A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1958.
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The extra-parochial liberty of the White Friars occupied the northern part of an island between two branches of the Soar. The southern boundary of the liberty was marked by Bridge Street, which ran across the island from the West Bridge, to a road called Duns Lane, near the island's eastern bank. The greater part of White Friars is now occupied by a railway marshalling yard. The area of the liberty was approximately 15 acres. (fn. 1)
In the Middle Ages White Friars was occupied by a house of Augustinian Hermits, (fn. 2) and it was no doubt from having been the site of a religious house that the area derived its status as an extra-parochial area for ecclesiastical and civil purposes. The Augustinian friary, while it existed, presumably stood virtually outside the normal parish organization. Whether during the Middle Ages White Friars was considered to be within the borough seems uncertain; in 1306 the friars' church was outside the borough, but it is evident from the borders of the town wards as described in 1484 that part at least of the island on which White Friars stood was within the borough boundary. (fn. 3) During the litigation over the borough's boundaries in the 18th century it never seems to have been disputed that White Friars lay within the borough, and the boundaries as established under the Municipal Corporations Reform Act (fn. 4) of 1835 included it in the borough. (fn. 5) In the 19th century White Friars was usually described as an extraparochial place, (fn. 6) and from 1836 onwards it was certainly a distinct unit for poor relief purposes. (fn. 7) White Friars ceased to exist as a unit for civil purposes in 1896. (fn. 8)
Little is known of the friary's buildings; they included a cruciform church of some size. (fn. 9) The friary was surrendered to the king in 1538, (fn. 10) and granted in 1545 to two speculators, John Bellowe and John Broxholme; (fn. 11) in 1597 the property was in the hands of Robert Temple, who sold it in that year to Robert Heyrick, a Leicester ironmonger. (fn. 12) About 1815 the owner was Joseph Craddock of Gumley. (fn. 13) In 1830 the liberty was the site of a factory for the manufacture of braces; the owner, a Mr. Kelly, lived in a house adjoining. (fn. 14) Shortly after that date most of the land was acquired by the Leicester and Swannington Railway, which established the Leicester terminus of the line there, and almost the whole of the White Friars was occupied by railway sidings and coal merchants' offices and warehouses. (fn. 15) British Railways were in 1956 the chief landowners in White Friars.
Bow Bridge joins White Friars to the west bank of the Soar. This bridge is first mentioned in about 1600, but probably existed already in the 14th century. (fn. 16) Until the 19th century Bow Bridge was a stone structure of five arches. (fn. 17) In 1863 the old bridge was demolished, and replaced by the existing iron one. (fn. 18) Until 1791 the river was crossed near to Bow Bridge by a footbridge, made up of a single gently curving arch. It is possible that it was the footbridge, from its shape, which was originally known as Bow Bridge. It was swept away by flood water in 1791, and never rebuilt. (fn. 19) The courses of the two branches of the Soar which enclose White Friars were considerably altered by flood prevention schemes executed in the late 19th century. (fn. 20)
For ecclesiastical purposes White Friars seems to have been regarded as part of St. Nicholas's parish by 1846. (fn. 21)