A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.
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HOUSE OF DOMINICAN FRIARS
18. THE DOMINICAN FRIARS OF SHREWSBURY
A little before 1232, probably in obedience to an order of the provincial chapter held in 1230 at Oxford, a community of Dominican Friars settled in Shrewsbury. (fn. 1) Their earliest known benefactor was the king: he visited Shrewsbury in May 1232 and the friars secured shortly afterwards a grant of 30 oak trees and the stone which lay in the Severn under the bailey of Shrewsbury castle to build their church. (fn. 2) They were the first friars to reach Shropshire and were certainly welcomed with gifts by local benefactors, though traditions about their 'founders' current in the 16th century are confused and unreliable. Camden's statement that one of the Charltons was their founder and that Richard, burgess of Shrewsbury, built their church (fn. 3) may arise from confusion with certain benefactors of the Franciscans. (fn. 4) There is more substance to Leland's assertion that it was of 'Lady Genevil's foundation'; (fn. 5) Maud, granddaughter and coheir of Walter de Lacy, may have been a benefactress about 1250 before her marriage to Geoffrey de Geneville, and her descendants in the 14th and 15th centuries certainly made gifts to the house. (fn. 6) But there was probably no formal founder.
Royal gifts and favours continued, particularly during the thirty years when the friars were completing their essential buildings and then enlarging their site and extending their precinct wall. The house stood outside the town walls on the bank of the Severn, between St. Mary's Water Lane and the English Bridge. (fn. 7) In 1241-2 the friars received permission to join their precinct wall to the town wall (fn. 8) and during the rebuilding of the town walls Henry III ordered the bailiffs and sheriff to give the friars two hundred cartloads of the surplus stone (fn. 9) and a hundred loads of lime from the lime kilns under the Wrekin. (fn. 10) He also provided 10 marks in 1244 for the church fabric. (fn. 11) The town too gave money for the buildings: £3 13s. was paid in September and October 1259. (fn. 12) The ground sloped sharply down from the town to the convent and when the friars complained in 1258 that a lane running under their church from the north caused flooding in times of heavy rain they were permitted to have it stopped up. (fn. 13) Shortly afterwards they extended their site towards the English Bridge (fn. 14) and secured royal permission to approve their property in the waters of the river itself. They appear to have built some kind of embankment to protect their site on the riverside and this brought them into conflict with the monks of Shrewsbury Abbey, who destroyed a stank which the friars had made in the river. A compromise agreement between the parties in 1265 seems to have been completely superseded in 1269 when, at the instance of Prince Edward, the king confirmed all the friars' claims to land which they had been able to acquire on the Severn. (fn. 15) Relations with their other ecclesiastical neighbours, the dean and canons of St. Mary's, appear to have been better. In 1263 the latter granted them a garden outside the town walls to round off their site, for which Andrew, lord of Willey, agreed to pay St. Mary's an annual rent of 6s. 8d. (fn. 16) After this date only minor enlargements took place. In 1346 the friars acquired and enclosed with a wall a small plot of ground by their churchyard. (fn. 17) Some of their land lay within the town walls and in 1380 they were allowed to have a postern in the wall for their private use to join the two parts of their property. (fn. 18) They appear to have had difficulty in procuring a satisfactory water supply from within the town and finally sought one across the river. In 1365 royal permission was given for them to acquire a small plot of land in a field by Monkmoor wood, where there was a well called 'Flegwell', and to build a well-house and conduit. (fn. 19) At the Dissolution the site itself, including and orchard (4 a.), the churchyard (one rood) and half a rood west of the church, was valued at 20s.; they had in addition a little town property, rented for 14s. 4d. (fn. 20)
The house was of some importance and the provincial chapter of the order met there in 1299 and 1345. (fn. 21) As in all Dominican houses, the priors were elected annually, though re-election was not uncommon. (fn. 22) Only a few of their names are known; one at least, John Richard, was a preacher of note, who preached before Richard II in 1383, 1393, and 1396 (fn. 23) and was prior in 1399. (fn. 24) All the evidence suggests that the house maintained good discipline and enjoyed the favour of wealthy and powerful patrons to the last. The descendants of Maud de Geneville included Joan, Countess of March, whose daughter Catherine, Countess of Warwick, bequeathed £20 to the Dominicans of Shrewsbury in 1369. (fn. 25) Among royal visitors was Henry, Prince of Wales, who heard mass in the church on several occasions when he stayed in Shrewsbury during the Percy rebellion. (fn. 26) Edward, Earl of March, kept Christmas in the friary in 1460, just before he seized the throne, and the borough bailiffs provided a pipe of ale 'for the honour of the town'. (fn. 27) Edward may have had a special regard for the house, for in 1473 he sent Queen Elizabeth to the friars' guest-house for the birth of their second son. (fn. 28) Inevitably there was some minor friction with the town. In 1431-2 the friars were accused of keeping ferrets and setting snares for rabbits within the liberties of the town and of enclosing a parcel of common land at the end of St. Mary's church. (fn. 29) They were seriously inconvenienced by the garbage thrown out by the townspeople and carried into their church by pigs; they appealed to the Prince of Wales c. 1480, and secured a letter from him demanding a remedy. (fn. 30) From time to time the corporation made grants to the friars: in 1531 the borough chamberlain was ordered to pursue the debts of the town and grant the friars preachers 40s. of such debts as could be recovered. (fn. 31) If the Dominicans received less from the corporation than the other two houses of friars at this time it was probably because their house was more prosperous and their need less. The first convent of friars to be established in Shropshire, it was also the last to go, for it was the only one of them able to resist the royal commissioners by refusing to surrender in August 1538. The Bishop of Dover, writing to Cromwell on 13 August, stressed that he had no commission to suppress any house and dared suppress none but those that gave their houses into the king's hands for poverty: he had left the black friars of Shrewsbury standing because he could find no cause for them to give up. He had therefore given certain injunctions, examined their accounts and left them to keep good order. (fn. 32) On 23 August he reported that great suit would be made to Cromwell for the continuance of the house and on 27 August he was openly urging suppression. (fn. 33) He had his wish before Michaelmas; in October the superfluous buildings were pulled down and the materials sold for £23 14s. 2d. The debts of the community for victuals and other articles amounted to only 64s. (fn. 34) The site was leased to William Penson in 1541 (fn. 35) and granted to Richard Andrews in 1543. (fn. 36) The church was evidently a large one with a substantial steeple, for one of the two bells weighed 6 cwt. and the other 1 cwt. (fn. 37) In 1610 Speed described the site as bare, except for a single dwelling-house between the town wall and the river, and this too disappeared in time. In 1823, when the site of the convent was levelled to build a new wharf, the foundations of three chambers were exposed: all were 31 feet long, one being 20 feet and another 18 feet wide. Masonry remains found at this time included many fragments of mullions, said to be of a very handsome late Gothic style, and many small, elegant, octagonal pillars. (fn. 38) There are no traces of the house above ground.
Gregory of Shrewsbury, occurs 1325. (fn. 39)
John Richard, occurs 1399. (fn. 40)
William Peplow, occurs 1407-8. (fn. 41)
William Eyre, occurs 1451-2. (fn. 42)
Edmund Bewno, occurs 1473. (fn. 43)
Robert Ellesmere, occurs 1484. (fn. 44)
Richard Roc, occurs 1495. (fn. 45)
Roger, occurs 1508-10. (fn. 46)
Roger Fenemere, occurs 1513, 1514, 1519, 1524, 1527. (fn. 47)
John Eynesworth, occurs 1534, 1537. (fn. 48)
No seal known.