidence of financial need. The master-general of the order came to Ludlow in 1505, during a visitation of the English province, and made one or two routine appointments; his only disciplinary action was to restore a friar who had apparently been suspended for pawning a chalice. (fn. 30) The brethren were involved in two or three cases of debt and one case of assault in the 1520s, (fn. 31) but there is no real substantiation for the charge of Thomas Vernon that the rule was badly kept: he was in any case an interested party since he was anxious to have the property for his own use. (fn. 32) The inventory of 1538 (fn. 33) shows the community well supplied with vestments of velvet, silk, and damask, including vestments for requiem masses. There were three wooden pews in the nave, an unusual luxury in a friars' church; furnishings are listed for the infirmary, buttery and kitchen, prior's chamber, an upper chamber and other chambers, as well as the choir, church, and two sacristies. An alabaster tomb in the church was possibly that of Robert Mascall. Although plate and an old velvet cope, worth altogether £7 5s. 6d., had been pledged the brethren still had a chalice and cross weighing 71 oz.; they had tried to save some of their other plate by hiding it in a ditch. (fn. 34) The five brethren remaining in the house surrendered to the Crown in August 1538. (fn. 35) The site was subsequently valued at £1 17s. 8d.; the brethren had besides this only 2 tenements and 2 burgages. (fn. 36) It was granted in 1540 to Thomas Vernon, (fn. 37) who could claim that it had been founded by his ancestors.
The burgesses of Ludlow obtained many loads of stone from the Ludlow friaries in the following years, (fn. 38) but there were still considerable remains of the Carmelite house when its purchaser, Charles Foxe of Bromfield, founded an almshouse on the site in the 1590s. (fn. 39) Part of the church, possibly the choir, served as the almshouse chapel and Foxe gave two bells that he had in his cellar to be hung in the steeple, but by the mid 18th century the property had become so ruinous that falling tiles were a threat to passers-by and the roof was taken down. The walls remained standing until the end of the century, but nothing remained thereafter except a few carved stones in the wall of St. Leonard's churchyard. (fn. 40)
Stephen of Oxford, occurs 1358. (fn. 41)
Richard Auger, occurs 1405. (fn. 42)
Nicholas, occurs 1467. (fn. 43)
Walter Dyer, occurs 1480. (fn. 44)
George Gregory, occurs Mar. 1520. (fn. 45)
Richard Wyllet, occurs Dec. 1520. (fn. 46)
Thomas Walker, occurs 1526. (fn. 47)
John Bliss, occurs 1527. (fn. 48)
Thomas Shepey, occurs 1532. (fn. 49)
Thomas Capper, occurs 1537. (fn. 50)