A History of the County of Dorset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
13. THE DOMINICAN FRIARS OF MELCOMBE REGIS (fn. 1)
The friary at Melcombe Regis was the last Dominican house established in England. It was founded by Hugh Deverell, knt., and John Rogers, chief of the house of Rogers of Bryanston in Dorset. (fn. 2) In furtherance of their purpose the provincial of England, supported by the mastergeneral of the order, applied to the Holy See in 1418 for powers to make the foundation; and on 17 August Martin V gave the necessary leave for erecting a convent here, with church, belfry, churchyard and cloister, and all things necessary for a religious house, even without the consent of the ordinary of the diocese, provided there was no other house of Mendicants within the distance of 150 cannae (about 280 yards) and saving the rights of the parochial churches. (fn. 3) Deverell and Rogers then gave two messuages, two tofts and four curtilages, containing altogether 270 ft. in length and 160 ft. in breadth, held of the crown in free burgage at a rent of 2s. 1½d. a year and estimated at the annual value of 6s. 8d. This site was conveyed to Edward Polyng, who was appointed the first prior 'both by the superiors of the Order and by the aforesaid Hugh and John,' (fn. 4) and with him were associated friars John Lok and John Lowen to carry on the new foundation. They immediately established a chapel and set up an altar in one of the houses and began their spiritual ministrations among the people. John Chandler, bishop of Sarum, opposed the new foundation, and in 1426 shortly before his death declared the friars contumacious and forbade their proceedings. (fn. 5) Deverell and Rogers, however, secured the royal licence for the foundation 16 February 1430–1 (fn. 6) and addressed a petition to the bishop, Robert Neville. (fn. 7) In this they stated that they had begun the house moved by the desolation of the town; that there was no place dedicated to God in Melcombe; that the parochial church of Radipole was a long mile and a half away and was inconvenient for the burgesses; that the inhabitants were rude, illiterate, and situated in angulo terrae: that the vill lay open to enemies, whereby the king's rent was not paid and the customs were diminished. An arrangement was soon made with the bishop and the prohibition removed.
The friars did not confine their attention to the spritual welfare of the inhabitants, but contributed to the defence of the town and increase of the port by building a jetty against the ebb and flow of the tide. After they had begun this work, they determined to add a tower as a fortification for the town, port, and their own house. They therefore applied to the crown for help, and on 17 February, 1445–6, received from the king and council a grant of land, 1,000 ft. long and 600 ft. broad by the sea for the site of the tower in free alms without any rent, and also a sum of £10 a year for twelve years out of the customs and subsidies of the port of Poole towards the expenses of making the jetty. (fn. 8) In the Act of Resumption passed in 1450 this grant was specially exempted
in consideration of the great charge and costs that they have had and yet must have in making and repairing of a jetty in defence of the said town of Melcombe against the flowing of the sea. (fn. 9)
Friar Simon Ball or Bell, sometime prior of this house, was collated to the rectory of Radipole, 18 December, 1533. (fn. 10) Owen Watson, rector of Portland, who died in 1533, willed his body to be buried at the Friars Preachers here where he had built a tomb for himself. (fn. 11)
Shortly before the Dissolution some new altars were erected and new stalls placed in the choir and new seats in the church, as appears from the inventory of the 'stuff' taken at the end of September 1538, when the bishop of Dover as visitor took the priory into the king's hands. (fn. 12) Among the belongings of the house may be noticed in the choir a fair table of alabaster, 'a fair table follt of beyond sea work,' a frame of iron hanging for tapers, and new stalls: in the church, new altars, seven images, six marble stones, new ceiled seats at the Jesus altar, new seats in the body of the church, and a little bell in the steeple. The contents of the parlour, buttery, and vestry were few and poor: in the chambers were four old bedsteads, one feather bed and one flock bed: the kitchen also was scantily furnished, though everything seems to be included in the inventory down to a broken saucer. The visitor, however, paid his expenses and discharged the debts owing by the house, which amounted only to 20s. He carried away a chalice weighing 11½oz. and left the house in charge of John Clerke, controller of the customs. (fn. 13) There was no lead except a few gutters, (fn. 14) and the timber was hardly sufficient to keep the fences in repair. (fn. 15)
The Black Friars was let in 1541 to Sir John Rogers, knt., grandson of the founder, for twenty-one years at a rent of 13s. 4d. a year. (fn. 16) Sir John purchased the whole with other monastic lands in 1543, holding the friary at a rent of 16d. from the crown. (fn. 17)
The friary was situated in the east part of the town, in Maiden Street, near the sea. (fn. 18) Leland called it a 'fair house.' (fn. 19) The patron saint of the church was, according to Speed, St. Dominic; according to Willis, St. Winifred. The cemetery appears to have been on the north side, where many skulls and bones were dug up in 1682. The priory was in a ruinous condition in 1650, but some old buildings still remained in 1803, including the church, which had been converted into a malt-house. In 1861 the whole of the buildings were pulled down and the ground cut up into building plots. (fn. 20)