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Greyfriars, Canterbury

A Scheduled Monument in Westgate, Kent

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Latitude: 51.2791 / 51°16'44"N

Longitude: 1.0768 / 1°4'36"E

OS Eastings: 614677.118736

OS Northings: 157829.8816

OS Grid: TR146578

Mapcode National: GBR TY2.P20

Mapcode Global: VHLGM.M33R

Entry Name: Greyfriars, Canterbury

Scheduled Date: 23 February 1916

Last Amended: 1 August 2014

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1005195

English Heritage Legacy ID: KE 2

County: Kent

Electoral Ward/Division: Westgate

Built-Up Area: Canterbury

Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Kent


Franciscan friary, founded 1224 by Agnellus of Pisa, rebuilt 1267-1325, dissolved 1538.

(NB The layout of the historic centre of Canterbury is determined by the north-west/south-east axis of St Peter’s Street/High Street, and by the south-west/north-east course of the Great Stour as it flows through the city. This description follows the established practice of treating Canterbury sites as if they were aligned with the cardinal points of the compass, i.e. as if the Westgate did indeed face west rather than north-west.)

Source: Historic England


Franciscan friary, founded 1224 by Agnellus of Pisa, rebuilt 1267-1325, dissolved 1538.

The scheduled monument includes the core precincts of Canterbury’s Franciscan friary, first established in 1224 and rebuilt between 1267 and 1325. The eastern part of the site, which forms a small river island, was the location of the first friary of 1224; its buildings were probably lightweight timber structures, and no evidence of them has been found to date (2014). The larger western part – encircled during the medieval period by a (now vanished) river channel known as Thuate – includes the site of the stone friary buildings erected between 1267 and 1325. The main elements still visible above ground comprise: the surviving C13 building spanning the river, variously interpreted as a guest house or warden’s lodging; the remnants of the friary church incorporated into the eastern boundary of Greyfriars Passage; and part of a stone bridge across the main river channel, along with the stone revetments upstream of it. Excavations have partially revealed the foundations of the friary church and domestic buildings, as well as a second bridge (carrying Greyfriars Passage across the Thuate channel) and the location of the friary’s lay cemetery.

The Greyfriars site is within the historic centre of Canterbury, south of St Peter’s Street/High Street and east of St Peter’s Grove, in a low-lying riverside area known since Saxon times as Binnewith. The Great Stour divides into several channels as it flows through the city, and both parts of the scheduled site were originally islands. The smaller eastern part – the site of the first friary of 1224 – is still an island, teardrop-shaped and about an acre in extent, bisected by a walled pathway linked to modern footbridges at Water Lane and Greyfriars Gardens. The part of the island to the north of this pathway is a public garden belonging to the Eastbridge Hospital, accessed from Stour Street via a second pair of modern bridges at the island’s downstream tip. The privately-owned land to the south is overgrown, and contains three prefabricated structures of the WWII period (see Exclusions, below).

The larger western part of the site, where the post-1267 friary buildings stood, comprises about 2.25 acres, bounded by the river to the east and by the former course of the Thuate channel to the west. Its southern tip forms part of the City Council-owned Greyfriars Gardens, the rest being divided between the playground of St Peter’s Methodist School to the west and the Eastbridge Hospital gardens on the east. The dividing line is a narrow disused lane known as Greyfriars Passage, which bisects the site diagonally, and which originally gave access to the friary’s north gate in St Peter’s Street.

(The friary’s outer precinct, which extended as far as Black Griffin Lane to the west, was used for cultivation and has since been built upon; its archaeological potential is low and it is not included in the scheduled area.)

The core of the friary complex, built from 1267 onwards, is believed to have formed an irregular three-sided quadrangle, open to the river on the eastern side where the so-called warden’s lodging still stands. On the north side was the church, consecrated in 1325, its nave and chancel divided (as was common in English Franciscan sites) by a ‘walking place’ aligned with Greyfriars Passage. The listed flint and stone wall on the east side of the passage incorporates the lower parts (moulded stone jambs with attached shafts) of the C13 triple archway between the walking-place and the chancel, although it is not clear whether these are in situ. The foundations of the chancel have been revealed in excavations, as have those of an attached structure to the north, believed to be a Lady Chapel, and of a detached structure interpreted as a bell-tower. Franciscan friaries typically also comprised a refectory, dormitory, chapter house, study, library and infirmary, but the precise arrangement of the domestic ranges at Canterbury is uncertain; both west and south ranges are believed to have been extended outside the quadrangle at some point after 1275.

The surviving building is aligned with the river channel that runs beneath it, and may occupy the site of the earlier Crierne Mill. It is a two-storey building of flint with stone dressings and much inserted brickwork, under a tiled roof whose steeper southern section was believed by Goodsall (who dismantled and reconstructed it during the 1919 restoration) to represent the original pitch. The end walls are reinforced by sloping angle buttresses, partly restored, and span the water on double pointed arches with a central circular pier sunk into the river-bed. There are tall lancets in the gable-ends, and tall square-headed first-floor windows in the east elevation, the latter restored on surviving evidence by Goodsall, who also took down a later extension on the western side. The interiors (which Goodsall also restored, adding the present stair and removing inserted partitions and floors) are divided on both levels between a larger room at the northern end and a smaller one to the south. The upper storey - which Goodsall thought was originally accessed via an external stair - is open to the roof, and divided by a timber and plaster screen wall formed of tall close-set studs with a moulded central post.

A number of important features survive beyond this central cluster. The most visible is the bridge of 1309, which gave direct access to the priory site from Stour Street. The smaller western arch of this bridge, comprising two courses of ragstone blocks, still survives, the eastern arch – of wider span to allow the passage of boats – having been rebuilt in brick in the C18. The revetment walls upstream from this bridge have lower courses formed of large ashlar blocks, also presumably from the friary period. The remains of a second bridge (a single stone arch and a parapet of ashlar blocks) survive where Greyfriars Passage crossed the Thuate channel en route to the friary’s north gate; a map of c.1640 suggests that a stone archway stood at the southern end of this bridge, marking the entrance to the precinct. Beneath the school playground to the west, excavations in 1990 uncovered a number of burials belonging to the friary’s lay cemetery.

The listed C16 brick garden wall that forms the principal remnant of the Lovelace property is excluded from the scheduling (see Exclusions, below). It nevertheless incorporates a considerable amount of medieval fabric, including much recycled stonework and two re-set C15 archways: one (now blocked) at the corner north of Assisi Cottage, and another, much more elaborate one in a detached return section at the southern end next to the warden’s lodging.

The listed C16 brick wall and re-set C15 archway are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included. All other later walls (including the unlisted part of the east wall to Greyfriars Passage), fences, paths, benches, paving, modern footbridges, rubbish bins, lamp posts, signs, tree cages, the school playground and car park surfaces and their makeup, the school buildings, Assisi Cottage, the glasshouse at the northern end of the site and the prefabricated structures in the southern part of the island are all excluded from the scheduling, though the ground beneath them is included.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Canterbury Greyfriars, a Franciscan friary founded in 1224, rebuilt between 1267 and 1325 and dissolved in 1538, is included on the Schedule of Ancient Monuments for the following principal reasons:

* Historical interest: this was England's earliest Franciscan house, strategically established in the country's ecclesiastical capital by members of the first Franciscan mission to these shores in 1224;

* Survival: extensive remains survive from the stone friary complex built from 1267 onwards, including the foundations of the chapel and domestic ranges, two stone bridges, the lay cemetery and one complete building, interpreted as the warden's lodging or guest hall;

* Potential: most of the site has not been built upon, and retains the potential for significant new discoveries;

* Documentation: the history of this important site is well documented in the county record office and the Cathedral archives, and has been widely published.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of Kent: Volume II, (1926), 193-4
Cotton, C, Goodsall, R H, The Grey Friars of Canterbury, 1224 to 1538, (1924)
Knowles, D, Hadcock, R. N, Medieval Religious Houses in England and Wales, (1971), 190
O'Sullivan, Deirdre, In the Company of Preachers, (2013), 90-94
Urry, W, Canterbury under the Angevin Kings, (1967)
Bennett, P, Austin, R, 'Canterbury’s Archaeology 1994-1995' in Greyfriars Gate, (1996), 3-7
Bennett, P, Ouditt, S, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in St Peter's Methodist School, , Vol. CVIII, (1990), 207-12
Cherry, J, 'Medieval Archaeology' in Medieval Britain in 1973, , Vol. XVIII, (1974), 191
Cherry, J, 'Medieval Archaeology' in Medieval Britain in 1972, , Vol. XVII, (1973), 155
Cook, R, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in Report of the council for the year 1919, , Vol. XXXV, (1921), xxxi-xxxiii
Little, A, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in The Grey Friars of Canterbury, , Vol. XXXIV, (1920), 79-85
Millard, L, 'Canterbury Archaeological Society 52nd Annual Report' in Greyfriars, Canterbury, (1972), 19-20
Millard, L, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in Excavation of Greyfriars, Canterbury, , Vol. LXXXVIII, (1973), 214
Millard, L, 'Archaeological Society 53nd Annual Report' in Greyfriars, (1973), 12-13
Millard, L, 'Canterbury Archaeological Society 54th Annual Report' in Greyfriars site, Canterbury, (1974), 11
Ouditt, S, Bennett, P, 'Canterbury’s Archaeology 1989-1990' in St Peter's Methodist School, (1991), 9-11
Pratt, S, 'Canterbury’s Archaeology 1999-2000' in St Peter's Grove and St Peter's Methodist Primary School, (2002), 8-9
Pratt, S, 'Canterbury’s Archaeology 2002-2003' in Greyfriars, (2004), 9
Ward, A, 'Canterbury’s Archaeology 1995-1996' in Greyfriars Bridge, (1997), 14
Ward, S, 'Canterbury’s Archaeology 1997-1998' in Greyfriars Gardens, (2002), 4-5

Source: Historic England

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