Dominican friaries: Dunwich

Pages 121-122

A History of the County of Suffolk: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1975.

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The Dominican priory of Dunwich was founded about the middle of the thirteenth century by Sir Roger de Holish. It was situated in the old parish of St. John, and was but 120 rods distant from the house of the Franciscans. (fn. 1) The exact time of their settlement cannot now be determined, but at all events considerable progress was being made with substantial building prior to 1256. On 9 April that year Henry III gave these friars of Dunwich seven oaks for timber out of any of the royal forests of Essex. (fn. 2)

After the house had been founded, difficulties arose between the Black Friars of Norwich and those of Dunwich as to the bounds which the two houses were to traverse for spiritual and eleemosynary purposes. Two friars of each convent were elected to confer. Those chosen for Dunwich were brothers, Geoffey de Walsingham and William of St. Martin. The four met at the Austin house of St. Olave, Herringfleet, on 10 January, 1259, when they chose a fifth friar to act as arbitrator. The decision was to the effect that the river which divides Norfolk from Suffolk was to be the bound between the two houses, save that two parishes, Rushmere and Mendham, that were in both counties, were to be assigned in their entirety to Dunwich. (fn. 3)

When Edward I visited Ipswich in 1227 he sent 16s. to the Friars Preachers of Dunwich for two days' food. This house benefited to the extent of 100s. in 1291, under the will of Eleanor of Castile. (fn. 4)

In 1349 a considerable addition was made to the homestead of these friars; on 12 October the king licensed John de Wengefeld to assign 5 acres to them for the enlargement of their site. (fn. 5)

Thomas Hopman, a friar of this house, got into trouble in 1355 for leaving the realm without licence. It is supposed that he was acting as an agent at the Roman court on behalf of the Bishop of Ely in the serious dispute between the king and that prelate. A writ was issued in August for his arrest when he returned, and for his deliverance to the prior of the Friars Preachers of Dunwich, there to be kept in safe custody.

Licence was obtained in 1384 by Robert de Swillington, at the supplication of the Friars Preachers of Dunwich, whose house was imperilled by the incursion of the sea, which had already destroyed the greater part of Dunwich, to alienate to them land at Blythburgh for building thereon a new house; with licence to the friars to transfer their house thither, selling their old site to any who would buy it. (fn. 6)

This translation to a site four miles distant never, however, took place; the friars continued in their old house.

Here the priory remained till its dissolution. A letter written to Cromwell in November, 1538, by the ex-prior, who had been promoted to be suffragan bishop of Dover, informed him that he had suppressed twenty houses of friars, among them being 'the Black and Grey in Dunwich.'

He further reported that the lead from the roofs of these despoiled houses lay near the water, and was therefore meet to be carried to London or elsewhere. (fn. 7)

The possessions of these Black Friars then consisted of the site of the convent with its buildings, gardens, and orchard, and of two adjacent tenements of the yearly value of £1 3s. 4d. The site was at once let by the crown at 10s. a year, and the tenements at 6s. 8d. each. (fn. 8)

The whole property was granted in 1544-5 to John Eyre, an auditor of the Court of Augmentation. (fn. 9)

Amongst the distinguished persons who obtained interment in the church of the Black Friars, Dunwich, were the founder, Sir Roger de Holish, Sir Ralph de Ufford and Joan his wife, Sir Henry Laxfield, Dame Joan de Harmile, Dame Ada Craven, Dame Joan Weyland, sister of the Earl of Suffolk, John Weyland and his wife Joan, Thomas son of Robert Brews, knt., Dame Alice, wife of Sir Walter Hardishall, Sir Walklyn Hardesfield, Austin Valeyns, Sir Ralph Wingfield, Richard Bokyll of Leiston and his two wives, and Sir Henry Harnold, knight and friar, 'whose bones with the church and edifice now lie,' as Gardner wrote in 1754, 'under the insulting waves of the sea.' (fn. 10)


  • 1. Gardner, Hist. of Dunwich (1754).
  • 2. Close, 40 Hen. III, m. 12.
  • 3. Palmer, Reliquary, xxvi, 209.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Pat. 23 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 20.
  • 6. Pat. 29 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 6a.
  • 7. Pat. 8 Ric. II, pt. i, m. 9; pt. ii, m. 33.
  • 8. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii, pt. ii, 1021, 1023.
  • 9. Mins. Accts. 30-31 Hen. VIII, 139.
  • 10. Pat. 36 Hen. VIII, m. 38 (12).
  • 11. Weever, Funeral Monuments, 720; Gardner, Hist. of Dunwich, 61.