The ancient borough: White Friars

A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1958.

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


, 'The ancient borough: White Friars', in A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester, (London, 1958) pp. 387-388. British History Online [accessed 26 May 2024].

. "The ancient borough: White Friars", in A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester, (London, 1958) 387-388. British History Online, accessed May 26, 2024,

. "The ancient borough: White Friars", A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester, (London, 1958). 387-388. British History Online. Web. 26 May 2024,


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)


  • 1. This figure is an estimate, based on T. and G. Ellis, Plan of Leic. (1828).
  • 2. On the site of the friary, see Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, i. 16. The term 'White Friars' was usually applied to the Carmelites, who never possessed a house in Leicester.
  • 3. Leic. Boro. Rec. 1327–1509, 307; 1509–1603, 88–89; 1103–1327, 371.
  • 4. 5 & 6 Wm. IV, c. 76.
  • 5. Rep. Com. on Boundaries and Wards of Certain Boros. Pt. 2, H.C. 238 (1837), xxvii.
  • 6. Ibid.; Curtis, Topog. Hist. Leics. 109; it is returned as extra-parochial in the census reports up to 1891 inclusive: V.C.H. Leics. iii. 179.
  • 7. White Friars is not listed as a place maintaining its own poor in 1776, or in 1783–5, in the returns for the whole country printed in Rep. Sel. Cttee. appointed to consider Returns Made by Overseers of Poor, Rep. of H.C. (1st Ser.), ix, pp. 385, 619. In the returns relating to poor relief made for the whole country in 1803 the liberty of the Friars at Leic. is mentioned, but this was probably the larger liberty of the Black Friars: Abstract of Returns Relative to the Ex. pense and Maintenance of the Poor, H.C. 175, p. 262 (1803– 4), xiii. When Leic. Poor Law Union was formed in 1836 White Friars was not included in it, perhaps in error, and the liberty remained outside the union until 1862: see above, p. 257.
  • 8. See above, p. 288.
  • 9. Leland, Itin. i. 16.
  • 10. V.C.H. Leics. ii. 35.
  • 11. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xx(1), p. 656.
  • 12. Nichols, Leics. i. 301
  • 13. Ibid. 302.
  • 14. Curtis, Topog. Hist. Leics. 103.
  • 15. T.L.A.S. xxx. 64, 78; White, Dir. Leics. (1846), 178– 9; V.C.H. Leics. iii. 112.
  • 16. V.C.H. Leics. iii. 86.
  • 17. Nichols, Leics. i. 301.
  • 18. V.C.H. Leics. iii. 86.
  • 19. Nichols, Leics. i. 301–2.
  • 20. See above, pp. 277–8.
  • 21. White, Dir. Leics. (1846), 50; cf. ibid. (1877), 305. White Friars is erroneously stated to be part of St. Mary's ecclesiastical parish in Census, 1871 and 1881.