Construction and Infrastructure

'Long-lost' medieval friary uncovered on site of £85m development

Written by: Andrew Merrell | Posted 16 October 2020 6:55

'Long-lost' medieval friary uncovered on site of £85m development

The irony that it is only by building on top of something that you will find out what is beneath is perhaps best left buried.

Without the will of those with the skills to pull together schemes like the proposed £85 million redevelopment of King’s Quarter in Gloucester let’s face it, historians would still be arguing about the location of Whitefriars. 

Speculation did put the missing friary in a different location, although others insisted traces and more might still be there – hidden under the more modern edifice that was Bruton Way car park. 

Those who supported the latter theory can now feel pretty smug, thanks to Reef Group, the business in charge of bringing to fruition the latest building set to grace the city centre site.

 

Pictured: Working on site at the Whitefriars dig (courtesy of Cotswold Archaeology)

 

It was Reef Group which commissioned the archaeologists from Gloucester City Council and Cotswold Archaeology to investigate what, if anything, lay hidden ahead of building – and those archaeologists which found the location of ‘Whitefriars’ Carmelite Friary. 

Andrew Armstrong, City Archaeologist at Gloucester City Council, said: “For around three hundred years, Whitefriars played an active part in Gloucester and produced some notable friars including Nicholas Cantelow (or Cantilupe) in the 15th century. 

“It’s very exciting to finally reveal the exact location of this ‘long-lost’ friary. Seeing and documenting this site will serve to underline, and recognise, the place of the friary in the city’s history.” 

Esther Croft, development director at Reef, which will lead the city council project, said: “Working in partnership with the City Council, our aim is to deliver The Forum with the least possible impact on these important archaeological remains. 

“We expect, as the development moves forward, that further archaeological investigations will be needed, hopefully improving our understanding of this intriguing site. 

“We look forward to sharing the full results of this dig, and any future archaeological work, with the people of Gloucester.”

Pictured: Remains of Whitefriars wall (courtesy of Cotswold Archaeology)

 

Whitefriars was a 13th century friary founded by the Carmelites, one of the Roman Catholic Church’s four great mendicant (living by charity) orders.  

Gloucester’s Whitefriars are said to have owned most of the land between what is now Station Road and Bruton Way, which is shown in some historic maps as ‘Friars Ground’. 

Some thought the friary was located at the western end, next to Market Parade, but historians have been unable to confirm the precise location of the friary until now. 

Whitefriars was one of several important religious houses in medieval Gloucester along with Llanthony Priory, the Blackfriars and the Greyfriars. 

Cotswold Archaeology and the council’s investigation suggests there were at least four large medieval buildings at the site. These buildings were either built of stone or had stone footings with some of the walls measuring a metre wide.

Pictured: Andrew Armstrong, City Archaeologist at Gloucester City Council

The archaeological team has also found the remains of tiled and mortared floors, and part of a medieval drain. Importantly, some of the larger walls are aligned east-west – a typical feature for a medieval ecclesiastical building. 

Historic records suggest that the Whitefriars friary was founded in Gloucester around 1268 with grants from Queen Eleonor (the wife of Henry III), and members of the Giffard and Berkeley families. 

Henry III is known to have given eight oaks towards the building of the friary. His son Edward I also supported the friary, which during its heyday supported around 30 friars in the community. 

The Carmelites were so called because they traced their origins to a community of hermits on Mount Carmel. By the middle of the 13th century they were an established mendicant order popular in much of Western Europe. They were often referred to as ‘White Friars’ because of their white cloaks. 

The Gloucester Whitefriars, like every other monastery in England, was supressed by 1538 on the orders of Henry VIII. By that time there were only three friars left, and the friary was in financial difficulty. By the late 16th century little was left of the friary building complex.

One building, called the ‘friars’ barn’ is known to have survived longer because it was used by the defenders of the city during the English Civil WarGloucester had sided with Parliament during the war and was famously besieged by Royalist forces in August 1643. The friars’ barn, being made of stone, was used as a fortification by the defenders of the city but was demolished some years later. 

About Kings Quarter 

Kings Quarter is Gloucester’s ambitious project to regenerate part of the city centre. 

A new transport hub has already been provided and will act as a catalyst to further regeneration which brings life to Kings Square and improves the retail profile of the Kings Walk area. 

About The Forum 

The Forum forms a key component of the plan to regenerate the Kings Quarter area. At its heart is a commitment to create a hub for digital and cyber businesses, transforming a run-down area into a destination that attracts businesses and creates jobs. 

Details about these findings will be included on information boards that will soon be installed on The Forum development site. 

The public is currently being invited to share their views, and find out more, about The Forum via the project’s website.