Friaries: The Austin friars of Canterbury

A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1926.

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'Friaries: The Austin friars of Canterbury', in A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2, ed. William Page( London, 1926), British History Online [accessed 14 July 2024].

'Friaries: The Austin friars of Canterbury', in A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2. Edited by William Page( London, 1926), British History Online, accessed July 14, 2024,

"Friaries: The Austin friars of Canterbury". A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2. Ed. William Page(London, 1926), , British History Online. Web. 14 July 2024.

In this section


Archbishop Walter Reynolds obtained, 4 July, 1318, licence to alienate in mortmain to the Austin: Friars two acres of land in the parish of Westgate, Canterbury, on which they might build their houses. (fn. 1) The land was worth 13s. 4d. a year. In March, 1319-20, the friars seem to have numbered eight. (fn. 2) Some years later however the friars obtained leave to alienate their original site, provided they did not alienate it in mortmain, in qrder to acquire a more convenient place. (fn. 3)

They had already in 1324 obtained a place in St. George-s parish, on or near the site of the old gaol, by purchasing from Thomas de Bonnington of Goodnestone a messuage, held of Elias Lambyn, and worth 13s. 4d. a year. The chief lord was the priory of Christchurch, and the monks, in spite of the prayers of Hugh Despenser, earl of Winchester, tried to prevent the settlement of the friars in this parish on the ground of the poverty of the church of St. George, of which they held the advowson. The friars however persisted. Their oratory was already founded in 1325 without the permission of the archbishop, who now intervened and ordered an inquiry into the circumstances. In 1326 they agreed to pay the parson of St. George's 9s. (fn. 4) a year in lieu of all tithes due to him from their land, and 20d. annual rent to the monks of Christchurch. The monks now withdrew their opposition. (fn. 5) The number of friars had in 1336 increased to eighteen. (fn. 6)

In November, 1329, they obtained two additional plots adjacent to their area, one a vacant piece of land 82 ft. by 55 ft. to the west of their house, from the king, the other a messuage granted to them by Henry son of Robert atte Gayole, the jurors having declared that no loss would ensue except that the citizens, who held the city in fee-farm of the king, would in future lose the tallage of the tenants of the said messuage. (fn. 7) The two next additions to their area were made by Richard Fraunceys or le Frenshebaker, parson of the church of Monkton in the Isle of Thanet, who granted them two messuages in 1335, and a messuage and garden in 1344, for the enlargement of their dwelling-place. (fn. 8) They afterwards bought from John Chich, who was bailiff of Canterbury, 1351-2, a plot of ground in St. George's parish lying on the highway at the Cloth Market, upon part of which they built their outward gate on the north-east of the convent. (fn. 9) In 1354 John, parson of the church of St. Andrew, Canterbury, gave them a messuage adjacent to their place, worth 12d. a year. (fn. 10)

In 1356 they agreed to pay the prior and convent of Christchurch 2s. 4d. a year, apparently for these later acquisitions. (fn. 11)

John Chertesey gave them a messuage and garden, adjacent to their area and held of the crown in burgage, in 1394; the friars paying a fine of four marks for the licence.

In 1408 the friars obtained from Henry IV royal licence to reconstruct their houses and buildings which faced the highway, to let these houses and buildings as well as a messuage and garden in St. George's parish, and to apply the proceeds to the support of their church arid other buildings and to the payment of their dues. (fn. 12) To carry out their improvements they found it necessary to inclose two winding lanes which surrounded a great part of their area. These lanes, they asserted, had fallen into disuse and were so full of dung and other filth that the stench was dangerous to the health of the inhabitants and ' disgusted the hearts of those celebrating and hearing divine service in the friars' church.' In 1429 John Sturreye, the prior, leased from the city for ninety years, at an annual rent of 4s., a 'crooked lane ' (fn. 13) leading from the Cloth Market near the eastern or cemetery gate of the friars to the church of St. Mary Bredin; and two years later the friars leased from the city for 12d. a year (fn. 14) and inclosed another lane

opposite to that church and extending from the new stone wall with the porch in it as far as the east part of the garden of the convent opening into Sheepshank Lane by a wooden door.

In the same year (1431) they obtained licence from the king and council to hold the two lanes and also a messuage and garden conferred on them by William Benet and Thomas Langdon. Their right to these various plots being called in question, the property was seized by the king's escheator; the prior appeared by his attorney, Robert Shamell, before the Court of Exchequer in 1438, and obtained judgement in his favour. (fn. 15)

The friars received from the city 2s. a year in the latter part of the fifteenth century ' for the rent of the Boordehouse.' (fn. 16) Occasionally some of the commissioners appointed to arbitrate in the frequent disputes between the commonalty and the abbey of St. Augustine were lodged at the Austin Friars, at the city's expense. (fn. 17) The municipality granted these friars £1 6s. 8d. towards the cost of their pavage in 1481-2. (fn. 18)

The Austin Friars of Canterbury are often called the White Friars, (fn. 19) an error which has led to some confusion. The famous John Capgrave has been erroneously claimed as an inmate of this house. (fn. 20) It is said that several of the Hauts were buried here, especially William Haut of Bishopsbourne, esq., who was buried in the choir before the image of St. Katharine between his wives in 1462, and left 20 marks for the repair of the church. (fn. 21) Others buried here were Amabilia Gobion, who gave 10 marks for the repair of the church, 1405; John Brempe of St. Andrew's, 1462; William Bonyngton of St. George's, 1464, and Christina his wife; William Benet, 1464, and his wife; William Catbery, carver, 1479, and his friend Christian Hamer; William Walpole, chaplain of Lord Thomas Arundel, 1483; Simon Flegard, clerk, Thomas Linsey, corvesir, and Richard Dyne in 1484; William Faunt of St. Mary Bredin, 1485, and his father and mother; William Colsor, 1485; William Aylard, smith, 1497; John Courteman, 1501, and Joan his widow, 1511; Richard Stephinson, 1510, and Margaret his wife, near the image of our Lady; Nicholas Barry, 1513, 'in the churchyard next the chapel of the parson of St. Andrew'; Isabel Walker, 1516, and William Courthope, 1530,' before the image of our Lady of Pity'; William Corall, 1532. William Geyre, 1539, and Lucas Gibbes, whose will was made 8 October, 1539, and proved 12 April, 1543, also desired to be buried at the Austin Friars. (fn. 22)

Legacies were left to these friars by Elizabeth de Burgh, lady of Clare, 1360; (fn. 23) John Tyece of Canterbury, who by his will, dated 1381 and proved in 1400, ordered that his grange at ' Redyngate ' and all his other arable lands in Canterbury should be sold and the proceeds divided among the mendicant friars, nuns, and other poor religious (fn. 24); Sir Richard atte Lease, kt., 1393 (fn. 25); Richard Pargate, citizen of Canterbury, who in 1457 bequeathed 40s. towards making their new gate (fn. 26); Cecilia Lady Kirriell, 1472 (fn. 27); Richard Tilley, 1485 (fn. 28); John Bakke of Canterbury, 1500 (fn. 29); Didier Bargier, rector of St. Andrew's, who left to the altar of St. Didier in the Austin Friars ' my little brevet mass-book covered with red leather,' in 1504 (fn. 30); Elizabeth, wife of John Hale, alderman, who left them 3s. 4d. a year for ten years to celebrate her obit, 1506 (fn. 31); John Roper of Eltham, esq., 1524; (fn. 32) and Richard Sandisbury of Sittingbourne, 1521, Margerie, widow of John Baylie of St. George's, 1522, and Sir Nicholas Hewys of Monkton in Thanet, 1530, provided for masses at the altar of Scala Celi in this church. (fn. 33)

Sir John Fineux, Chief Justice of Common Pleas, having expended more than £40 in repairing the church, refectory, dormitory and walls of the friary, the brethren bound themselves by indenture in 1522 to provide one chaplain to celebrate mass daily in the chapel of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin for the souls of Sir John, Elizabeth his wife, and others. (fn. 34)

The religious observances of the ' Gild of the Assumption of our Lady of the Crafts and Misteries of the shpemakers, curriers, and cobblers of the city of Canterbury' were held in the church of the Austin Friars. The gild ordinances of 1518 provide that every brother shall solemnly attend high mass here at ten in the morning on the feasts of the Assumption, St. Cyprian, and St. Crispin, and shall offer at the mass 1d. Masses were to be said at this church for the souls of deceased brethren. (fn. 35) In 1524 William Fiernour left tapers to ' the Brotherhood of St. Erasmus in the Austin Friars.' (fn. 36)

The bishop of Dover, who came to Canterbury on 13 December, 1538, to negotiate the surrender of the friaries, found the Austin Friars specially in great poverty. (fn. 37) Their debts were £40, and their implements not worth £6, except a little plate weighing 126 oz. He reports to Cromwell that at the Austin Friars on 14 December, 'one friar very rudely and traitorously used himself,' and declared he was ready to die for it that the king might not be the head of the Church, but it must be a spiritual father appointed by God. This was probably Friar Stone, and the sequel is thus noted in the City Accounts (1538-9):—Paid for half a ton of timber to make a pair of gallows to hang Friar Stone, 2s. 6d.; to a labourer that digged the holes, 3d.; to four men that helped set up the gallows for drink to them, for carriage of the timber from Stablegate to Dongeon (i.e. Dane John), 1s.; for a hurdle, 6d.; for a load of wood and for a horse to draw him to the Dongeon, 2s. 3d.; paid two men that set the kettle and parboiled him, 1s.; to two men that carried his quarters to the gates and set them up, 1s.; for halters to hang him and Sandwich cord and for straw, 1s.; to a woman that scoured the kettle, 2d.; to him that did the execution, 3s. 8d. (fn. 38)

The priory of the Austin Friars was put under the charge of Sir. Anthony St. Leger, (fn. 39) then sheriff of Kent, and in 1542 granted by the king, in exchange for other lands, to George Harper. The property, consisting of the site (1½ acres), a garden in the tenure of the rector of St. Andrew's, a tenement called Me Welhouse,' and seven other tenements or gardens let to tenants at will, was valued at £5 10s. 4d. a year. Harper sold it in June, 1542, to Thomas Culpeper of Beakesbourne, who had licence, February, 1543-4, to alienate, it to Robert Brome. (fn. 40)


John Sturreye, 1429 (fn. 41)
John Godewyn, 1462 (fn. 42)
William Mallahan, 1522 (fn. 43)

The fourteenth-century seal of the house contained three niches with ogee arched canopies, under them a bishop with pastoral staff between two archbishops with crosiers; over the canopies the Almighty, half-length, lifting up the right hand in benediction, in the left hand an orb. The background is diapered lozengy. In base, under a depressed square-headed arch the prior reading at a lectern, behind him two friars praying. Legend:—



  • 1. Pat. 11 Edw. II, pt. 2, m. 3; Inq. a.q.d. file 133, No. 1. Part of the land was held by the archbishop of Adam Hurel; see account of Friars of the Sack.
  • 2. B.M. Add. MS. 17362, a royal grant of 2s. 8d. for one day's food.
  • 3. Pat. 2 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 33.
  • 4. This is returned as 11s: in 1535; Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 27.
  • 5. Lit. Cant. (Rolls Ser.), i, 100, 160; Camb. Univ. Lib. MS. Ee, v, 31, fol. 237b, 254b; Pat. 17 Edw. II, pt. 2, m. 18; Inq. a.q.d. file 169, No. 12; Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. ix, App. pt. i, 73; Bunce, ' Extracts from City Records,' fol. 173, 180 (MS. Canterbury); Somner, Hist. and Antiq. of Cant. (ed. Battely), i, 68; Dugdale, Mon. vi, 1592; on Th. of Bonnington, see Wilkins, Concilia, ii, 490.
  • 6. Cott. MS. Nero, C. viii, fol. 205; cf. fol. 202.
  • 7. Pat. 3 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 13; Inq. a.q.d. file 207, Nos. 23, 24.
  • 8. Pat. 8 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 2; Inq. a.q.d. file 226, No. 24; Pat. 18 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 44; Inq. a.q.d. file 268, No. 24.
  • 9. Somner, Antiq. of Cant. (ed. Battely), i, 68.
  • 10. Pat. 28 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 4. The inquest was for William Alayn de Mers and John, parson of the church of St. Andrew, to grant a messuage; Inq. a.q.d. file 307, No: 19.
  • 11. Bunce, MS. Extracts, fol. 180; Dugdale, Mon. vi, 592; Somner, Antiq. of Cant. i, 68.
  • 12. Pat. 9 Hen. IV, pt. 2, m. 25.
  • 13. This appears to be the lane called ' Frerenlane,' described as near the inn called 'le twelve-menneshows'; L.T.R. Memo. R. East. 16 Hen. VI, rot. 9 (P.R.O.).
  • 14. This rent ceased to be paid in 1447; the 4s. rent was paid by the friars till the Dissolution and continued by their successors; Bunce, MS. Extracts, fol. 181; Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. ix, App. pt. i, 132.
  • 15. Cant. City Arch. Accts. of the City, sub annis: Bunce, MS. Extracts, fol. 61, 181, and printed Minutes, No. 1; Inq. a.q.d. file 448, No. 33; Pat. 10 Hen. VI, pt. 1, m. 3; L.T.R. Memo. R. East. 16 Hen. VI, rot. 9 (P.R.O.); Hasted, Cant. (2nd ed.), ii, 616.
  • 16. Hist. MSS. Comp. Rep. ix, App. pt. i, 133.
  • 17. Ibid. 136, 143.
  • 18. Cant. City Arch. Accts.
  • 19. Hasted, Hist. and Topog. Surv. of Kent, iv, 622.
  • 20. Dict. Nat. Biog.
  • 21. Hasted, op. cit. iv, 623; cf. iii, 736, 747; Test. Cant. ii, 66.
  • 22. Hasted, op. cit. iv, 623; Test. Cant. ii, 65.
  • 23. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Islip, fol. 164-6; Nichols, Royal Wills, 23 et seq.
  • 24. Cant. City Arch. Wills and D. 1290-1556, fol. 3.
  • 25. P.C.C. Rous, fol. 22.
  • 26. Hasted, op. cit. iv, 623; Test. Cant. ii, 66.
  • 27. Nicolas, Test. Vet. 327.
  • 28. Ibid. 384.
  • 29. Cant. City Arch. Wills and D. fol. 18.
  • 30. a Test. Cant. ii, 66.
  • 31. Ibid. fol. 21.
  • 32. Arch. Cant. ii, 169.
  • 33. a Test. Cant. ii, 66.
  • 34. Hasted, op. cit. iv, 623; Somner, Antiq. of Cant. (ed. Battely), App. 18, No. 22.
  • 35. Bunce, printed Mins. of the City, No. xx.
  • 36. a Test. Cant. ii, 66.
  • 37. L. and P. Hen. Vlll, xiii (2), 1058; Bunce, MS. Abridgement, i, fol. 484, refers to a petition of these friars to the city for relief; it is probably still among the city records. An' Austin Friar received 2d. for bringing a dish of medlars to a city banquet in 1500-1; Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. ix, App. pt. i, 147a.
  • 38. 35 Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. ix, App. pt. i, 153; Bunce, MS. Extracts from the Accts. fol. 49.
  • 39. Mins. Accts. 30-31 Hen. VIII, Kent, No. 105, m. 73; Partic. for Grants, 545, m. 7.
  • 40. Partic. for Grants, 545; L. and P. Hen. VIII, xvii, 283 (48), 443 (48); xix (1), 141 (77); Mins. Accts. 30-1 Hen. VIII (Kent), No. 105, m. 12. For the later history, see Hasted, Hist. and Topog. Surv. of Kent, iv, 624; a fee-farm or tenth of 11s. 1d. is yearly paid to the crown for this estate; ibid. The precinct of the ' White Friars' is extra-parochial; disputes between the city and the owners led to a trial at the Maidstone Assizes in Lent, 1790, when it wasdetermined that this precinct was wholly exempt from the liberty and jurisdiction of the city. The bounds of it are: towards the east, part of Sheepshank Lane; towards the south, the gravel walk or alley leading from St. Mary Bredin's church towards the city wall eastwards. To Rose Lane toward the west; and to the gardens behind the houses on the south side of St. George's Street toward the north; Hasted, op. cit. iv, 622.
  • 41. Bunce, M>S. Extracts, fol. 61.
  • 42. Hasted, op. cit. iv, 624.
  • 43. Somner, Antiq. of Cant. App. xxii.
  • 44. B.M. Seals, lxv, 18.