Friary: The Dominican friars of Derby

Pages 78-80

A History of the County of Derby: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.

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Some time during the episcopate of Alexander de Stavenby (1224-38), the Dominican friars obtained a settlement at Derby. They procured a site for their house just outside the walls of the old town, on the west, within the parish of St. Werburgh. The prior of the Friars Preachers of Derby was one of the four executors of the will of William de Varnun, knt., who died in 1242. (fn. 2) Henry III was a generous benefactor to their conventual church, which was dedicated in honour of the Annunciation of Our Lady. In 1329 the keepers of the bishopric of Coventry and Lichfield were ordered (during the vacancy of the see, when the temporalities were in the hands of the crown) to assign 20 marks to the Friars Preachers of Derby as a royal gift towards the building of their church. The Liberate Rolls also show that the king granted 10 marks for a like purpose from the same source in 1242, and £10 in 1244. The church itself was not completed (it was probably built bay by bay) until many years later, for Edward I, when he was at Tideswell on 21 August, 1275, gave five marks out of the exchequer to these friars in subsidium ecclesie ibidem construende.

The mendicant orders were not allowed to hold landed property save the sites of their houses, consequently the only gifts of that description applied to the enlargement of the bounds of the holding whereon their buildings stood. Within a few years of the establishment of the Dominicans at Derby, their precincts, including a churchyard, surrounded by a wall, covered 8 or 10 acres; but the area was eventually enlarged to over 16 acres. (fn. 3) In March 1292-3 an inquisition was held as to the proposal of Andrew le Jovene, of Derby, to add 3½ roods of meadow to the site. The jury found that such a grant would damage no one; that the land was held of the crown by the service of a farthing a year, and that its annual worth was only 12d. (fn. 4)

On 4 November, 1318, another inquiry was held as to Ralph de Pecco of Derby assigning to the friars 10 acres of land adjoining their house, for the purpose of enlarging it. These acres were held of the Benedictine nuns of King's Mead at 7s. a year, and declared to be worth 12d. a year in additional value. Ten days later the royal licence was granted for the transference, and Ralph handed over 4 acres to the Dominicans, but his death occurred before he had completed the transfer of the remainder. (fn. 5) In 1341 the friars petitioned the crown to sanction the assignment by John de la Corner of 1½ acres of land in part satisfaction of the licence of 1318 for the remaining 6 acres, and the request was granted. (fn. 6)

In the Italian chronicles of the Dominican order occurs the account of the death of one of the brethren, 'Frate Ruffolo,' not long after the foundation of the Derby house. The legend runs as follows:—In the convent of Derby there was a young man called, according to Girardi, Frate Ruffolo. He goes on some affair of his order to a neighbouring town (probably Nottingham), where he falls mortally sick, and is charitably received by the Friars Minors already settled there. As death draws nigh, he devoutly receives the holy sacraments, being assisted by two of the good Franciscans, and three of his own order. Just as he is ready to give up his soul, and has closed his eyes with his own hands, he begins to smile, and explains his joy by declaring that the glorious king St. Edmund has entered his cell; and the whole chamber is filled with angelic spirits. Then 'our great and blessed Lady' comes, to whom the friars sing the Salve. But a great fear falls on him, and the pallor of death overspreads his face, when he sees our Lord Jesus Christ come to judge him; in a mortal agony he shakes from head to foot, and a deadly sweat falls in copious streams. He is heard defending his cause before the Supreme Judge, saying sometimes, 'It is true,' sometimes 'It is not;' then praying our Lord not to forsake him; at other times setting at nought the accusations of the enemy. At last he says—' O my Jesus, pardon that offence, for it was slight.' 'What, my brother,' exclaims the superior, 'are we judged for such small offences?' ',' replies the dying man; 'these no less than graver ones appear before this tribunal, and we must suffer the punishment of all.' They exhort him to put full trust in the mercy of the Lord. Then, again, rejoicing, he replies, 'Assuredly, He is merciful, and I have tasted of His mercy.' And so saying he sweetly expires, 27 May, in the year 1257, on which day is kept, that year, the feast of Pentecost. (fn. 7)

Soon after Michaelmas 1291 this convent received £5 from the executors of the late Queen Eleanor, who was a great patroness of the Dominicans.

The provincial chapter of the order was held at Derby in 1310, when Edward II and his queen gave £10, through John de Wrotham, prior of London, for two days' food for the assembled fathers. The provincial chapters of the order were again held here in 1346 and in 1376; on the first occasion Edward III gave £15 towards the expenses, and on the second £20.

Edward II sojourned at Ravensdale, the royal hunting lodge in the forest of Duffield, from 24 November to 16 December, 1323; he had been staying at Nottingham from 9 to 24 November. It would seem that at this time he visited Derby when he probably partook of refreshment at the Dominican house; for on 27 November he made an order for the payment of the costs incurred by the Friars Preachers of Derby. In the following January he lodged for the night at Derby and proceeded the next day to Melbourne. On his arrival in Derby, according to usual custom, he bestowed 8s. 8d. on the friars to provide a day's food for them, for they might not receive ordinary money alms. A day's food for a friar was reckoned at a groat (4d.), so that there were then twenty-six friars in residence.

A serious attack was made on this house in the year 1344, when a large body of men broke into the inclosure, cut down trees, and carried off goods and chattels, to the alleged value of £60, and beat, wounded, and ill-treated the men and servants of the convent. On paying a fine of 20s. the prior obtained a writ directing the four justices, Nicholas de Cantilupe, Richard de Wylughby, Roger Hillary, and Roger de Baukwell, to take due legal proceedings. The names of no fewer than forty-four of the assaulting party are set forth, among 'other evil doers and disturbers of the peace.' (fn. 8) Among the assailants occur the names of two chaplains, and various tradesmen of the town, such as linen-drapers, grocers, skinners, and shoemakers, so that it is to be hoped that Father Palmer's suggestion as to the cause of this riot is correct. He says:—

The whole affair has an aspect of the enforcement of a claim to some of the convent lands, with just as much assault and battery as was necessary to make out a sound legal case. Unfortunately nothing more is recorded in the matter, which probably came to an amicable termination, for there is no entry in respect to it on the assize rolls.

Father Palmer cites from the Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer Memoranda Rolls a case of peculation in 1354, which shows that the barns and outbuildings of this convent had been used as a royal wool-store. John de Bredon, one of the Derbyshire wool-collectors, was convicted of being a considerable defaulter, and was lodged in the Fleet prison. Among other shortcomings it was shown that he had let eighty stone of wool remain in the house of the Friars Preachers of Derby till the greater part rotted, and then kept the remainder in his own hands and sold it.

When John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, was tarrying at the Ravensdale hunting lodge in 1374, he ordered three oaks to be given to these friars. (fn. 9) Henry IV, in his royal progress of 1403, proceeded from Nottingham to Derby on 13 July, and after staying two nights departed on 15 July for Burton-on-Trent. On his departure the king bestowed 2 marks on the friars in recompense for various damages done by the royal suite.

The only prior of this house whose name is known previous to the surrender would seem to be William de Radeclive, who, with his co-friar William de Barneby, and a number of the secular clergy, was accused of rescuing John Neucomer, a thief, from the sheriff in 1330. (fn. 10)

The numbers of the religious in this house averaged for a long time about thirty, but on the threat of dissolution the greater part of the English Dominicans withdrew, in 1534-5, into Ireland, Scotland, and Flanders. The members of the Derby convent were thus reduced to six. On 3 January, 1538-9, this friary came to an end. The 'surrender' made to John London and Edward Baskerfield, as commissioners, was signed by Lawrence Sponor, prior, and five other friars named William Remyngton, Thomas Calton, Robert Sadler, Maurice Mawryngton, and William Hixworthe. (fn. 11)

The house and land of the convent were at once let by the crown to John Sharpe, as a yearly tenant, at a rental of 54s. and in the following year he obtained a twenty-one years' lease on the same terms, but the materials of all superfluous buildings and the trees were reserved to the crown. (fn. 12)

Soon afterwards John Sharpe complained that on 18 January, 35 Henry VIII, Richard Camerdaye of Derby, labourer, came to the church and house of the Black Friars, which were in the complainant's possession, and with force did break into the same and carried away the gravestones of marble and certain lead, iron, glass, and timber, to the value of £4. (fn. 13)

The old seal of the convent, struck at the time of its foundation, was last used at the surrender, the impression attached to it being in a good state of preservation. It is pointed oval, and bears a representation of the Annunciation, the Blessed Virgin and Gabriel standing facing each other; between them is the word Domini of the response Ecce ancilla Domini. Beneath a trefoiled arch in the base is the half-length figure of the prior in prayer. Legend:—



  • 1. See the late Father Palmer's article on the 'FriarPreachers of Derby' in the Reliquary, xvii, 17, 22. The statements here made from the Liberate Rolls, &c., are taken from this article save where footnotes aregiven.
  • 2. Belvoir MSS. (Hist. MSS. Com.), iv, 27.
  • 3. The total acreage of the friary and grounds according to a map of 1733, was 16a. 3r. 20p. Reliquary, iii, 95.
  • 4. Inq. a.q.d. 21 Edw. I, No. 117. As there is no recorded licence it is uncertain whether this grant was ever made.
  • 5. Inq. a.q.d. 12 Edw. II, No. 43; Pat. 12 Edw. II, pt. 1, m. 16.
  • 6. Pat. 15 Edw. III, pt. I, m. 35.
  • 7. Pio, Delle Vite de gli Huomini di S. Dominico, 1607.
  • 8. Pat. 18 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 1 d.
  • 9. Duchy of Lanc. Reg. xii, fol. 208.
  • 10. Assize R. 166, m. 579.
  • 11. Deeds of Surrender, No. 71.
  • 12. Aug. Off. Misc. Books, ccxii, 87b.
  • 13. Star Chamb. Proc. file 29, No. 1.
  • 14. B.M. lxi, 44. The seal is engraved in the Reliquary, iii and xviii.