Friaries: Friaries in Yarmouth

Pages 435-438

A History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.

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The Dominican friars were first established at Yarmouth in 1267, where they had a house by the South Gate. Henry III gave them in 1271 a plot of land 500 ft. square, called la Strande, and confirmed the previous gift to them of their site by William Charles. (fn. 2) Thomas Fastolf was a special benefactor to their house, which was finished in 1278; and Godfrey Pilgrim, another burgess of Yarmouth, erected their church, dedicated to the honour of St. Dominic, in 1280, at his sole cost. (fn. 3) Pilgrim, who died in 1304, was therefore esteemed joint founder with Henry III and Fastolf.

When Edward I was at Yarmouth, in 1277, he gave the friars on Low Sunday an alms of 23s. 10d. to find the food for two days. (fn. 4) From this it may be estimated that there were about thirty-five inmates.

In 1287 the east coast of England was ravaged by a severe storm, and Yarmouth suffered grievously. Much of the town walls were destroyed, and the house of the Dominicans was covered by the waves. (fn. 5)

Thereupon the friars, with the idea of escaping like misfortune in the future, began to fill up a deep place between their house and that of Simon Salle, beyond which the sea often flowed, with stones and rubbish, and proceeded to build on this small piece of reclaimed land, which measured 130 ft. by 115 ft. Early in 1290 a royal writ was issued to the sheriff of Norfolk to hold an inquiry whether this alteration, which involved the removal of a part of the town wall, might be licensed. The jurors, one of whom was Thomas Fastolf, held that the proceedings of the friars were calculated to jeopardize the town wall, and the scheme was consequently abandoned. (fn. 6)

The executors of Queen Eleanor, about Michaelmas, 1291, gave an alms of 100s. to William de Hotham, provincial for this convent. (fn. 7)

Each of the three orders of friars at Yarmouth, and in several cases the Friars Preachers alone, had many small bequests made to them, by burgesses and others who prudently made their wills at the time of the Great Pestilence of 1349. Simon de Ormesly, smith, by will of 26 January, 1350, directed his body to be buried in the church of the Friars Preachers, to whom he left 10s. as well as 12d. to two particular friars. The wills of this county show that bequests to this and the other two houses of friars at Yarmouth were fairly frequent up to the time of their dissolution. (fn. 8)

In the year 1525 the church of this convent was burnt down and never restored. (fn. 9)

Richard Ingworth, the ex-friar, and special instrument of the king for the suppression of the mendicant orders, wrote to Cromwell in November, 1538, naming nineteen houses of friars whose surrender he had accepted, the Black Friars of Yarmouth being among the number. (fn. 10)

The fourteenth-century seal of this house (17/8 in.× 1¼) is an elaborate composition for its size. In three niches stand the Virgin and Child, St. Dominic with a cross, and a bishop with crozier. In the base are two fishes naiant, for the ancient arms of Yarmouth. Legend:—



The Franciscan or Grey Friars probably came to Yarmouth soon after 1226, which was the year of their arrival at Norwich. Their founder is said to have been Sir William Gerbrigge, knt. (fn. 12) The site originally granted them was about the centre of the town, on ground now occupied by Queen Street; their precincts gradually extended from the river on the west to Middlegate Street on the east, and from Row 83 on the north to Row 96 on the south. (fn. 13)

Leave was given in 1285, after an inquisition ad quod damnum, by the bailiffs of Yarmouth for the Friars Minor to hold that rengiate of land, with buildings and appurtenances, contiguous to their area, which the king held of the grant of John son of William Gerbrigge, the younger, for the enlargement of their site, provided that the lane between the said rengiate and the rengiate of Thomas Gerbrigge remain open and common for the easement of both rengiates, and of the neighbours and others of the said town as heretofore. (fn. 14) In May 1290, confirmation was granted of a quitclaim by John de Bromholm to the Friars Minor of his right in a plot of land lying between the dwelling-house of the friars on the north side and the common lane on the south side. (fn. 15)

A commission of oyer and terminer was appointed in 1302 touching the petition of the Friars Minors of Yarmouth, who complained that some malefactors of the town had broken the pavement near the wall, whereby rainwater ran under it to the destruction of the pavement, and that some of the townsmen, with strangers, threw down and broke to pieces their fence, which they made for the defence of their dwellingplace against the flow and violence of the sea, by putting timber and other heavy weights upon it. (fn. 16)

Wills of the thirteenth century downwards show frequent small bequests to the Grey Friars by the townsfolk of Yarmouth, often accompanied by a request for interment in the church or churchyard. Many of the once powerful family of Fastolf were buried there. No men tion has been found of the name of any warden of this house, nor even of any friar save one, John Rokeby, who was living in 1492, and who must have been a typical ' jolly friar,' as he weighed twenty-four stone, a fact that was considered sufficiently noteworthy to obtain an entry on the Borough Roll. (fn. 17)

The house was suppressed in the autumn of 1538 by Richard Ingworth, and possession was given to Mr. Millesent, a servant of Cromwell's. (fn. 18) Cromwell obtained a grant of it in the following year and transferred it to his nephew, Sir Richard Williams.


The house of White Friars of Yarmouth was founded in 1276 in the north part of the town, Edward I being regarded as their founder. It was dedicated to St. Mary.

In 1276, an inquisition ad quod damnum was held at Yarmouth, touching the petition of the Carmelite Friars for licence to inhabit a void place in Great Yarmouth called ' Le Denne'; containing 500 ft. by 400 ft., and there to build a church for themselves. (fn. 19)

On 26 June 1291, Oliver Wych obtained licence to alienate in mortmain a messuage to the Carmelites of Yarmouth. (fn. 20)

Whilst the dread of the Black Death hung over the land, bequests to friars were common throughout England. William Hutte, in 1349, gave to the Carmelite Friars of Yarmouth two coverlets and a silver cup with a pelican; and to John de Yarmouth, his nephew, a friar of the order, a feather bed and other furniture. In the same year, Simon atte Crosse left them 20s. for masses for his soul; and Agnes his wife 6s. 8d.

Licence was given in 1378, on payment of 20s., to the Carmelites of Great Yarmouth to enclose a lane adjoining their dwelling on the south side for the enlargement of their house, provided they made another lane as good for passers-by. (fn. 21)

The following burials in this church occur in a MS. at the College of Arms:—1309, Nicholas Castle, Esquire, also Elizabeth his wife; 1330, Dame Maude, wife of Sir Thomas Huntingdon; 1382, Sir John de Monte Acuto. (fn. 22)

On 1 April 1509, the church and convent were burnt down. (fn. 23)

John Tylney, who was prior of this house from about 1430 to 1455, was of much reputation as professor of divinity at Cambridge, and wrote various treatises. (fn. 24)

This house was suppressed by Richard Ingworth towards the close of 1538. (fn. 25) It was granted in 1544 to Thomas Denton and Robert Nottingham. (fn. 26)


Although the house of these Austin Friars was across the water in Suffolk, in the parish of Gorleston, as it stood in Little Yarmouth or Southtown, mention had better be made of it in this place as well as under the religious houses of Suffolk. In several wills, bequests were made to the four orders of friars of Yarmouth; but Gorleston was not formally joined to the borough until 1688.

This friary was founded towards the end of the reign of Edward I, by William Woderove and Margaret his wife. (fn. 27) On 28 June 1131, Roger Woderove, son of the founder, obtained licence to grant to the prior and Augustine friars of Little Yarmouth a plot of land adjacent to their dwelling, (fn. 28) and in 1338 a further enlargement of their house was made on a plot of land 240 ft. by 70 ft., the gift of William Man, of Blundeston. (fn. 29)

In the large and handsome church many distinguished persons were buried. Weever names the founder and his wife; Richard earl of Clare; Roger FitzOsbert and Katharine his wife; Sir Henry Bacon, 1335, and many of his family; Joan, countess of Gloucester; Dame Alice Lunston, 1341; Dame Eleanor, wife of Sir Thomas Gerbrigge, 1353; Dame Joan Caxton 1364; William de Ufford, earl of Suffolk, 1382; Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk; Sir Thomas Hengrove; Dame Sibyl Mortimer, 1385; Sir John Laune, and Mary his wife; Alexander Falstolfe; William March, esq., 1412, and John Pulham, 1481. (fn. 30)

Lambarde, writing of this house, which he mistakenly terms an abbey, says: ' Here was of late years a librarie of most rare and precious workes, gathered together by the Industrie of one John Brome, a monk of the same house, which died in the reign of King Henry the Sixte.' (fn. 31) John Brome was prior of the house and died in 1449. His collection of books was famous and said to include several of which there were no other copies in England; he was himself the author of chronicles and sermons. (fn. 32)

The historian of Yarmouth says that these Austin Friars had a cell across the water in Yarmouth proper, the remains of which are to be seen in Howards Street; the adjoining row is still called Austin Row, though popularly corrupted into Ostend Row. (fn. 33)

The house was suppressed, with the other Yarmouth friaries, by Richard Ingworth towards the end of 1538, (fn. 34) and the site was granted in 1544 to John Eyre, rightly styled by Weever 'a great dealer in that kind of property.'


  • 1. Reliquary (new ser.), i, 139-48; article by late Father Palmer.
  • 2. Pat. 53 Hen. III, m. 5.
  • 3. Speed, Chron.
  • 4. Rot. Gard. 5 Edw. I, cited by Palmer.
  • 5. T, Wykes, Chron. (Rolls Ser.).
  • 6. Inq. p.m. 18 Edw. I, No. 140.
  • 7. Rot. gard. 69-70 Edw. I, No. 140.
  • 8. Palmer, Reliquary (new ser.), i, 141-4, gives about four closely-printed pages of these bequests, chiefly taken from Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. and Swinden, Hist. of Yarmouth.
  • 9. Manship, Hist. of Yarmouth.
  • 10. L. and P. Hen. VIII, viii (2), 117.
  • 11. B. M. xxxv, 70; Gent. Mag. lxi, 5 l 3, 632.
  • 12. Speed, Hist. 1066. William Gerbrigge was one of the Yarmouth bailiffs in 1271 (Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. xi, 322); he was probably a son of the founder.
  • 13. Palmer, Hist. of Yarmouth, i, 419.
  • 14. Cal. Pat. 13 Edw. I, m. 18. 'Rengiate' is apparently a local term for a plot of ground.
  • 15. Ibid. 18 Edw. I, m. 28.
  • 16. Ibid. 30 Edw. I, m. 16d.
  • 17. Palmer, Hist. of Yarmouth, i, 421.
  • 18. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (2), 436, 508.
  • 19. Pat. 4 Edw. I, m. 26.
  • 20. Ibid. 19 Edw. I, m. 10.
  • 21. Palmer, Hist. of Yarmouth, i, 426.
  • 22. F. G. Interments.
  • 23. Palmer, Hist. of Yarmouth, 1, 426.
  • 24. Stevens, Contin. of Mon.
  • 25. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (2), 436.
  • 26. Ibid. xix (1), 373.
  • 27. Weever, Funeral Monuments, 863.
  • 28. Pat. 4 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 3.
  • 29. Ibid. 12 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 15.
  • 30. Weever, Funeral Monuments, 863.
  • 31. Lambarde, Topog. Dict. (1730), 136.
  • 32. Stevens, Contin. of Mon. ii, 176.
  • 33. Palmer, Hist. of Yarmouth, i, 428.
  • 34. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii, 1021.