Friaries: The Franciscans of Dorchester

Pages 93-95

A History of the County of Dorset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.

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The Franciscan friary, or the priory, as it is generally called, stood on the north side of the town, on the banks of the river, a little east of the castle. (fn. 1)

The date and circumstances of its foundation are unknown. It was already in existence in 1267, as in that year the friars were presented for encroaching upon the road by erecting a wall; (fn. 2) that the encroachment was of recent date is shown by the entry in the same year of the death of a workmen who fell off the wall while building it. (fn. 3) It is said by Speed to have been built by the ancestors of Sir John Chideock. (fn. 4) Richard III claimed it as a royal foundation, (fn. 5) probably with justice. At the time of the Dissolution there was still a room in the friary known as 'the king's chamber.' (fn. 6) The house was already a large one containing thirty-two friars in May 1296, when Edward I gave them 32s. for three days' food through Friar Nicholas of Exeter. (fn. 7) In a deed dated 1310 a burgage held by the abbey of Milton is described as lying near the Friars Minors, (fn. 8) and in the same year the house received legacies from Thomas Button, bishop of Exeter, (fn. 9) and from Robert Bingham of Dorchester. (fn. 10)

Friars of this house received licence to preach and hear confessions, as Friar John of Grymston in 1338. (fn. 11) About the time of the Peasant Revolt the head of the house was ordered by the king to correct Friar John Grey for having excited the cottagers and tenants of the abbot of Milton against their lord. (fn. 12)

Alexander Riston, rector of the church of Sarum, left these friars two quarters of corn and one of barley, c. 1393: (fn. 13) and Robert Grenelefe alias Baker of Dorchester left them his 'best bason with ewer and best brass pot' in 1420. (fn. 14) They also had bequests from Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady Clare (1355), (fn. 15) Sir Robert Rous, knt. (1383), (fn. 16) John de Waltham, bishop of Salisbury (1395), (fn. 17) John Seward (1400), (fn. 18) Sir William Boneville, knt. (1407), (fn. 19) William Ekerdon, canon of Exeter (1413), (fn. 20) John Pury of Dorchester (1436), (fn. 21) William Wenard of Devonshire (1441), (fn. 22) John Martyn of Dorchester (1450), (fn. 23) Thomas Strangways (1514). (fn. 24)

Richard III in 1483 granted to the warden and brethren of this house full power to have the rule and governance of the hospital of St. John the Baptist in Dorchester, lately occupied by Sir Richard Hill, priest, and now in the king's hands, and to minister divine service there and receive the rents to their use. (fn. 25) This hospital had been endowed with 100s. of rent by William Mareschal of Dorchester in 1324, (fn. 26) and in the time of Henry VIII the master of the chapel of St. John held nine burgages or tenements in the parish of St. Peter, thirteen in the parish of All Saints, and two in that of Holy Trinity. (fn. 27) The hospital had already been conferred on Eton College by Henry VI and it is doubtful whether the grant of it to the Grey Friars took effect. (fn. 28) The friars, however, at the time of the Dissolution held three tenements in the parish of All Saints and four in the parish of Holy Trinity. (fn. 29) In March 1483–4 the king further ordered the receivers and tenants of the manors of Little Crichel, Chideock, and Caundle Haddon to pay in all 80s. a year to this friary. (fn. 30)

An important addition was made to the possessions of the convent in 1485, when Sir John Byconil, knt., built and gave them some mills on the water that ran by the friary. The friars in return recognized him as chief founder of the house, conferred on him special spiritual benefits and engaged to celebrate his decease on the day after the feast of St. Francis. The mills were given on the following conditions: (I) that 40s. of the profits of the mills should be set aside each year for repairs; (2) that the friars should take it in turn week by week to pray for the donor and each should at the end of his week receive 6d.; the cursors or lecturers 'being diligently employed about their scholars' were excused this service and entitled to receive the alms, provided that they substituted another to perform the office; (3) each friar praying at the obsequies of Sir John should receive an alms; (4) the remainder of the revenues derived from the mills was to be employed

in bringing of boys into the Order and their education in good manners and learning and in making good the books in the choir and in no other way: and the brethren so brought in and educated to the perpetual memory of the said John were to be called Byconil's Friars and none of them to be called by their surnames.

If these conditions were not fulfilled, the profits of the mills were to be divided equally between the Franciscan houses of Bristol, Bridgwater, and Exeter. The agreement was confirmed by William Goddard, D.D., provincial minister, and John Whitefield, custodian of Bristol, and the seals of the provincial minister, the custodian, and the convent were affixed to the deed. (fn. 31)

It is noteworthy that Sir John Byconil made no bequest to any houses of friars in his will in 1500. (fn. 32) His widow Elizabeth left 20s. to the friars of Dorchester in 1504. (fn. 33) In 1510 John Coker, esq., having given the friars a barn and a garden annexed, on the south side of the cemetery, was admitted with his family and successors to the privileges of confraternity by Richard Draper, D.D., custodian of the custody of Bristol and warden of the convent of Dorchester. (fn. 34)

Sir Roger of Newborough, knt., and William who was abbot of Milton 1481–1525 granted to these friars an annual alms of 43s. 4d. from lands in Upper Stirthill. (fn. 35)

The bishop of Dover visited the house in September, 1538, and had some difficulty in obtaining the surrender; (fn. 36) he notes that the warden, Dr. Germen, (fn. 37) had been there many years and was in high favour, so that he (the writer) had much trouble to come to a knowledge of the state of the house. Finding that the mill, which was worth £10 a year, had been recently let to Lord Stourton for £4, the visitor seized it into the king's hands and retained the miller to the king's use. The deed of surrender was signed on 30 September, 1538, by Dr. William Germen, Edmund Dorcet, Thomas Clas, John Tregynzyon, John Clement, John Laurens, Stephen Popynjay, and Thomas Wyre. (fn. 38) The 'stuff' was delivered to the bailiffs of the town on behalf of the king: it included a table at the high altar of imagery after the old fashion, a small pair of organs, fair stalls well canopied, and divers tombs in the choir, four tables and three great images of alabaster, a new tabernacle for the image of St. Francis, divers images stolen (?), and divers tombs in the church; three bells of different sizes in the steeple. In the vestry six suits with other vestments, some of them with blue velvet embroidered. In the chambers a feather bed without a bolster, blankets, quilt and sheets; two old carpets, 'one of them in the king's chamber,' besides furniture in the hall, frater, buttery, kitchen and brew-house. Further, to redeem plate in pledge for £3 and to pay certain wages and the visitor's charges the following articles were sold: an iron grate about a tomb in the church (40s.), a white vestment with deacon and subdeacon (40s.), two feather beds and a covering (10s.), 'an old cope durneks,' a pillow and old iron with a holy water stoup (7s. 8d.). The visitor also sold a press standing in the vestry for 13s. 4d. The plate weighed 126½ oz. There were also various deeds and 'two horses belonging to the mill.' (fn. 39) Part of the steeple and three panes of the cloister were covered with lead. (fn. 40)

William, Lord Stourton, sought to secure a grant of the Grey Friars, (fn. 41) but the house and grounds were in 1539 leased and in 1543 sold to Edmund Peckham, cofferer to the king's household. (fn. 42) The property, consisting of the house and site, with water-mill and 6 acres of ground, was valued at £4 a year, less 8s. for the tenth, and the price paid was £72. (fn. 43) Peckham had at the time of the Dissolution bought the elms growing on the property for £8. (fn. 44) He sold the estate to Thomas Wriothesley, earl of Southampton, and Paul Dorrel, esq., in 1547, and it subsequently passed to Sir Francis Ashley, knt., whose heiress brought it to Denzil, Lord Holles. (fn. 45)


John Colsweyn, 1327 (fn. 46)

John Loss, 1485 (fn. 47)

Richard Draper, 1510

William Germen, 1538


  • 1. Ibid. (ed. 3), ii, 364.
  • 2. Assize R. 202.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Speed, Hist. 1055. Dugdale and others say it was built 'out of the ruins of the Castle.' The tradition that some monuments in St. Peter's church were monuments of the Chideocks and were removed from the Grey Friars church lacks confirmation: Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, ii, 381. For pedigree of the Chideock family, see ibid. 257. In the Year Book of 1364 there is a reference to a 'college de xxx soers in le Precheurs de Dorcet': this is probably a mistake for Dartford: Les Reports des Cases on Ley (1679), Mich. 36 Edw. III, 28.
  • 5. Harl. MS. 433, fol. 131.
  • 6. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (2), 474 (2).
  • 7. B.M. Add. MS. 7965, fol. 7.
  • 8. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, ii, 364.
  • 9. Account of the Executors of . . . Thomas bishop of Exeter (Camd. Soc.), 42.
  • 10. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, ii, 364.
  • 11. Reg. Rad. de Salopia (Somers. Rec. Soc. ix), 322.
  • 12. Camb. Univ. Lib. MS. Dd. iii, 53, fol. 97.
  • 13. P.C.C. Rous, fol. 66b.
  • 14. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, ii, 387.
  • 15. Nicholas, Royal and Noble Wills, 33–4.
  • 16. P.C.C. Rous, fol. 1; Coll. Top. et Geneal. iii, 100.
  • 17. P.C.C. Rous, fol. 32.
  • 18. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Arundel i, fol. 193a; cf. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, ii, 389–90.
  • 19. Exeter Epis. Reg. Stafford, 391.
  • 20. Ibid. 402.
  • 21. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, ii, 364, 388.
  • 22. P.C.C. Rous, fol. 105.
  • 23. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, ii, 364, 388.
  • 24. P.C.C. Fetiplace, qu. 13.
  • 25. Harl. MS. 433, fol. 131.
  • 26. Pat. 17 Edw. II, pt. 2, m. 28.
  • 27. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, ii, 408–9.
  • 28. On this hospital see Dugdale, Mon. vi, 759.
  • 29. Ibid.
  • 30. Harl. MS. 433, fol. 164b.
  • 31. Fr. a. S. Clara (Chr. Davenport), Hist. Minor Fratrum Minorum Prov. Angliae, 37–8; Collectanea Anglo-Minoritica, i, 208; Dugdale, Mon. vi; Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, ii, 364.
  • 32. P.C.C. Blamyr, 5.
  • 33. Ibid. Holgrave, 15.
  • 34. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, ii, 365.
  • 35. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 251.
  • 36. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (2), 482.
  • 37. Cf. Little, Grey Friars in Oxf. (Oxf. Hist. Soc.), 275.
  • 38. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (2), 474.
  • 39. Ibid.
  • 40. Treas. Receipts (P.R.O.), A. 3 / 11;, fol. 4.
  • 41. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (2), 482.
  • 42. Ibid. xv, 555 (Aug. Off. Bk. 211, fol. 24); xviii (1), 981 (108).
  • 43. Partic. for Grants, file 852, m. 2, 6; Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, ii, 366.
  • 44. Partic. for Grants, ibid. m. 3.
  • 45. On the history of the site see Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, ii, 365–6.
  • 46. Sarum Epis. Reg. Mortival, ii, 187; Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, ii, 365.
  • 47. Franc. a. S. Clara (Chr. Davenport), Hist. Min. Frat. Minorum Prov. Angl. 37–8.