Carmelite friars: Ipswich

Pages 130-131

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

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The Carmelite or White Friars seem to have been established at Ipswich in 1278, for their settlement here was contemporary with that at Winchester, which took place at that date. In that year a provincial chapter of the Carmelites was held at Norwich, and there seems good reason to believe that the founding of a house in the second great town of East Anglia was determined at that chapter, and the members of the new community chosen from those of Norwich. (fn. 1)

They were established on land that eventually extended from St. Stephen's Lane to Queen Street on the south side of the Butter Market. The first record of the extension of the site occurs in 1297, when licence was granted for the Carmelite friars of Ipswich to enclose a lane called 'Erodesland,' 26 perches long and 8 ft. broad, for the enlargement of their dwellingplace. (fn. 2)

Pardon was granted to the Carmelites of Ipswich in December, 1344, for having acquired in fee, without licence from Edward I, various small plots of land adjoining their area for enlarging the conventual buildings and church, (fn. 3) and in 1321 a further extension of their buildings was begun, for in that year the prior obtained licence to acquire twelve small plots of adjacent land for that purpose. (fn. 4) Thomas le Coteler was licensed in 1333 to alienate to the priory of Mount Carmel an adjacent messuage for the enlargement of their house, (fn. 5) and Thomas de Lowdham gave a further small plot of adjoining land in 1377. (fn. 6)

The last-known enlargement of their premises occurred in 1396, when John Reppes, the prior, purchased two messuages from John Warton and Margaret his wife for the sum of 100 marks. (fn. 7)

Ipswich was often chosen for the meetings of the provincial chapters of the White Friars, so that it may be fairly assumed that the house was of sufficient size soon after its foundation to accommodate a large number of visitors. At the chapter held at Ipswich in 1300, William Ludlyngton, then prior of the Ipswich House, was elected provincial. In 1312 the provincial chapter elected John Berkhamstead, prior of Ipswich, provincial. Several other friars of this house attained, from time to time, to the honour of provincial; among them were John Polsted in 1335, and John Kynyngham in 1393.

The conventual church was rebuilt in the latter part of the fifteenth century. It was consecrated by Friar Thomas Bradleyce (alias Scrope), bishop of Dromore, a man noted for his special sanctity, in 1477.

This friary was celebrated for the number of learned men who were its members. Thomas Yllea, a preacher and writer of merit, entered religion at the time when his father was prior; he was for some time in Flanders, but died at Ipswich in 1390. John Polsted studied at Oxford, and was provincial from 1335 till his death in 1341; he wrote more than twenty works, and was buried at York. Friar John of Bury St. Edmunds rendered this house celebrated by his erudition, eloquence, and piety; he chiefly wrote commentaries on the Holy Scriptures, and died at Ipswich in 1350. John Paschall, of Suffolk, graduated at Cambridge from this house in 1333; he was consecrated bishop of Scutari in 1344 as suffragan bishop of Norwich diocese, but in 1347 was translated to Llandaff. He was a voluminous writer, and several volumes of his sermons are extant.

Friar Richard Lavingham is said to have written ninety volumes, and Bale considers his literary activity almost miraculous; he died at Bristol in 1383. John Kynyngham, provincial from 1393 till his death in 1399, did credit to the Ipswich friary as a writer of many works. Prior John Barmyngham, who died in 1449, Doctor of both Oxford and Paris, was considered one of the most enlightened scholars of each of those universities. Nicholas Kenton, provincial from 1444 to 1456, 'shone so as a historian, poet, philosopher, theologian, and orator,' that he was appointed chancellor of the university (Cambridge) in 1445.

John Bale, elected prior of Ipswich in 1533, joined the order at Norwich when only twelve years of age. It is generally said that he broke his vows and married in 1534; but his marriage must have been some years later, for he was writing as prior of this monastery in 1536. He held the bishopric of Ossory from 1553 until his death in 1563. In all his virulent and coarse writings against his former co-religionists, Bale had the grace to deal gently with his former order of the Carmelites, and evidently esteemed the learning that characterized various members of the house over which he was for a short time prior. (fn. 8)

The Carmelites of Ipswich were suppressed by the ex-friar Richard Ingworth, then suffragan bishop of Dover, in November, 1538, as is known from his letter about various friaries addressed to Cromwell. (fn. 9) Earlier in the year, 'the petition of the Carmelyttes of Ipsewich supplicacion to the Lorde Cromwell moste piteously lamenting' set forth, on behalf of the prior and his co-brethren of their 'poore religious house,' that Dr. Ingworth, as Cromwell's deputyvisitor, had confiscated the sum of £28 13s. 4d., owing to them for tenements in Ipswich, which they had been compelled to sell through extreme poverty. They desired, in their simplicity, Cromwell's assistance. (fn. 10) About the same date Cromwell received a strongly-worded begging appeal from one Sir John Raynsforth, asking for the gift of the house of the Ipswich White Friars. (fn. 11)

The site was granted to Charles Lambard, of Ipswich, in October, 1539. (fn. 12)

Weever mentions the following among the more important burials in this church:—Sir Thomas de Lowdham and his son Sir Thomas, both knights, and John de Loudham, esquire; Margaret Coldvyle, and Gilbert Denham, esquire, and Margaret his wife, who was a daughter of Edward Hastings. Also the following of this order:—John Wilbe, 1335; John Hawle, papal chaplain, 1433; John Barmyngham, 1448-9; Richard Hadley, 1461; and John Balsham, bishop of Argyle, 1425. (fn. 13)

Priors of the Carmelite Friars of Ipswich

Richard de Yllea, c. 1280

William Ludlyngton, occurs 1300, &c.

John Berkhamstead, occurs 1312

John Reppes, occurs 1396

John Barmyngham, c. 1440-8-9

John Ball, 1533


  • 1. 'The White Friars at Ipswich,' by Rev. Benedict Zimmerman, Proc. Suff. Arch. Inst. x, 196-204.
  • 2. Pat. 25 Edw. I, pt. i, m. 16.
  • 3. Pat. 8 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 10.
  • 4. Ibid. 14 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 24.
  • 5. Ibid. 6 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 3.
  • 6. Inq. a.q.d. 50 Edw. III, No. 21.
  • 7. 'The Carmelites of Ipswich,' by V. B. Redstone, Proc. Suff. Arch. Inst. x, 192.
  • 8. Stevens' Cont. of Dugdale's Mon. ii. Writers of the Order of the Carmelites, Nos. 25, 34, 41, 55, 70, 104, 116, 124; 'The White Friars of Ipswich, by the Rev. Benedict Zimmerman, Proc. Suff. Arch. Inst. x, 196-204.
  • 9. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii, pt. ii, 1021
  • 10. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii, pt. ii, App. 17.
  • 11. Ibid. 1262.
  • 12. Misc. Bks. (Aug. Off.), ccxii, fol. 1b.
  • 13. Weever, Funeral Monuments, 750. The date of the death of John Balsham is erroneously stated by Weever to be 1530; Friar Balsham resigned the bishopric of Argyle in 1420, and was buried at Ipswich five years later.