Gloucester: Sites and remains of religious houses

Pages 288-292

A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1988.

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


In this section



The priory of Llanthony Secunda occupied a low-lying site south-west of the town, bounded on the west side by the lane to Hempsted and on the south side by the Sud brook. The short period which elapsed between the gift of the priory's site in 1136 and the dedication of its church the following year, and the fact that a return to the mother house in the Honddu valley (in the later Monmouthshire) was envisaged, (fn. 2) suggests that the original buildings were of a temporary nature. By the late 12th century, as architectural fragments found in 1846 indicate, (fn. 3) there was a substantial church at the site. In 1301 the church, described as having four bell towers, was burnt and the expense of its rebuilding presumably contributed to the priory's financial problems in the early 14th century. William of Cherington, prior 1377–1401, rebuilt a chapel of the Trinity, the cloister, and a granary. In 1518 the church was said to be ruinous. (fn. 4)

In 1540 the site of the priory was sold by the Crown to Arthur Porter (fn. 5) and it descended with his Llanthony manor estate until 1898. (fn. 6) The Porters and their successors, the Scudamores, used part of the buildings as a residence until at least 1697, (fn. 7) and during the 18th and 19th centuries the site was used as a farmstead. (fn. 8) In 1974 the site, subject to various tenancies and used partly for industrial purposes, was bought by the city council, which took possession in 1984 and began some clearing and landscaping work. (fn. 9)

Substantial remains of the priory, including part of the church, survived until the time of the siege of Gloucester in 1643. A tower, which could have been used by an enemy force to overlook the city, was pulled down before the siege, (fn. 10) and the buildings were further damaged during the siege as the city's defenders retaliated against royalist artillery sited there. (fn. 11) The church had probably been demolished completely by c. 1710 when Atkyns described the tombs of the de Bohun family as heaps of rubbish under the sky. (fn. 12) In the late 1790s the Gloucester and Berkeley canal was dug through the east side of the precinct, revealing foundations of a building c. 30 ft. wide, apparently part of the church. (fn. 13)

The surviving buildings and ruins are of the 15th century and the early 16th. Along the west side is a length of brick precinct wall with the ruins of a stone gatehouse. On the north side are the ruins of a large stone barn, which had two transeptal entrances and in the past was sometimes taken for the ruins of the church. (fn. 14) South of the barn, on a north-south alignment, ran a long range of stone building with a timber-framed upper storey; an addition, described in 1853 as a modern cottage, was later made at its south end. (fn. 15) Before 1882 the north part of the old range was demolished, (fn. 16) and the cottage was rebuilt. Other buildings, of two storeys, survive from a range which ran along the south side of the site and aligned on foundations discovered further east during the widening of the Gloucester and Berkeley canal and the building of a new wharf in 1852. (fn. 17) The priory church, of which the western end presumably still underlies the north-eastern part of the site, probably had a southern cloister, though that is unlikely to have connected with the surviving buildings to the west and south, which are more likely to have been lodgings or part of the farmery.


The minster (later priory) of St. Oswald, founded c. 900 A.D. by Ethelfleda of Mercia, (fn. 18) occupied a site north of the town, bounded on the north-west by the Old Severn, where remains of the precinct wall survived in the early 19th century, (fn. 19) and on the north-east and east by Water Street and Half Street. Detailed excavations (fn. 20) at the site of the church have shown that the 12th-century arcade, all that remained visible of the priory in 1984, was an insertion representing only one of a long series of alterations, a number of which pre-dated the Norman Conquest.

The first-period church, some of the stonework of which survives in the ruin, is assumed to be that built c. 900 A.D. It had a rectangular nave and chancel, north and south porticus, entered not by arches but by doorways, and a western apse. The last feature was presumably an imitation, on a small scale, of some Carolingian churches. Built into the first church were fragments of two 9th-century cross shafts (fn. 21) and two others were found near the site in the 19th century. (fn. 22) All the cross shafts may have been on the site before the church was built, or they may have been brought there with the many Roman architectural fragments which were re-used in the first church. In the second period a crypt or burial vault was added at the east end of the church; it had independent foundations and four internal piers, supporting an upper chapel. At the same time a crossing-wall was added in the nave; it was decorated with red-painted figures and foliate ornamentation. The crypt and its chapel may have been intended to house the relics of St. Oswald, which were translated to Gloucester in 909 A.D. (fn. 23)

In the 11th century the crossing-wall was thickened, probably to take a tower. The new wall made use of stone taken from elsewhere in the building, including grave covers, with 10th-century foliate ornament, and a decorated doorhead. (fn. 24) Later the crossing-arch was widened, the door to the north porticus was replaced by a new wide arch, and clasping butresses were added to the crypt. At a later period the chancel was widened to align with the nave walls.

After the Norman Conquest there was a major rebuilding, dated by coins to 1086 or later. The north porticus was demolished and its arch blocked, a north transept was added further east, and a crossing-tower raised on the site of the old chancel. At the same rebuilding, or possibly earlier, the chancel was placed above the crypt. In the early 12th century, presumably part of work carried out by Thurstan, archbishop of York 1119–40, a north aisle was added, and in the mid 12th century, possibly in connexion with the conversion of the minster to a priory of Augustinian canons, (fn. 25) an arcade was inserted between the nave and aisle. Later, a pointed arch was inserted between the aisle and north transept, and a sunken-floored chapel was added on the east side of the transept to provide covered access to the Anglo-Saxon crypt. In the 13th century nave and aisle were extended by two bays and there was some rebuilding of the claustral buildings; the king gave timber for building at the priory in 1234, and in 1256 he made a grant of protection for those preaching in aid of the works there. (fn. 26)

After the Dissolution, the site of St. Oswald's Priory was sold by the Crown in 1540 to John Jennings (later knighted), (fn. 27) but the north aisle and transept of the church remained in use as the church of St. Catherine's parish. (fn. 28) The arches of the arcade were blocked and windows and a door inserted into the blocking; the nave was partly demolished and allowed to become ruinous. Most of the surviving church was pulled down in 1655–6. (fn. 29) Parts of the domestic buildings of the priory, south-west of the church, were incorporated in a dwelling house, later known as the Priory. (fn. 30) The Priory was the home of the Revd. John Newton c. 1770, (fn. 31) and later it was a private school. (fn. 32) The house, which comprised substantial ranges of buildings of stone and timber framing, (fn. 33) was demolished in 1823 or 1824. (fn. 34) North of the remains of the priory church a new church for St. Catherine's parish was built in the years 1867–8 and demolished in 1921. (fn. 35)


The house of Dominican friars, founded c. 1239, (fn. 36) occupied a site west of Southgate Street, bounded on the south side by the town wall. The building of the friary, which was aided by numerous grants of money and materials from the Crown, (fn. 37) evidently continued over many years; the church was not consecrated until 1284. (fn. 38) A plot of land for enlarging the buildings was granted in 1365. (fn. 39)

In 1539 the buildings of the friary were sold to Thomas Bell, the wealthy Gloucester capper and clothier, and his wife Joan. (fn. 40) Bell put the claustral buildings to use for his trade, (fn. 41) and by 1545 he had remodelled the church as a dwelling house, known as Bell's Place. (fn. 42) Bell, who was knighted, died in 1566 and Joan the following year. (fn. 43) Blackfriars then passed to the Dennis family, which owned it until the end of the 17th century. (fn. 44) Among later owners of Bell's Place were, in the early 18th century, Samuel Cockerell and, from 1768, the woolstapler John Bush. (fn. 45) The claustral buildings were divided into dwellings in the early 18th century (fn. 46) and one part housed the workshop of the Bryan family of stonemasons from at least 1755 until 1802 when the business passed to George Wood. (fn. 47) In the early 19th century part of the west range was heightened and refronted to form three houses. By the 1930s Bell's Place was divided into two dwellings and the several tenants of the claustral buildings included firms of printers and mineral water manufacturers. (fn. 48)

Most of the surviving buildings at Blackfriars (fn. 49) reflect the building grants of the mid 13th century. Of that date are parts of the chancel and the nave and its arcades and most of the claustral ranges south of the church. The west range of the claustral buildings included at its south end the refectory, using the full height of the building, while the south range had the buttery and other rooms on the ground floor and a room lined with carrels, perhaps a library, on the first floor. The east range, mostly destroyed, apparently included the chapter house. In the 14th century the north aisle of the church was rebuilt. When the church was converted into Bell's Place c. 1540 the nave and chancel were shortened and the aisles, except for their eastern ends, were removed. Upper floors and stone-mullioned windows were inserted, and a semicircular bay was added on the north side of the former nave. About 1960 restoration of the Blackfriars buildings was begun by the Ministry of Works; (fn. 50) by 1984 work on the former church had been completed and it was open to the public.

There were formerly two gateways leading into the Blackfriars precinct. One, described as the great gate of the friars preacher in 1455, stood on Longsmith Street at the entrance to what became Ladybellegate Street, (fn. 51) and another, recorded in 1509, stood on Southgate Street at the entrance to the lane called Blackfriars. (fn. 52) By 1630 both those gates were known as Lady Bell's gate (fn. 53) after Joan Bell. The one on Southgate Street fell down in the mid 18th century, (fn. 54) and the one on Longsmith Street has not been found recorded after 1724. (fn. 55)


The house of Franciscan friars was founded c. 1231 on a site east of Southgate Street. Additional land was given to the friars in 1239, 1285, and 1359, (fn. 56) and their property later extended to the town walls on the south and east. (fn. 57) In 1544 the Crown granted the site to John Jennings, who sold it a few weeks later to Alderman Thomas Payne. (fn. 58) In 1556 Payne granted a 500-year lease to Alderman Thomas Pury (fn. 59) and Greyfriars continued to be held under that lease, the occupants paying a chief rent of 30s. to the owners of the freehold, who from 1630 were the city corporation. (fn. 60) At the beginning of the 18th century Greyfriars was held by the town clerk, Judge John Powell, and his heirs, the Snell family of Guiting Power, held it for most of the rest of that century, together with various other leasehold and freehold properties in the Southgate Street area. (fn. 61)

Immediately after the Dissolution part of the church was converted into a brewhouse, (fn. 62) a purpose for which it was suited by its supply of piped water from Robins Wood Hill; (fn. 63) brewing apparently continued there until the mid 18th century. (fn. 64) A windmill which Thomas Pury mentioned among his possessions in 1577 (fn. 65) was presumably that which stood on the north-east part of the friary property in 1610. (fn. 66) The buildings were severely damaged by artillery fire at the siege in 1643, (fn. 67) and by 1721, though the nave and north aisle of the church survived largely intact, the chancel and most of the claustral ranges had vanished. (fn. 68) Later in the 18th century, before c. 1770, several dwelling houses were built within the shell of the church, (fn. 69) and about 1810 a substantial residence in classical style was built into the west end by Philo Maddy, a currier. (fn. 70) Another large house, later called Suffolk House, was built in the early 19th century, close to, but detached from, the east end of the church; (fn. 71) after housing a private school for many years, it became the Liberal club in 1890 and the children's library in 1938. (fn. 72) Its site was taken in the late 1960s for the new market hall and at the same time the remains of the church were restored, the large house at the west end was renovated as a new children's library, and the other houses were removed.

The shell of the church survives from a rebuilding carried out at the cost of Maurice Berkeley, Lord Berkeley, and begun c. 1518. (fn. 73) Nave and aisle, separated by a tall arcade of seven bays, are of equal height and almost equal width. Below and between the large windows much of the interior wall surface was decorated by blind panelling. The vanished chancel was of the same width, and probably the same height, as the nave. The cloister, which had a pentice roof, abutted the eastern six bays of the south wall of the nave.

By the early 18th century a bowling green had been laid out south-east of the remains of the church, and in 1747 a dwelling house called Bowling Green House, evidently incorporating some remains of the domestic buildings of the friary, adjoined the west side of the green. (fn. 74) That building with the green and adjoining land called Friars Orchard was alienated by the Snells before 1783. It was bought that year by Shadrach Charleton, an apothecary, who by 1790 had rebuilt Bowling Green House (fn. 75) as a classical-style mansion. (fn. 76) Charleton or one of the later owners, who included from 1804 the surgeon Charles Brandon Trye, (fn. 77) formed the land to the east and south of the house into a small park. (fn. 78) In 1888 the property was acquired for the Crypt school; the house (by then known as Friars Orchard) became the school's junior house and a new school building was built on the west part of the site. (fn. 79) The east part of the site was taken for the technical college, built between 1938 and 1941, (fn. 80) and the former school buildings were removed during later extensions to the college. Another house which stood west of the site of Bowling Green House in the early 18th century apparently preserved the alignment of the west walk of the cloister. (fn. 81) It was replaced in the early 1860s when two terraces of houses called Priory Place and a larger house called Priory House were built. (fn. 82)


The house of Carmelite friars was founded c. 1268 near Brook Street, outside the walls at the north-east corner of the town. (fn. 83) The building of the church seems to have been in progress in 1290. (fn. 84) For enlarging its buildings the friary received 3½ a. of land and a house from two benefactors in 1343. (fn. 85) In 1543 the site was bought by two property speculators who sold it almost immediately to Thomas and Joan Bell. (fn. 86) Bell gave it in 1562 as part of the endowment of St. Kyneburgh's almshouse. (fn. 87)

Most of the Whitefriars buildings are said to have been demolished c. 1567. (fn. 88) In 1637 those surviving included a brick and stone building known as the founder's lodging, by then converted to a barn. (fn. 89) Further destruction occurred before the siege of 1643 when some of the materials were used for the fortifications, but the barn, housing one of the defenders' batteries, played a major part in the fighting. (fn. 90) The barn was pulled down in the late 17th century or the early 18th, (fn. 91) after which the name Friars Ground given to the site seems to have been the only reminder of the friary. (fn. 92) The north-west part of Friars Ground was used for the new cattle market in the early 1820s. (fn. 93)


  • 1. This article was written in 1984 and revised in 1986. The institutional hist. of the religious houses was given in V.C.H. Glos. ii. For the buildings of the medieval hospitals, below, Char. for Poor, almshouses.
  • 2. V.C.H. Glos. ii. 87–8.
  • 3. Glos. Colln. prints GL 60. 14.
  • 4. V.C.H. Glos. ii. 89–90.
  • 5. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xvi, pp. 383–4.
  • 6. Rudder, Glos. 515; below, Outlying Hamlets, man.
  • 7. Inq. p.m. Glos. 1625–42, i. 128–9; Glos. R.O., P173/IN 1/1, burials 1697.
  • 8. F. Grose, Antiquities of Eng. and Wales, i (1773), s.v. Llanthony Priory, plate II; Causton, Map of Glouc. (1843); G.D.R., T1/99.
  • 9. Inf. from Mr. J. F. Rhodes, curator of Glouc. Mus.
  • 10. J. Clarke, A Popular Account of the Interesting Priory of Llanthony (1853), 36–7.
  • 11. Bibliotheca Glos. ii. 219–20, 222, 226; Glos. R.O., D 327, p. 339.
  • 12. Atkyns, Glos. 501.
  • 13. Clarke, Llanthony, 34, plan facing p. 35; Fosbrooke, Glouc. 147.
  • 14. Grose, Antiquities, i, s.v. Llanthony Priory, plate II; Causton, Map of Glouc. (1843).
  • 15. Clarke, Llanthony, 33, sketch and plan facing p. 35.
  • 16. O.S. Map. 1/2,500, Glos. XXXIII. 2 (1886 edn.).
  • 17. Clarke, Llanthony, 34, plan facing p. 35; cf. Diary of a Cotswold Parson, 179.
  • 18. Above, A.-S. Glouc.
  • 19. G. A. Howitt, Gloucester's Ancient Walls and Gate Houses (Glouc. 1890), 24.
  • 20. For what follows, C. Heighway et al., 'Excavations at Glouc.: St. Oswald's Priory, 1975–6', Antiq. Jnl. lviii (1), 103–32; C. Heighway, 'Excavations at Glouc.: St. Oswald's Priory, 1977–8', Antiq. Jnl. lx (2), 107–26; C. Heighway and R. Bryant, 'Reconstruction of the 10th Cent. Church at St. Oswald's, Glouc.' A.-S. Church (Council Brit. Arch. Research Rep. 1986), pp. 188–95.
  • 21. Antiq. Jnl. lx (2), plate XXIII.
  • 22. Glouc. Mus. A 2656, A 5075, A 6305; T. Kendrick, A.-S. Art to A.D. 900 (1938), 187, plate LXXXII.
  • 23. Above, A.-S. Glouc.
  • 24. J. West, in Studies in Med. Sculpture, ed. F. H. Thompson (Soc. of Antiq. 1983), 41–53; Antiq. Jnl. lx (2), plate XXI A.
  • 25. V.C.H. Glos. ii. 85.
  • 26. Close R. 1231–4, 363; Cal. Pat. 1247–58, 490.
  • 27. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xv, p. 292; Cal. Pat. 1549–51, 303.
  • 28. Below, Churches and Chapels.
  • 29. G.B.R., B 3/2, pp. 815, 862–3.
  • 30. Hall and Pinnell, Map of Glouc. (1780).
  • 31. Rudder, Glos. 190.
  • 32. Glouc. Jnl. 19 Sept. 1796; Howitt, Ancient Walls and Gate Houses, 24.
  • 33. For illustrations, Antiq. Jnl. lviii (1), plate XLVII A; B.L. Add. MS. 36362.
  • 34. Glouc. Jnl. 5 Jan. 1824.
  • 35. Below, Churches and Chapels.
  • 36. V.C.H. Glos. ii. 111.
  • 37. Arch. Jnl. xxxix. 296–8.
  • 38. Reg. Giffard, p. 235.
  • 39. Cal. Pat. 1364–7, 121.
  • 40. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xiv (1), p. 590.
  • 41. Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, ii. 58.
  • 42. G.B.R., B 2/2, ff. 44v.–45.
  • 43. Fosbrooke, Glouc. 165–6.
  • 44. G.D.R. wills 1566/150; P.R.O., C 142/323, no. 35; Inq. p.m. Glos. 1625–42, i. 64–6; G.B.R., J 3/6, ff. 148v.–149.
  • 45. Rudder, Glos. 194.
  • 46. Glos. R.O., D 327, p. 343.
  • 47. Rudge, Glouc. 315; Glouc. Jnl. 22 Apr. 1755; 5 Apr. 1802; 5 June 1807.
  • 48. Trans. B.G.A.S. liv. 197.
  • 49. W. H. Knowles, 'Black Friars at Glouc.', Trans. B.G.A.S. liv. 167–201, gives a detailed, illustrated account of the bldgs.; and for the bldgs. in 1721, above, Plate 42.
  • 50. Trans. B.G.A.S. lxxxii. 169.
  • 51. Glouc. Rental, 1455, 19, 109; Speed, Map of Glouc. (1610).
  • 52. G.B.R., J 5/3.
  • 53. Ibid. 6.
  • 54. Rudder, Glos. 88; cf. G.B.R., J 3/9, f. 71.
  • 55. G.B.R., J 1/2001A.
  • 56. V.C.H. Glos. ii. 111–12; Cal. Pat. 1358–61, 257.
  • 57. Cal. Pat. 1370–4, 397; cf. Glouc. Corp. Rec. p. 441; Glos. R.O., D 3270/C 131A, C 142.
  • 58. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xix (1), pp. 41, 85.
  • 59. Glouc. Corp. Rec. pp. 441–2.
  • 60. Ibid. p. 450; P.R.O., C 142/160, no. 77; Glos. R.O., D 327, p. 346; D 4262/T 8; G.B.R., B 3/1, f. 546; F 4/12–13, s.v. 'city rent roll'.
  • 61. Glos. R.O., D 4262/E 2; G.B.R., F 4/13, pp. 524–5, 604–5.
  • 62. Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, ii. 58; G.B.R., J 1/1255.
  • 63. Above, Public Services.
  • 64. Glos. R.O., D 214/T 20; cf. Rudge, Glouc. 314.
  • 65. Glos. R.O., D 214/T 20.
  • 66. Speed, Map of Glouc. (1610).
  • 67. Glos. R.O., D 327, p. 346.
  • 68. Glos. Colln. prints GL 60.46, where the friary is called Whitefriars, a mistake that was continued throughout the 18th cent.
  • 69. Rudder, Glos. 194; cf. Glos. Colln. prints GL 60.50.
  • 70. Rudge, Glouc. 314; cf. Pigot's Dir. (1822–3), 57.
  • 71. Glos. Colln. 33034; Causton, Map of Glouc. (1843).
  • 72. Glouc. Jnl. 21 Dec. 1867; Citizen, 23 Apr. 1948; Glos. Colln. N 21.36.
  • 73. Trans. B.G.A.S. liv. 120–1.
  • 74. Bodl. MS. Top. Glouc. c. 3, f. 61v.; Glos. Colln. prints GL 60.46, reproduced above, Plate 43; Glos. R.O., D 4262/E 2; cf. Glouc. Guide (1792), 86.
  • 75. Glos. R.O., D 3270/C 131A, C 133.
  • 76. The main, E. front was probably remodelled in the earlier 19th cent.: Glos. Colln. N 17.140.
  • 77. Glos. R.O., D 3270/C 134.
  • 78. Causton, Map of Glouc. (1843); Glos. Colln. N 17.140.
  • 79. Glos. R.O., D 3270/C 149; Glos. Colln. N 17.185.
  • 80. Glouc. Municipal Year Bk. (1964–5), 81.
  • 81. Atkyns, Glos. plate at pp. 82–3; cf. Hall and Pinnell, Map of Glouc. (1780).
  • 82. G.B.R., planning dept., file 1862/10, 15. The southern terrace was demolished in the 1970s.
  • 83. V.C.H. Glos. ii. 112; Speed, Map of Glouc. (1610).
  • 84. Cal. Close, 1288–96, 72.
  • 85. Cal. Pat. 1343–5, 142.
  • 86. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xviii (1), pp. 529, 541.
  • 87. Below, Char. for Poor, almshouses.
  • 88. Glos. R.O., D 327, p. 347.
  • 89. G.B.R., J 3/3, ff. 117–18v.
  • 90. Glos. R.O., D 327, p. 348; Bibliotheca Glos. ii. 215, 219, 222.
  • 91. G.B.R., J 3/8, f. 148; Bodl. MS. Top. Glouc. c. 3, f. 61v., which calls the friary Greyfriars.
  • 92. Rudge, Glouc. 317; cf. Hall and Pinnell, Map of Glouc. (1780).
  • 93. G.B.R., F 4/15, pp. 596–7; Glos. Colln. prints GL 57.1.