Religious houses: Black Friars

Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead. Originally published by Mackenzie and Dent, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


Eneas Mackenzie, 'Religious houses: Black Friars', Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827), pp. 123-128. British History Online [accessed 15 June 2024].

Eneas Mackenzie. "Religious houses: Black Friars", in Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827) 123-128. British History Online, accessed June 15, 2024,

Mackenzie, Eneas. "Religious houses: Black Friars", Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827). 123-128. British History Online. Web. 15 June 2024,


THE Dominicans, or Black Friars, were one of the four orders of mendicant or begging friars. (fn. 1) They received their name from their founder, St. Dominic, a native of Cologna in Spain. They were also called Preaching Friars. from their office of preaching and converting heretics; and Black Friars, from the colour of their upper garment. In France they were called Jacobins, from having their first houses in St. James' Street at Paris. At Newcastle they appear to have had the title of Shod Friars, in contradistinction, as it should seem, to their neighbours, the Grey Friars, who went barefooted. This order was founded in 1198, approved of by Pope Innocent III. in 1215, and entered England in 1221. Their habit was a white cassock, with a white hood over it; and abroad they wore a black cloak and hood over all. They were enjoined silence, poverty, and almost continual fasts; also abstinence from flesh and from wearing linen, with several other austerities. They boast of having produced a great many martyrs and confessors, three popes, sixty cardinals, one hundred and fifty archbishops, and eight hundred bishops; and to have furnished in this kingdom eighty writers of eminence. They enjoyed a higher degree of power and authority than any of the other monastic orders; but then they enjoyed peculiar advantages, being confessors in all the courts of Europe, and every where presiding over the tribunals of the Inquisition. (fn. 2)

The precise date when the house of the Black Friars in this town was erected is unknown. It is said to have been founded by Sir Peter Scot, and his son Sir Nicholas Scot, about the year 1260. The ground on which it stands was given by three pious sisters, whose names have been consigned to oblivion.

It appears that, in 1264, the friars of this house had made, under a royal grant, art aqueduct from a fountain beyond their court-yard to their monastry, and from thence into the town. In 1280, they obtained the royal license to make a postern gate through the town-wall, to communicate with that division of their property which had been placed in the suburbs by the building of the said wall; and in 1312, king Edward II. permitted them to make a draw-bridge of wood, five feet broad, over the new fosse of the town, for a passage to their garden in the suburbs, with pale-work in lieu of the garden wall, on condition that the whole should be removed on the appearance of any imminent danger. When the king passed through the town in 1299, the pittance of these friars for one day was eleven shillings.

In 1318, the king granted to the brethren of this house, for the purpose of enlarging their house and burial-ground, a messuage contiguous thereto, which had belonged to Gilbert de Middleton, and had escheated to the crown on his being hanged for felony and treason; (fn. 3) and in 1330, the king granted a license of mortmain to John Baroun, impowering him to assign to this fraternity a piece of ground, 60 feet long, and as many feet broad, for the purpose of enlarging their monastry.

On June 19, 1334, Edward Baliol, king of Scotland, did homage to king Edward III. for the kingdom of Scotland, in the church of this house. The ceremony was peculiarly splendid and imposing. (fn. 4)

On December 6, 1342, the king granted the brethren of this house power to set up certain gates on their ground, which had been demolished during a dispute between the townsmen and the men of Northumberland, while the Earl of Warren, Warden of the March of Scotland, lodged in their house, and which they had been prevented from setting up again.

The bishop of Durham, in 1380, granted a license to the prior and convent of this house to celebrate mass in the church of St. Nicholas in Newcastle, on asking leave of the vicar, although such leave should be refused them. King Richard II. in 1390, prohibited the conferring of the degree of Master on certain apostate brethren belonging to this order; and in 1397, there seems to have been held a provincial chapter at Newcastle, to deliberate respecting these apostates. In 1415, Lord Scroop bequeathed 13s. 6d. to the recluse in this house of Friars Preachers.

An indenture, dated October 9, 1537, passed between Rolande Hardynge, the last prior of this house, for himself and the convent, and Robert Daval, clerk, archdeacon of Northumberland, by which the former bound themselves and their successors for ever, on condition of receiving £6, 18s. from the said R. Daval, to sing daily an anthem and perform certain other services, and pray "for the sowles of William Davel John Brigham late of the towne of Newcastell merchant their wyfes and children with their benefactors and all Christeyn soulls."

This house, which appears to have been dependent upon the priory of Tynemouth, surrendered June 10, 1539. It then consisted of a prior and twelve friars, and its annual value was £2, 19s. 4d. No account has been found of any pensions granted to the prior or monks. (fn. 5) Their houses and ground were granted by king Henry VIII. March 10, 1544, to the mayor and burgesses of Newcastle, in consideration of the sum of £53, 7s. 6d.; reserving to himself and successors for ever a yearly rent of 5s. 11½d. together with the bells, lead, stones, iron, and timber of the church and other edifices. The property specified in this grant, which is preserved in the archives of the corporation, consisted of a close within the West Gate—two gardens and a close on the north—the field still called the Warden's Close on the west, and without the town's wall, that anciently had a lodge or house in it—and a house called the Gate House, near New Gate Street, from whence the great entrance seems to have been to this monastry. Bourne says that a mill at the Barras Bridge also belonged to this house, which, in 1558, paid a rent of 2s. per annum to the town of Newcastle.

In the year 1552, the mayor and burgesses demised this house of Black Friars, (fn. 6) with its appurtenances, of orchards, gardens, &c. to nine of the mysteries, or most ancient trades of the town, at the yearly rent of 42s.; a ninth part to be paid by each company, to the respective uses of which were portioned out the several apartments of the monastry, with the adjacent grounds. This grant has saved the monastry from destruction; and though it has undergone many alterations, yet it still retains a considerable share of its ancient monastic character, as will be noticed hereafter.


  • 1. The Ascetic Christians, in the reign of Constantine, restored the devout, contemplative, and self-denying life, which had been instituted by the Essenians in Palestine and Egypt. In the year 305, St. Anthony, an Egyptian, set the first example of the monastic life; and he lived to behold a numerous progeny formed by his conduct and his lessons. His disciples spread themselves beyond the tropic, travelled over England, penetrated into Ireland, and formed an establishment in Iona, one of the Hebrides, diffusing a ray of science over the barbarous regions of the north. While the monks maintained their original fervour, they approved themselves the faithful and benevolent stewards of the charity entrusted to their care. But their discipline was corrupted by prosperity, they gradually departed from the austere virtues of their founders, and the learned Wharton says that, "long before the thirteenth century, they were totally abandoned to luxury and indolence." In order to restore respect to the monastic institution, and recover the honours of the church, the orders of Mendicants were formed, who, being destitute of fixed possessions, might rely on their own merits with the people. In this island, the monastic rules of St. Columba and St. Benedict were scrupulously observed: yet the appearance of the Mendicant orders excited applause and zealous imitation; and a variety of these religious communities were established, and flourished until the days of king Henry VIII. In order to afford a pretext for the plunder and devastation which this cruel and rapacious monarch contemplated, a visitation of the monastries was instituted; and, upon reports thus obtained, three hundred and seventy-six monastries were confiscated, and their estates, real and personal, granted to the king and his heirs! Every convent, whose annual revenues did not exceed £200, was declared guilty of the alleged wickedness. This act of monstrous tyranny was opposed in the Lower House; but, according to Spelman, the king sent for the commons, and addressed them thus:—"I hear that my bill will not pass; but I will have it pass, or I will have some of your heads." This was enough; and the bill passed in March, 1536. Unsatisfied with this immense mass of plunder, many of the larger convents were induced, by threats, promises, and false accusations, to offer "a voluntary surrender." But the king, impatient at this slow process, procured an act in 1540, giving all these surrendered monastries to him, his heirs, and assigns; and also all other monastries, hospitals, and colleges. Thus was completed the confiscation of 645 convents; besides 90 colleges, 110 hospitals, and 2374 chantries and free chapels. By this sudden and extensive act of destruction, the poor were deprived of the means of support; and the kingdom was filled with pauperism, misery, degradation, and crime. Queen Elizabeth attempted to check these evils by the enactment of murderous laws; which proving ineffectual, a legal provision was assigned for the maintenance of the poor. Hume says that the "English, in that age, were so thoroughly subdued, that, like Eastern slaves, they were inclined to admire even those acts of violence and tyranny which were exercised over themselves, and at their own expense." The insurrection called "the Pilgrimage of Grace" should have, at least, excepted the men of the north from this slander. The character and pursuits of monastic communities have been greatly misrepresented and misunderstood. Tanner, a Protestant bishop, says, that the convents were free "schools of learning and education;" and that "the choicest records and treasures were kept in them." Even Gibbon admits, that "the curiosity or zeal of some learned solitaries has cultivated the ecclesiastical, and even the profane sciences; and posterity must gratefully acknowledge, that the monuments of Greek and Roman literature have been preserved and multiplied by their indefatigable pens." The monastries were also hospitals for relieving the poor, and houses of entertainment for almost all travellers. They yielded a considerable revenue to the crown, and were comfortable retreats for the children and impoverished friends of the aristocracy, who were thus rendered less dependant on the crown. These houses were likewise great ornaments to the country, and of eminent advantage to the places where they were situated, by granting fairs and markets, freeing them from the forest laws, and letting their lands at easy rates. Their tenants, indeed, "regarded themselves as a species of proprietors," and contributed to form a class of yeomen, the pride and boast of England. The religious, having no families to provide for, lived, received, and expended in common. They had no cares of their own; but they possessed courage to curb the insolent, wisdom to guide the inexperienced, and wealth to relieve the distressed. "The world," observes a modern writer, "has never been so indebted to any other body of men as to the illustrious order of Benedictine monks. * * * Tinian and Juan Fernandez are not more beautiful spots on the Ocean than Malmesbury, Lindisfarne, and Jarrow, were, in the ages of our heptarchy. A community of pious men, devoted to literature and to the useful arts as well as to religion, seems, in those days, like a green Oasis amid the desert. Like stars on a moonless night, they shine upon us with a tranquil ray. If ever there was a man who could truly be called venerable, it was he to whom the appellation is constantly fixed, Bede, whose life was passed in instructing his own generation, and preparing records for posterity. In those days, the Church offered the only asylum from the evils to which every country was exposed—amidst continual wars, the Church enjoyed peace—it was regarded as a sacred realm by men who, though they hated one another, believed and feared the same God. Abused as it was by the worldly-minded and ambitious, and disgraced by the artifices of the designing and the follies of the fanatic, it afforded a shelter to those who were better than the world in their youth, or weary of it in their age. The wise, as well as the timid and gentle, fled to this Goshen of God, which enjoyed its own light and calm, amidst darkness and storms." Some have accused the monks of having generated the mental darkness which they afterwards contributed to dispel. However this may be, certain it is that the good resulting from the Reformation was but very gradually evolved, amidst the agency of human vice and passion—Usher's Britan. Eccles. Antiq. c. xvi. 425 et. seq.—Spelman's Hist. of Sacrilege.—Hume's Hist. of Eng. ch. 31.—Holingshed, p. 939.—Gibbon's Dec. and Fall, vol. vi. ch. 32.—Drake's Lit. Hours, vol. ii. p. 435.—Tanner's Notitia Monastica, Pref. p. 19 et seq.—Hist of Northumb. vol. i. p. 313; vol. ii. p. 393.— Quarterly Rev. Dec. 1811.
  • 2. St. Dominic instituted the devotion of the Rosary, consisting of fifteen Paternosters, and an hundred and fifty Ave Marias, in honour of the fifteen principal mysteries of the life and sufferings of Christ and of the Virgin Mary. In Grey's Chorography, these friars are said to have been called, in Newcastle, "BennetChessie-Friars," i. e. Shod Bennets. Brand says, "The only real evidence for this supposed title (for I do not think they were ever called so) occurs in the common council books of Newcastle, June 1st, 1649, in the account of a 'parcell of ground, called Benny-Chesses-Close,' in Fenkell Street, which was, doubtless, part of the possessions of this monastry; but I cannot help being of opinion that it was so called from the name of the lessee, after the dissolution.—In the books of the merchants of Newcastle, A. D. 1560, there occurs one 'Bennat Chessye,' an officer of that respectable body, and who was buried, as appears by St. Nicholas' Register, October 23, 1587."
  • 3. Sir Gilbert Middleton's crime is related in Hist. of Northumb. vol. ii. p. 172.
  • 4. See page 12.
  • 5. The Black Friars had forty-three houses at the dissolution. The following story, respecting one of the brethren of this house, is taken from Knox's History of the Reformation:—"One Richard Marshall prior of the Blacke-Friars at Newcastle in England preached in St. Andrews, that the Pater-noster should be said to God only and not to the Saints. The doctors of St. Andrew's attended at it, made a Gray-Friar called Tottis preach against Marshall his tenet, which he did thus (taking his text out of the 5th of St. Matthew, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit'): Seeing we say good day, father, to any old man in the street, we may call a Saint, Pater, who is older than any alive. And seeing they are in heaven, we may say to any of them, our Father which art in heaven. And seeing they are holy, we may say to any of them, hallowed be thy name. And since they are in the kingdom of heaven, we may say, thy kingdom come. And seeing their will is God's will, we may say to any of them, thy will be done. But when the Gray-Friar preaching came to the fourth petition, give us this day our daily bread, he was hissed at, and so was constrained not only to leave off preaching, but also to leave the city for shame. Yet among the doctors then assembled the dispute continued about the Pater, for some would have it said to God formaliter, and to the Saints materialiter. Others to God principaliter, to the Saints minus principaliter; others primario to God, secundario to the Saints; others would have it said to God taking it stricte, and to the saints taking it late. Notwithstanding all their distinctions, the doctors could not agree upon the businesse. A fellow called Tom, servant to the sub-prior of St. Andrews, one day perceiving his master much troubled with some businesse, and as he conceived weighty, said to him, sir, what is the matter of this your trouble? The master answered, we cannot agree about the saying of the Pater. The fellow replied, to whom should it be said but to God alone? The master answers, what shall we do then with the saints? The fellow replies, give them aves and credos enough, that may suffice them and too well too." Brand quotes this tale as exhibiting "traits of the wretched ignorance that prevailed in those times." It appears that our forefathers exercised the same privilege in the church as we do in the theatre. Bourne says, that he saw a grant of a tenement near the White Cross, signed by friar Richard Marshall, doctor and prior, and friars David Simpson and John Sowrsby, dated 28th of Hen. VIII. to Anthony Godsave, on condition of paying 9s. per annum to the said priory—that the grant was, in his time, in the possession of Thomas Marshall, joiner, who had purchased the tenement, and lately rebuilt it, and paid the same rent to the town of Newcastle, as the tenement used to do before to the monastry.
  • 6. "The Duke of Suffolk kept his court in this house (i. e. the Black Friars) in the beginning of queen Elizabeth's reign, when he had the command of the northern counties against Scotland."—MS. authority quoted by Hodgson.