A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 2, the City of Chester: Culture, Buildings, Institutions. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2005.
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SITES AND REMAINS OF MEDIEVAL RELIGIOUS HOUSES
Founded in the mid 12th century initially in Handbridge, the nunnery obtained its site in the Crofts north-west of the castle from Earl Ranulph II (d. 1153). (fn. 1) The stone-walled precinct formed an irregular quadrilateral extending north from the castle ditch to Arderne Lane (later Black Friars), between Nuns Lane (Castle Esplanade) on the east and the city walls on the west. (fn. 2) The early conventual buildings were probably modest since the priory was never rich. (fn. 3) By the late Middle Ages they comprised the church of St. Mary in the centre of the precinct, the cloister to its south, a small inner court to the south-west, and a larger outer court to the north-west. Access was by a walled lane from a gate in Nuns Lane. South of the lane and east of the church was the graveyard. (fn. 4)
The buildings were predominantly late 13th- or early 14th-century in date, (fn. 5) but when the site was cleared in the early 19th century Romanesque and 15th-century architectural fragments were also found. (fn. 6) The church consisted of a chancel and a nave divided from a north aisle by an arcade of four piers dating from the 13th or 14th century, and was used for many burials. (fn. 7) In the early 15th century it contained at least 13 altars. (fn. 8) Outside, or perhaps over the western door, was the 'Jerusalem', from which anthems were sung during the Palm Sunday procession. (fn. 9)
The cloisters were being reconstructed in the 1520s. (fn. 10) On the south side they included a structure which probably served as the frater. (fn. 11) The smaller courtyard, which included the west cloister range, perhaps housed the prioress's lodgings, while the larger probably contained service buildings and guest accommodation. (fn. 12)
After the dissolution of the nunnery in 1540 the site was granted to Urian Brereton, whose descendants occasionally lived there. (fn. 13) The outer court seems to have been adapted for residential use by the addition of two large pentagonal bays, probably windows similar to those built at Little Moreton Hall in 1559. (fn. 14) The mansion was pillaged by royalist soldiers in 1643 and never restored. (fn. 15) There was little on the site by the early 18th century, and it was transformed into a lawn in the early 19th. (fn. 16) An arch flanked by sections of wall adorned with niches was removed c. 1840 and eventually installed in Grosvenor Park, where it remained in 2000. (fn. 17)
The county police headquarters was opened on the site in 1967. (fn. 18)
Established in Chester in 1237 or 1238, the Grey Friars obtained royal approval in 1240 to build on a site in the Crofts extending north from Watergate Street roughly to Little Parsons and Dog Lanes (near the later Bedward Row) and west from Crofts Lane (later Linenhall Street and St. Martin's Way) to the city walls. (fn. 19) The rectangular precinct eventually occupied 7 a. and was surrounded by a wall which on the west ran inside the city walls. (fn. 20) Access was by a gatehouse at the south end of Crofts Lane. (fn. 21)
Henry III in 1245 allowed the community to take building stone from the castle ditch and to remove an inconvenient lane. (fn. 22) The friars extended the precinct in order to enlarge their domestic buildings in 1332 and 1360. (fn. 23) By the late Middle Ages the church was c. 60 m. long, with north and south aisles, a transept, and a tower with a spire. (fn. 24) One burial is recorded within it, that of Robert Grosvenor in 1286. (fn. 25) Bequests were made for the repair of the church in the 1520s, when considerable work may have been done. (fn. 26) By 1528, however, the friars had clearly abandoned the nave, which was being used for the storage of sails and tools belonging to the city's merchants and sailors. (fn. 27)
The church lay on the south side of the precinct with the cloister to its north. A second courtyard north of the cloister may have included the infirmary, the east range of which abutted the friars' dormitory. (fn. 28) West of the church stood a house called the 'ostrye', a kitchen, and other chambers. (fn. 29) To the east were more chambers and the graveyard, and to the south a further range of buildings, perhaps the brewhouse and bakery. (fn. 30) Much of the rest of the precinct was occupied by orchards, pasture, and gardens, the western third forming a walled space later known as Grey Friars' croft or Yacht field. (fn. 31)
The friary was dissolved in 1538 and the site was sold first to Richard Hough in 1540 and again with the other friaries to John Cocks in 1544. Thereafter it passed to the Duttons, Warburtons, and finally in 1622 to the Stanleys of Alderley, who retained it until 1775. It is not clear whether it was ever occupied. By the time of the Civil War the buildings seem to have been ruinous, only the crossing tower certainly surviving. (fn. 32) In 1775 the site was again sold. The New Linenhall was built on the eastern half in 1778, (fn. 33) and in the 1780s Stanley Place, Stanley Street, and Watergate Flags were built on the remainder. (fn. 34)
The Dominicans were settled in Chester by 1237 or 1238, (fn. 35) receiving a site in the Crofts of 5½ a., bounded by Watergate Street to the north, the later Nicholas Street to the east, Arderne Lane (later Black Friars) to the south, and the city walls to the west. (fn. 36) In its final form the precinct was divided by a substantial internal wall running east-west, presumably between the conventual buildings and the orchards and gardens. (fn. 37) The main entrance was by a gate in Nicholas Street giving on to an alley which crossed the precinct to a lesser western gate. (fn. 38)
A chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas apparently stood on the site in the 1220s, and was perhaps taken over as the friary church, which had the same dedication. (fn. 39) The church lay in the centre-west of the site with the main claustral range to the south. A further range of buildings lay to the north, perhaps an outer court entered from the alley. (fn. 40)
The conventual buildings may have been complete by 1276, when licence was obtained for a piped water supply. (fn. 41) The first church, a simple rectangle, was retained as the choir when in the late 13th or early 14th century a large nave with aisles, c. 30 m. long with seven bays, was added perhaps together with a transept and north-west tower. (fn. 42) Later a central tower was built over the crossing, the nave was shortened by one bay, and the north-west tower was removed. Those alterations were perhaps made in the mid 14th century, but floor tiles from the central tower are unlikely to pre-date 1400. In the later 15th century the crossing tower was removed and the choir widened, perhaps with the addition of an aisle. The nave was partially demolished in the early 16th century and foundations for a replacement were begun probably c. 1520. Work had apparently ceased before the Dissolution with the construction of a temporary retaining wall. Numerous interments took place in the nave and aisles throughout the Middle Ages. They included some children and a few women, but were mostly men, placed in the best positions at the eastern end of the nave aisles. (fn. 43)
In the mid 1520s Ralph Egerton left money for rebuilding the frater, (fn. 44) probably as part of an intended complete reconstruction of the cloisters. Only the southern and eastern ranges were standing at the Dissolution. The northern walk had perhaps been taken down with the nave. The western range, if it ever existed, must have been small, because of the position of the church, and the cellarer's range, guest houses, and service buildings usually to be found there were perhaps instead located in the unusually elongated eastern range or in an outer court. (fn. 45)
At the Dissolution the buildings included the 'old hall', the choir of the conventual church, the vestry, chapter house, two 'cloisters' (probably meaning two ranges of a single cloister), frater, dorter, several chambers, kitchen, buttery, and old buttery. (fn. 46) Three houses with gardens stood west of the church against the precinct wall. (fn. 47) Much of the rest of the precinct was occupied by a graveyard, probably for the brethren, east of the church, another graveyard for the laity to its south-west, and by orchards and gardens within the open area to the north. (fn. 48)
The friary was dissolved in 1538. In 1543 the main buildings were leased to Thomas Smith and Richard Sneyd, and in 1544 the entire site was sold to John Cocks. (fn. 49) In 1561 it passed to the Duttons and thereafter presumably to the Warburtons, reputed builders of the late 16th-century timber-framed house at the northeast corner of the precinct afterwards called Stanley Palace. The site later passed to the Stanleys of Alderley, who retained at least the eastern half until c. 1780. (fn. 50) By the early 17th century most of the friary buildings had been demolished, though the gate in Nicholas Street survived. (fn. 51) In 1745 the principal houses on the site were those of Mr. Smith in the south-west corner, and Sir Richard Brooke on the Watergate Street frontage west of Stanley Palace. Between lay extensive gardens reached by a lane perhaps on the line of the medieval alley. (fn. 52) Smith's house, later known as Grey Friars House, survived in 2000, a low two-storeyed building dating largely from the late 17th century but incorporating timber framing perhaps of the 16th. (fn. 53) Brooke's house was entirely replaced by Watergate House, built in 1820 by Thomas Harrison for Henry Potts. (fn. 54)
In the early 1780s the Stanleys and the architect Joseph Turner developed the eastern part of the site; a long Georgian terrace was erected on Nicholas Street, with a mews behind. (fn. 55) By the early 19th century Smith's Walk (later Grey Friars) had been laid out south of the earlier lane to provide access to the large house then belonging to Capt. Wrench. (fn. 56)
The Carmelites, first recorded in Chester in 1277, (fn. 57) were granted seven messuages by Hugh Payn 'in a suburb of Chester' in 1290 on which to build a convent and church. (fn. 58) It has usually been assumed that the land was in White Friars Lane, but 'suburb' is an unlikely description for that area, and the messuages were in St. John's parish and probably lay with the donor's lands in the eastern suburbs around the Bars. (fn. 59) Either the grant, which involved the friars in litigation, was not implemented or else the messuages were exchanged.
By the 1290s the community was established near White Friars Lane and Berward Lane (later Weaver Street), and in the time of Abbot Thomas Birchills (1291–1323) the precinct extended to Pierpoint Lane. (fn. 60) In 1350 the friars acquired and enclosed two lanes, one north of the friary, running towards Berwards Lane, and the other west, running from a barn towards White Friars Lane. (fn. 61) More land adjacent to the precinct was added in 1354. (fn. 62) The precinct eventually measured almost 80 m. from north to south and 120 m. from east to west, extending from White Friars Lane to Commonhall Lane, and from Berward or Alban Lane to the rear boundaries of houses on Bridge Street. (fn. 63)
There was much building activity in the mid 14th century, (fn. 64) and in 1495 the tower was rebuilt and adorned with a spire. (fn. 65) The conventual church of St. Mary lay at the eastern end of White Friars Lane. (fn. 66) At the Dissolution it included an entrance porch, a vestry, and a chancel furnished with five altars, three alabaster retables, and two organs, the greater over the doorway into the choir. (fn. 67) By the mid 14th century the church was used for burials, (fn. 68) becoming especially popular in the early 16th century. (fn. 69)
The cloisters and conventual buildings presumably lay north of the church. At the Dissolution the dorter, reredorter, and prior's chamber probably occupied the east range, and the kitchen and frater the north range. (fn. 70) The graveyard perhaps lay east of the east range, and an outer court stood to the west with a gateway opening on to White Friars Lane. (fn. 71) There may also have been a gateway on Commonhall Lane. (fn. 72)
A barn once in the possession of the early 14thcentury sheriff Gilbert Dunfoul had apparently been acquired by the friars before 1350. (fn. 73) It lay in the northwest corner of the precinct, (fn. 74) and parts of its walls and plan were preserved in the house called the Friary, which dates mainly from the late 17th and 18th century, with mostly 18th-century interiors and a south range rebuilt early in the 19th century. Within and adjoining the precinct there were other buildings, orchards, and gardens. (fn. 75) They included a house used by the Carpenters' guild for storing the props for their play. (fn. 76)
The friary was dissolved in 1538. (fn. 77) Its holdings passed in 1544 to Fulk Dutton, and a house, known as White Friars, was built on part of the site. (fn. 78) Thereafter the friary passed in 1583 to Edmund Gamull and in 1593 to Thomas Egerton, who in 1597 demolished the church to make way for a new building. (fn. 79) The site remained in the hands of Egerton's descendants until the later 18th century. (fn. 80) From the 1540s it appears to have been divided into two, an eastern portion comprising the church and conventual buildings within St. Bridget's parish, and a western portion including the barn perhaps in St. Martin's. Dutton's house, apparently distinct from the convent itself, was probably built on the latter, and Egerton's on the former. (fn. 81) The site was still divided between two tenants in the 1660s. The western portion, known as White Friars or the Friars, was tenanted in 1667 by Giles Vanbrugh, father of Sir John, and in 1679 by Anthony Henthorn, both sugar bakers. (fn. 82) By 1781 the Henthorns' former house, in Weaver Street, was known as the Sugar House, (fn. 83) presumably the same as the Friary, on the site of the medieval barn. Egerton's house was perhaps on or near the site of Bank House, which in the late 18th century included a courtyard facing Commonhall Lane. (fn. 84) By 1830 it had entirely disappeared, (fn. 85) and buildings had been erected along the eastern end of White Friars Lane, on either side of Bollands Court. (fn. 86)
Hospital of St. Giles
The leper hospital of St. Giles was probably founded in the mid 12th century. (fn. 87) It lay in Boughton on the south side of Christleton Road at the easternmost limits of the liberties. Nothing is known of its medieval buildings, but since it was favoured by Henry III and by the early 14th century had extensive privileges and properties within the city, they may well have been substantial. (fn. 88) Although not dissolved in 1547, it was utterly destroyed in 1643 when the chapel, barn, and other buildings were razed by the city's royalist garrison lest they offer shelter to the parliamentary forces. (fn. 89) All that remained in 2000 was the graveyard, closed in 1854, the burial place of royalists killed in 1644 and of victims of the cholera epidemic of the 1830s, and used in the early 19th century by St. John's parish. (fn. 90)
Hospital of St. John The Baptist.
The hospital outside the Northgate obtained confirmation of its site from Earl Ranulph III in the 1190s, (fn. 91) and by c. 1200 had a church and a burial ground. (fn. 92) It occupied a long narrow strip immediately outside the town walls and ditch, extending 120 m. west from Upper Northgate Street. In 1241 the brethren were permitted to erect a chapel apparently in addition to their existing church. (fn. 93) In 1341 the church, chapel, and other buildings had inadequate roofs and two large houses had collapsed for want of maintenance. (fn. 94) By 1396 the buildings included a single chapel, and a hall and barns with a chamber for the chief priest and administrator; (fn. 95) in 1414 there was also a garden. (fn. 96)
The hospital was not dissolved in 1547 and remained an extra-parochial place, within which the chapel, known as Little St. John's, exercised parochial functions until 1967. (fn. 97) In the early 17th century another building housed six poor widows, each with two rooms and a garden. (fn. 98) All the stone buildings, including the chapel and the precinct wall, were razed to the ground in 1644 by the city's garrison as a defensive measure. (fn. 99) Under the wardenship of Colonel Roger Whitley (1660–97) the hospital was reputedly rebuilt. (fn. 100) By 1703 the corporation had regained control and in 1715–17 the old chapel was taken down and new buildings erected. The main block, which housed the newly founded Blue Coat school, was paid for by private subscription. The corporation paid for the south wing housing the chapel, a rear courtyard containing almshouses, and the north wing containing the schoolmaster's house, which was added in 1730. When complete the building formed an open threesided court facing Upper Northgate Street. The chapel, the 'ornaments' of which were partly paid for by Sir Robert Grosvenor, Bt., included room for the prisoners of the Northgate gaol and a gallery for the schoolboys. No early features survived inside the building in the 1990s. (fn. 101)
The Blue Coat school was closed in 1949, (fn. 102) and after a variety of uses the building was occupied in 2000 by the History department and other offices of Chester College.
Hospital of St. Ursula
The hospital was founded under a licence granted in 1510 to the executors of Roger Smith (will proved 1508), with six almshouses and a chapel in the city's former common hall in Commonhall Lane. It may already have lapsed before its formal dissolution in 1547, when the chapel was sold. The almshouses continued until the 1870s. (fn. 103)