Saturday, October 23, 2021

Augustinian Friary, In Liberties (now gone)

This Friary is thought to have been located to the north of what is now Friar Street in Droitwich, but in an area which was a part of Dodderhill parish known as ‘In Liberties’, but an alternative source suggests it may have been sited in the Hill End area.  It was founded in 1331 when Thomas Alleyn of Droitwich obtained permission to give a piece of land 300 feet square (about 2 acres) for the building of ‘an oratory and habitation’ to the Provincial Prior and Austin Friars in England [Austin was an abbreviation of Augustinian, the type of regime which applied to this house].

The Prior and brethren of this house subsequently received in 1343 from John, son of William Dragoun of Droitwich another smaller plot of land for the enlargement of their dwelling-place, so presumably this was next to the first piece of land.  In 1351 two chaplains granted a further five acres of land to the friars.

July 1388 saw the founding of an anchorite’s cell (a dwelling for a hermit, a solitary religious person), paid for by Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.  It was built on the south side of the church, ‘for the inclusion and habitation of brother Henry de Stokebrugge [Stokebridge], where he may lead the life of an anchoret to the honour of God, and pray for the good estate of the founder and his kin …’.  The Earl of Warwick would have the right to nominate further occupiers of this cell, but they would have to be members of the order of friars first.

In 1531 the Bishop of Dover visited the Friary and wrote to Thomas Cromwell (Henry VIII’s Chancellor who co-ordinated the Dissolution of the Monasteries) about the poverty of the house.  He records that only one friar could be kept, as the prior appointed at Easter had sold 140 elm trees, a gold chalice, a censer, two brass pots each able to hold a whole ox, spits, pans and other items, ‘so that in the house is not left one bed, one sheet, one platter or dish’ – nor was the prior able to account for what had happened to the money raised by the sale of these possessions.  The house itself was not fit for human habitation, needing ‘great costs done on it’.  Two good bells remained, and a chalice and some vestments; but there was no lead [on the roofs] except in two gutters, as the prior had ‘conveyed’ this into the town.  There is a suggestion that the land round the friary had ‘tenantries and closes’ [houses and gardens] which were let out for £5 a year.

Several ‘gentlemen of the county’ were eager to acquire the site, and the Bishop of Dover favoured a Mr Newell, ‘servant with my lord of Worcester’ [probably the Bishop of Worcester].  However in 1538 John Pye of Chippenham, Wiltshire, said the king (Henry VIII) had given the property to him, although he did not obtain it until 1543.  It was then let out to yearly tenants at an annual value of £3 16s 4d.  John Pye was in partnership with Robert Were of Marlborough, Wiltshire, and together they became joint owners of the Augustinian (Austin) Friars in Droitwich and the White Friars in Marlborough, paying a yearly rent to the king of 7s 8d for the Austin Friars.  They almost certainly sold on their rights in these lands to others, as did many other speculators in former monastic properties.

A timber-frame mediaeval building known as Chorley House stood on the north side of Friar Street until the 1960s.  It is possible, but not likely, that this was a part of the Augustinian Friary buildings.  Photographs of this building survive.

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