A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1970.
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21. THE DOMINICAN FRIARS OF NEWCASTLE-UNDER-LYME
There were Dominican friars in residence at Newcastle-under-Lyme by July 1277 when Edward I, then nearby at Eccleshall, sent them alms of 6s. 8d. for one day's food in the ensuing week. As the cost of one day's food was 4d. a head, the community then numbered at least twenty. (fn. 1) Twelve was the minimum necessary for a priory, but most of the houses had a larger community than that required by the Constitutions. (fn. 2) It is not known how long the Newcastle house had been in existence or who founded it. (fn. 3)
Nor is much known about the progress of the Newcastle friars. Edward II, on a visit to the town in 1323, found only 12 friars there — he bestowed 4s. for one day's food; (fn. 4) this, however, may mean no more than that others normally resident were temporarily absent on their ordinary avocations. The house belonged to the 'visitation', or administrative division, of Oxford. (fn. 5) It received two early endowments. Nicholas de Audley in his will left the friars £8 8s. 6d. owed to him by the Crown, though they had some difficulty before securing this in 1280. (fn. 6) In 1291, after the death of Queen Eleanor, the prior provincial received £5 for the Newcastle house from her executors. (fn. 7) Between 1351 and 1361 Henry, Duke of Lancaster, gave the friars licence to buy 'for the enlargement of their house' 3¾ burgages adjoining it, and released to them the annual rent of 3s. 9d. by which the property was held of the duchy. The grant was confirmed by John of Gaunt in 1363, and both grant and confirmation were ratified by Henry IV as Duke of Lancaster in 1404. (fn. 8) In this instance the friars profited from having settled in a town which had been within Lancastrian territory since Henry III created the earldom of Lancaster for his son Edmund in 1267. There is no evidence, however, that the friars were ever involved politically on the Lancastrian behalf or that use was made of their services as preachers to assist Lancastrian propaganda. The energies of the house were newly stimulated in 1390 when the master general appointed William de Barleton his vicar with power to gather into the Newcastle house 'the devout brethren of the Observance' — friars belonging to the section within the order which clung to original standards and rejected later mitigations. (fn. 9) The provincial chapter met at the priory in 1471. (fn. 10)
By the time of the dissolution in 1538 the house was very poor. The visitor, Richard Ingworth, Bishop of Dover, found the priory 'all in ruin and a poor house, the choir leaded and the cloister lead ready to fall down, the rest slate and shingle'. All that could be done with most of it was to 'save the lead and slate and take the profit of the ground'. Income from rents came to 40s. (fn. 11) The friars owed over £14 to various people and stated that for this 'all their substance lay in pledge, and yet all not worth the debt; so that no store was in the house but all gone'. (fn. 12) Earlier the same year most of the buildings and lands were leased to Henry Broke, who already held property in the area in right of his wife. (fn. 13)
Ingworth came to Newcastle on 10 August 1538. In the presence of the mayor, the two bailiffs, and others he received the surrender of the priory. He took a small chalice, five little spoons, and 'two narrow bands of masers' for the king's use but left everything else in the hands of the bailiffs. (fn. 14)
The surrendered buildings were leased to John Smith, a yeoman of the guard, and Henry Broke at an annual rent of 13s. 4d. (fn. 15) The other lands were let to various tenants for 32s. 1d. a year. The inventory taken of the priory's goods and chattels reflects its poverty. Apart from three sets of silk vestments, only two of which were complete, everything in the church was old, or of inferior material, or in some way defective. The furnishings included a 'fair table of alabaster' for the high altar, one notable coppergilt crucifix, with Mary and John, a latten censer, and a latten holy-water stoup, but most of the other ornaments were poor and old. There was a pair of organs and two bells in the steeple. In the bedchambers the friars had two old feather beds, with an old bolster and coverlet. The hall contained two tables, two forms, and four trestles. The kitchen and brewhouse had a minimum of crockery and utensils. A closing memorandum stated that all the property detailed was in the hands of the bailiffs and also mentioned three chests of documents, 'the one of the king's, the other of other gentlemen's, the third of the convent's'.
A sale held a few weeks later brought in £3 11s. 2d. for the goods, £7 6s. 8d. for the materials from superfluous buildings, and 12s. 4d. for lead from small pieces which pilferers had melted down but afterwards returned. (fn. 16) In John Smith's keeping there remained the two bells (weighing 2 cwt. and valued at 40s.) and the lead of the choir and part of the cloister (valued at £30). The lead had been estimated at 9 fodders, each worth £3 6s. 8d., but in fact in June 1540 John Scudamore, receiver for the Court of Augmentations, was able to have cast from it no less than 13 fodders 8 cwt. 3 qrs. Meantime in May 1540 a grant for life, rent-free, of this and other church property and buildings had been made to John Smith and his son Richard, backdated to Michaelmas 1539. Within the site, besides the conventual buildings and their gardens, orchards, barns, and stables, there was a hall called Kingsley Hall and a chamber adjoining the church and called the New Chamber, with buildings above and below. The New Chamber was occupied by Henry Broke, who was also still the tenant of the Friars' Wood, the Friars' Meadow, and other plots of land. A tenement with gardens was let to Thomas Byrkes, another to Ellen Browne, widow, and a barn and garden to Ralph Harrison. The grant to the Smiths also included 'the interest and term of years' which the king had in a tenement in Lower Street, now occupied by Richard Brette, which used to belong to the friars. The property of the former friary was valued at £2 5s. 5d. gross in 1538-9.
The site of the priory lay a little to the east of the castle in the angle at which Blackfriars Road on the south-west meets Goose Street on the south-east and where the Smithfield Cattle Market is now situated. (fn. 17) Adjacent streets are known as Friarswood Road and Friars Street, the name given in recent years to what used to be Friars Lane. The Lyme Brook, a tributary of the Trent, is believed to have flowed through the friars' precinct. (fn. 18)
William of Bromley, occurs 1282-3. (fn. 19)
Thomas de Hunstretton, occurs 1323. (fn. 20)
William Peppelowe, occurs 1406. (fn. 21)