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Greyfriars, Dunwich

A Scheduled Monument in Dunwich, Suffolk

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Latitude: 52.2756 / 52°16'32"N

Longitude: 1.6307 / 1°37'50"E

OS Eastings: 647780.85579

OS Northings: 270369.487105

OS Grid: TM477703

Mapcode National: GBR YXX.C3Y

Mapcode Global: VHM7K.62ZC

Entry Name: Greyfriars, Dunwich

Scheduled Date: 12 January 1950

Last Amended: 2 November 2015

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1006039

English Heritage Legacy ID: SF 40

County: Suffolk

Civil Parish: Dunwich

Traditional County: Suffolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Suffolk

Church of England Parish: Dunwich St James

Church of England Diocese: St.Edmundsbury and Ipswich


The upstanding remains, earthworks and buried remains of a medieval Franciscan friary known as Greyfriars, part of the west side of the medieval town of Dunwich, and the town defences known as the Pales Dyke.

Source: Historic England


The upstanding remains, earthworks and buried remains of a medieval Franciscan friary known as Greyfriars, part of the west side of the medieval town of Dunwich, and the town defences known as the Pales Dyke. It is situated on gently sloping ground near the cliff on the east side of the current village of Dunwich.

The Pales Dyke, a large ditch with an internal bank that formed part of the medieval defences of Dunwich, survives as an earthwork and/or buried remains at the east of the site. Documentary and archaeological evidence indicates that it runs roughly north to south for approximately 260m, but curves eastwards at both the north and south end. The ditch survives as an earthwork, approximately 21m long and 12.5m wide, close to the cliff line (April 2015) at the south, near the south-east corner of Greyfriars precinct. Partial excavation of a section of the Pales Dyke in 1970, prior to destruction by cliff retreat, recorded that the ditch was 12.2m wide and 4.6m deep with a steep-sided profile and flattened bottom. The bank had been almost leveled at this point. Post-holes and beam-slots were uncovered beneath it, indicating C12 occupation prior to the construction of the bank in about the early C13. The greater part of the Pales Dyke now survives beneath the Greyfriars precinct; the ditch to the west of the precinct wall, which itself is partly built upon the buried remains of the internal bank. Partial excavation in 2011 and 2012 recorded the ditch profile and indicated that the bank survived up to 0.5m high at this point.

Immediately east of the Pales Dyke, close to the cliff edge (in April 2015) are the buried remains of the west side of medieval Dunwich. It includes part of an intramural street running parallel to the Pales Dyke, as well as part of Scott’s Lane, Duck Street, and the churchyard of All Saint’s Church.

The friary precinct wall survives as upstanding and buried remains, currently enclosing an irregular triangle of land 7.16 acres in extent. The upstanding remains vary between about 0.1m and 2.5m high and average 0.4m thick. However the circuit is not complete; the wall is truncated at several places along the east side and south-east corner. The composition of the wall varies. Several distinct phases of construction have been identified, as well as later repairs and rebuilding (see Boulter 2012). The north wall, the west wall (with the exception of the medieval gateways), and part of the south wall is considered to have been built in the C18 but on medieval footings. It is formed of a mix of roughly coursed flint, limestone fragments (including reused masonry from the nearby Leper Chapel of St James), clasts and occasional roof tile. Most of the south wall was built in the C19 under the Barne family. It is characterized by the use of brick: horizontal bands in the internal face (matching the enclosed stable block against the west wall) and randomly placed in the external face, with a tile coping. The greater part of the east wall is thought to have been constructed in 1924, and is predominantly built of beach cobble with some limestone and brick. However towards the centre of this wall is a 48m section of original C13 fabric. It has an internal face constructed of long, thin blocks of locally-derived coursed crag limestone and an external face built of a mixture of stone but predominantly septeria, bonded by a buff-coloured lime mortar.

The two medieval gateways in the west wall were built of flint and Caen stone dressings in the late C14 or C15. The southern gateway was the main entrance. It is 3.4m wide and formed of a four-centred arch of three moulded orders, with large buttresses at the rear. Alternate bands of stone and dressed flint radiate from the crown of the arch on the exterior. The northern gateway was a pedestrian entrance, which is 1.6m wide and 2.8m high, with buttressing at the rear. It is formed of a four-centred arch of five moulded orders, framed by two rectangular niches 0.5m wide. A flushwork panel above the arch comprises six (originally eight) two-foiled arches in Caen stone frames. An additional gateway originally stood in the east wall and is documented in 1587 and 1754. The footings of this gateway will survive as below-ground remains.

The current precinct wall includes a southward extension of the original circuit. Partial excavation has recorded the footings of a length of the original precinct wall orientated WNW to ESE, and extending across the precinct just to the south of the refectory ruins (Boulter 1997). A trackway and ditch ran externally to this wall and survive as buried remains. The medieval wall footings accord with the original grant of 4.5 acres of land, and indicate that the friary precinct was later extended to its current extent of 7.16 acres.

In the centre of the precinct are the standing remains of the monastic refectory. The original fabric is broadly contemporary with the west gateways, dating to the late C14 or C15. However, it was converted to a house in the C16, re-fronted in the early C18, partially demolished in the late C18 or early C19, and partially re-built in the late C19 or early C20 (see history). The present structure is a roofless ruin, up to two storeys high, 22.1m long by 8.9m wide, and aligned east to west. It is subdivided internally by an axial partition wall. The medieval fabric largely consists of dressed flint and Caen stone dressings, but the walls have undergone alteration or rebuilding in a mixture of brick, flint and limestone fragments in the C16 to C18, and in uniformly sized, well coursed, beach cobbles with some brick dressings in the late C19 or early C20 (see Boulter and Everett 2009).

The north elevation has nine arched windows across two storeys; five on the ground floor and four on the first floor, as well as the jambs of a truncated doorway at the west end. The four easternmost ground floor windows are medieval four-centered arches whilst the fifth window is a late C19 or early C20 segmental-headed arch. Between the third and fourth window is a stepped medieval buttress and between the fourth and fifth is the stub of a medieval wall, projecting to the north. The first floor openings are late C19 or early C20 windows; the two to the east are four-centered arches incorporating medieval mouldings but those to the west are segmental-headed brick arches. This elevation also incorporates several medieval put-log holes, as well as the remains of one blocked medieval window and several blocked C16 to C18 windows towards the west end. The axial partition wall to the south is blind. It is largely formed of medieval fabric. However, a gable and return wall at the west end are the remains of a gabled shed, 4.5m long by 2.7m wide, shown on the 1883 OS map.

The south elevation largely survives as low foundations but rises up to about 2.5m high where it meets the east and west return walls. Near the centre of the elevation is an entrance about 2m wide. The west elevation is blind but incorporates an internal rib-vaulted niche in the south-east angle. The east elevation contains a two-centred arch, rebuilt in 2013, and some C16 and early C18 fabric.

The friary church and claustral complex survive as buried remains. The church is aligned east to west and occupies the north side of the cloister. Partial excavation has shown that the south wall of the nave is located about 55m north of the refectory ruins. The church walls are about 1m wide with external buttressing, and survive to 0.2m-0.35m deep. The nave is approximately 38m long by 17m wide, incorporating side aisles c.3.5m wide internally. Between the nave and each aisle are six pillar bases that originally supported an arcade of seven arches, each arch spanning c.4.5m wide. The chancel is approximately 20m long by 10m wide, although these dimensions probably include a central tower. The foundations are of a different construction to those of the nave, indicating two separate phases of development.

The cloister is situated immediately to the south of the church. Partial excavation and geophysical survey has recorded wall footings indicating a west, south and east range of buildings surrounding a walkway and open courtyard or cloister garth. A garderobe (latrine or toilet) was identified within the south range, which probably served as the reredorter (latrine block). The garderobe is a square structure, 3.5m by 3.5m, with walls c.0.5m thick, primarily constructed of squared limestone blocks. A brick and flint-built drain, 0.75m wide with a semi-circular arched top, runs north-south just to the west of the friary church.

A mid- to late C14 infirmary survives as buried remains, 15m ENE of the refectory (Norris 1939). It is T-shaped in plan, comprising a north-south range, over 14m long and 4.1m wide, attached at the south by an east-west range, 11.6m long and 4.3m wide, supported by angle buttresses. The north-south range is sub-divided internally, lined with plaster and contains a recess or cupboard in the east wall. The east-west range has the jambs of at least one original doorway in the north wall, providing access to the adjacent range. Attached to the south of the building is a 1.4m wide cloister walk with a four-bay arcade supported by buttresses. It has been rebuilt at a later date, possibly the mid-C15, in red brick and paved with sandstone slabs within the walkway and brick beneath the arcade, a string of cobbles separating the two. The cloister walk faces an open area, which is 1.2m wide, paved with cobbles, and supported by traces of a south retaining wall.

The infirmary has undergone further alterations and additions in about the later C15 or C16. These are built in dark red brick and pebble. Two doorways with chamfered brick jambs have been inserted and/or re-lined in the north wall of the east-west range, which is also partitioned at the east end for a staircase providing access to an upper floor. A further range has been added in the north-west angle between the two buildings, and later lined by clay and rubble and converted into a lime kiln. An out-building or garderobe, 2m long by 1.4m wide, is attached to the south-west corner of the cloister walk. It has been paved in red tile in the C16 or later, beneath which is a cess pit or soakway over 3m deep.

An extensive monastic cemetery survives as buried remains. Partial excavation recorded 94 burials within the church and to the north, east and south of the building (Boulter 1999). Most of the burials uncovered were left undisturbed, although three were fully excavated and nine partially excavated. The exact extent of the cemetery is uncertain but it is estimated to include approximately 1000 burials.

The scheduling excludes the enclosed stable block and modern agricultural buildings next to the west precinct wall; all modern gates and gate posts; fences and fences posts; water troughs; water pipes; stone collection boxes; signs and sign posts; and notices. However the ground beneath all these features is included.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Greyfriars, a site encompassing a medieval Franciscan friary, part of the medieval town of Dunwich and part of the town defences known as the Pales Dyke, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Survival: the medieval Franciscan friary is among the best preserved in England, being one of a small proportion of friaries to retain significant upstanding remains, whilst the Pales Dyke and medieval town survive as earthworks and/or buried remains;
* Potential: partial excavation has indicated that the site retains a high degree of archaeological potential, with the ground plan of most of the friary buildings likely to survive intact, and a monastic cemetery that may retain the largest and most complete group of burials of any medieval friary in England;
* Documentation: Greyfriars is well documented in historical and archaeological terms, which provide a valuable contribution to our knowledge and understanding of the site;
* Group value: medieval Dunwich, the Pales Dyke and Greyfriars, hold group value with each other, and with the nearby leper chapel of St James’ Hospital, as surviving remains of the medieval town and its associated monuments.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Chant, K, The History of Dunwich, (1986)
Haslam, J, 'Dummoc and Dunwich: A Reappraisal' in Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History, , Vol. 5, (1992), 41-46
Norris, N, 'First Report on Excavations at Grey Friars Monastery, Dunwich, Suffolk, July 1935' in Proceedings of The Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, , Vol. 22, (1936), 287-9
Norris, N, 'Second Report on Excvations at Grey Friars Monastery, Dunwich, Suffolk, August 1936' in Proceedings of The Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, , Vol. 22, (1936), 210-8
Norris, N, 'Third Report on Excavations at Grey Friars Monastery, Dunwich, 1937-9' in Proceedings of The Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, , Vol. 23, (1939), 210-8
West, S, 'The Excavation of Dunwich Town Defences 1970' in Proceedings of The Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, , Vol. 32, (1970), 25-33
Boulter, S, and Everett, L, Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service, Dunwich Greyfriars (DUN 092 & 094): Archaeological Recording Works Associated with the Rebuilding of a Section of the Precinct Wall and Repairs to the Gateways and Refectory No.2008/52 (2009)
Boulter, S, and Everett, L, Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service, Dunwich Greyfriars (DUN 110): Archaeological Monitoring Report No.2012/123 (2012)
Boulter, S, Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service Report, Dunwich Greyfriars (DUN 025): Record of an Archaeological Evaluation Report No.99/21 (1999)
RCHME, Dunwich Greyfriars: An Archaeological Survey (1994), Report held in the Historic England Archive, Swindon
Sear, D, Murdock, A, LeBas, T, Baggaley, P and Gubbins, G, English Heritage Dunwich Project 5883 Final Report (2013)
Sear, D, Scaife, R and Langdon, C, Touching the Tide Project: Dunwich Land-based Archaeological Survey Report 2014-15 (2015)
Wessex Archaeology, Dunwich, Suffolk: Time Team Archaeological Evaluation and Assessment of Results, Report No.77505 (2012)

Source: Historic England

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