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Greyfriars Franciscan friary

A Scheduled Monument in Nelson, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.6052 / 52°36'18"N

Longitude: 1.7262 / 1°43'34"E

OS Eastings: 652397.950453

OS Northings: 307343.149535

OS Grid: TG523073

Mapcode National: GBR YQY.R70

Mapcode Global: WHNVZ.HS65

Entry Name: Greyfriars Franciscan friary

Scheduled Date: 26 June 1924

Last Amended: 24 July 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017910

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21443

County: Norfolk

Electoral Ward/Division: Nelson

Built-Up Area: Great Yarmouth

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Great Yarmouth

Church of England Diocese: Norwich


The monument includes the upstanding ruins and buried remains of part of the
church and associated monastic buildings of Greyfriars Franciscan friary, with
additions and alterations relating to their conversion to secular use in the
16th and 17th centuries, after the dissolution of the friary. These remains
are situated within the medieval walled town of Great Yarmouth, adjacent to
South Quay on the east side of the estuary of the River Yare.

The earliest known reference to the friary, which is said to have been founded
by Sir William Gerbrigge, is in 1271, although it is thought that the
Franciscans were established in Great Yarmouth soon after 1226. The original
precinct was enlarged in 1285, 1291 and 1356 by taking in adjacent land to the
north and south, and eventually extended from South Quay on the west side to
Greyfriars Way (formerly Middlegate Street) on the east, and from Row 83 on
the north side to Row 96 (now under Yarmouth Way) on the south. The friary was
suppressed in 1538 and the property granted to Thomas Cromwell. Following his
downfall in 1540, it was given by the Crown to Sir Richard Williams, who later
sold it. In 1569 it was acquired by the Great Yarmouth Corporation, and during
the later 16th century parts of the premises were leased to various prominent
and wealthy townspeople; a condition of one lease in 1582 was that important
visitors to the town should be lodged there. Part of the precinct was also
used at this time for the mustering of the Train Bands (civilian militia). In
1657 the whole site was sold to John Woodroffe, on condition that he
constructed two new rows across it (Row 92 and Queen Street). It was
subsequently sold and developed piecemeal, but some of the medieval walls were
incorporated in 17th century and later buildings. The standing remains of the
cloister were opened up towards the end of the 19th century, and other parts
have been exposed and restored since 1945. Substantial buried footings of the
friary church and the friary precinct walls to east and west of it were also
located beneath Queen Street in 1896, during the excavation of a sewer trench.

The standing ruins, which are in the care of the Secretary of State, include
part of the south wall of the church and the western alley of the adjoining
cloister (both Listed Grade I), and walls relating to various buildings
infilling the area to the south of the church and west of the cloister. To the
east and north east of these, and included within the area of protection, are
buried remains relating to the east end of the church, and the eastern part of
the cloister and associated claustral buildings. The standing walls display
evidence of a complex sequence of alterations and additions of medieval and
later date, including various blocked and inserted openings. The walls are
constructed of mortared flint rubble, much of it including or patched with
varying amounts of random brick and stone, with dressings of freestone and
brick, and with insertions of brickwork of early post-medieval and later type.

The friary church, as recorded in 1896, had an overall length of approximately
57m east-west, and its maximum width is estimated to have been around 17.5m.
The frontages of buildings along the north side of Queen Street follow the
approximate line of the north wall and are said to have been built, in part,
above medieval foundations. The church walls uncovered in 1896 were up to 1m
thick and built of mortared flint rubble, faced externally with cut flint
above a freestone plinth. At the east end of the church were found remains of
a vaulted crypt which extended to a depth of more than 2.7m below the modern
ground surface and below the level of the excavations for the sewer. There is
no evidence for the existence of transepts, which were not normally a feature
of friary churches, but the width of the building suggests that the nave,
which was the public part of the church, was aisled on at least one side. The
exposed remains of part of the south wall of the nave or nave aisle stand to a
height of up to 8m. The northern, inner face, which is accessible through a
modern door at the base of the wall, includes two well-preserved tomb
recesses, lined with ashlar beneath cusped arches. These are dated to the late
14th or early 15th century. The eastern recess is surmounted by an elaborately
moulded canopy, and there are remains of a similar canopy over the second,
although this has been largely removed by the insertion of a 16th century
fireplace, the back of which projects from the wall over the tombs and is
faced with ashlar and brick. Traces of paint survive on the medieval
stonework, including parts of a figurative scene on the back of the western
recess. Part of a stone coffin within the same recess is exposed on the outer
face of the wall, above an inserted opening which is now blocked. The exterior
face of the wall displays features relating to more than one phase of building
during the medieval period, including the ashlar plinth and quoins of an
original buttress, with traces of a second buttress approximately 5m to the
east of it. The remains of the western buttress marks the south western corner
of what was probably the original west end of the church. At the corresponding
point on the opposite face of the wall is the stub of a north-south wall,
thought to be the remains of the original west wall, and beyond this point the
south wall of the church continues on a slightly different alignment.

The remains of the rectangular cloister are immediately to the south of the
church, abutting the east end which contained the friars' choir and the
presbytery. Around it would have been ranged the principal monastic
apartments. A part of the plinth of the inner (north) wall of the south
cloister alley survives above ground, and it is thought that the areas to the
south and east of this contain buried remains of the south range where,
according to monastic custom, the refectory was normally situated, and of the
east range, containing the friars' dormitory and the chapter house, where the
business of the friary was discussed. Four bays of the west cloister alley
still stand, wholly or in part, and opposite the southern end of it are the
lower jambs of a doorway which probably communicated with the southern range.
The alley, which has been dated to the 14th century, was elaborately vaulted
in stone, with moulded ribs and bosses, and although the vaulting of the two
southern bays was largely demolished by a bomb during World War II, that of
the two bays to the north remains intact, together with part of a chamber or
chambers above. The upper range was lit by rectangular, internally splayed
windows with stone surrounds, one of which survives intact in the east wall,
together with the jambs of three others. There is another internally splayed
window with a segmental arch at the northern end of the west wall, and to the
south of this, two larger openings, one with surviving stone jambs. The east
wall of the alley beneath includes the two northern arches of the arcade which
faced onto the cloister garth, and the sill of another, with two external
buttresses and part of a third between the bays. Medieval features in the west
wall opposite include a blocked door opening and a second, smaller doorway
with a moulded arch and chamfered jambs immediately to the south of it, both
in the northernmost bay, a third doorway in the adjoining bay, and the jambs
and part of the arch of a fourth in the southernmost bay. In addition to
these, there are also features relating to 17th century or later alterations,
including a blocked rectangular doorway in the second bay from the north, with
a sill at the level of the post-medieval floor, which was some 1.2m above that
of the medieval friary.

These doorways in the west wall communicate with an east-west and a north-
south range of buildings, both of two storeys, constructed against the west
side of the cloister and the south wall of the church respectively, the north
end of the one abutting the east end of the other. The ruined walls of these
ranges, which stand to varying heights between approximately 2.75m and 6.5m,
display evidence for several episodes of construction and alteration in the
medieval and post-medieval periods, as well as details of internal structures
such as vaulting, traces of which can be seen on the west face of the west
wall of the cloister and on the south face of the church wall, where the
arches of the vaults were keyed into the masonry. The medieval doorway in the
southernmost bay of the cloister opens into the remains of a short passage
through the southern end of the adjoining range. The doorway at the opposite
(western) end of the passage is of brick, and immediately to the south of
this, in the western face of the wall, can be seen the stone jamb of an
earlier doorway which it replaced. In the south wall of the passage is
another arched doorway with a stone surround. Above the passage, at first
floor level, are remains of a small upper chamber or passage of two bays
vaulted in brick. Although much of the vaulting was destroyed in the bombing,
the carved stone corbels which supported it, together with the springing of
the ribs of the vault, survive on the inner faces of the north and west walls.
In each of the two bays in the north wall is an arched opening, off-centre in
relation to the arch of the vault above and perhaps predating it, which
communicated with another upper chamber beyond. The western of these
openings is partly blocked by later brickwork and contains an inserted
rectangular window frame. Another arched doorway with a moulded brick surround
in the western wall must have given access to further apartments beyond, in
what is now an open area, enclosed on the west and south sides by wall
footings of mortared flint. In the western face of the same wall there are
other features relating to these apartments, including blocked and altered
niches for lamps and an inserted fireplace and chimney stack of 16th century
type at first floor level, similar to that inserted in the wall of the church.

The south wall of the range along the south side of the church abuts the west
face of the rear wall of the cloister alley, immediately to the north of the
doorway in the second bay of the cloister. It runs parallel to the wall of
the church at a distance of approximately 5m. This south wall displays remains
of various features of medieval type, as well as blocked openings of later
date. Embedded in the masonry near the eastern end is the stone sill of a
mullioned window, with a relieving arch above it. The internal splay of this
window is on the north side, and the external face is within the area enclosed
by the western wall of the western claustral range showing that the window
probably predates the construction of the latter in its surviving form. The
stone jamb of an upper storey opening can be seen towards the western end of
the same wall, as well as the outline of a blocked fireplace which is not an
original feature and was probably inserted in the early post-medieval period.
The fireplace, which relates to a ground floor apartment, perhaps a kitchen,
to the south, shows evidence of alteration and is itself cut by a later
doorway, now also blocked.

The building alongside the church is thought to have been divided internally
by a north-south wall which no longer stands, although the scar can be seen in
the south face of the church wall, to the east of the inserted fireplace and
chimney. At the western end of the building is another north-south wall which
abuts the church wall over the remains of the southern buttress. In the upper
part of this wall, at first floor level, are the chamfered brick sills and
parts of the jambs and mullions of two windows, and below these is a large
inserted window of 17th century type, with moulded timber frame and mullions
and the remains of a carved bracket on the eastern face. The line of the
south wall of the building is continued westwards by another wall, offset
slightly to the north, which includes at its eastern end the west jamb and
part of the arch of a doorway of medieval type with a moulded stone surround,
now partly blocked. Above and to the west of this is a blocked window with
timber frame and mullions. The western part of this wall, which displays other
blocked openings of various dates, including a lamp niche, and an adjoining
section of wall which is faced with flints and brick and extends northwards to
butt against the church wall (both of which are included in the scheduling)
are incorporated in the lower part of the south wall and eastern gable end of
a later building, no 9 South Quay, which is not otherwise included.

The modern walls, railings and gate, the English Heritage information board,
the modern stairway and platform which give access to the inner, north face of
the church wall, car park surfaces, barriers and bollards, road surfaces and
pavements, lamp-posts and other street furniture are all excluded from the
scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A friary is an institution housing a community of friars. The friars (from the
Latin "frater" meaning "brother") were a novel religious movement which began
in Italy in the late 12th century and which advocated a "mendicant" life-
style. Owning no property of their own, they lived by moving from community to
community begging for the alms and gifts of benefactors as they went. Unlike
the older monastic orders, who were dedicated to a continuous round of prayer
within a single monastery, the friars main concerns were preaching, evangelism
and learning as they moved from friary to friary. Friaries were established in
England from the early 13th century onwards, the first houses being founded in
Canterbury, London and Oxford during 1224. By the time of the dissolution of
the religious orders in the 1530s approximately 189 friaries had been founded
for a number of different groups of friars, each with their individual
missions. The most important groups were the Franciscans (the Greyfriars), who
eventually established some 60 houses, the Dominicans (the Blackfriars -
represented by 50 houses), the Carmelites (the Whitefriars with 41 houses) and
the Augustinians or Austin Friars who had a similar number. In addition to
these large groups there were a number of smaller ones: the Crutched Friars (9
houses), the Friars of the Sack (17 houses), the Pied Friars (3 houses) and
the Trinitarian Friars (5 houses).
The sites chosen by or for friaries were usually within towns, often in the
less valuable, marginal areas. Here the friars laid out groups of buildings
with many components found on older monastic sites, though the restricted
sites sometimes necessitated unconventional building plans. The buildings were
centred on a church and a cloister and usually contained a refectory (dining
hall), a chapter house and an infirmary (for the care of the sick). The
buildings were set within a precinct defined by other properties or by its own
purpose built wall, but the public were not totally excluded. The naves of the
friary churches, in particular, were designed to accommodate large public
gatherings assembled to hear the friars preach.
Friaries made a great contribution to later medieval life, in the towns
particularly, and their remains add greatly to our understanding of the close
inter-relationship between social and religious aspects of life in the high
Middle Ages. All examples which exhibit significant surviving archaeological
remains are worthy of protection.

Greyfriars in Great Yarmouth is a good example of a Franciscan friary on an
urban site, typical in several respects and remarkable in others. The
precinct, the final extent of which is known, was large for a site in the
centre of a medieval walled town, and was accommodated within the layout of
narrow passages or `rows' which was a distinctive feature of urban development
in Great Yarmouth during the medieval period. The vaulted cloister alley is
unusually elaborate for a friary, and this perhaps reflects the prosperity of
the community upon which the friars chiefly depended for their support.
However, the range above the cloister walk was a common feature of such urban
monastic sites, where space was limited. Although only one wall of the friary
church remains standing above ground, the tomb niches and associated wall
painting on the inner face of that wall are of particular interest. The
surviving walls of the church, cloister and associated buildings are extremely
complex structurally, and retain valuable information about the development of
the friary buildings during the medieval period, and about the adaptation of
the buildings for secular use in the 16th century and the further remodelling
and building which took place in the 17th century. The modern ground surface
has been shown to be 1m or more above that of the medieval period, and buried
archaeological deposits in the areas of the monument to the east, north and
north east of the standing ruins will retain further evidence relating to the
friary church and cloister, to supplement that which was recorded in the late
19th century. As a monument in the care of the Secretary of State, maintained
for public display, the friary is also a valuable educational resource.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Cox, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Norfolk, (1906), 436-437
Moss, N, Penn, K, Smith, R, Watt, , , D, Greyfriars, Middlegate Street, Great Yarmouth (revised edn), (1977)
Moss, N, Penn, K, Smith, R, Watt, , , D, Greyfriars, Middlegate Street, Great Yarmouth (revised edn), (1977)
Palmer, C J, The Perlustration of Great Yarmouth (three volumes) Volume 2, (1874), 89-95
Bately, J, Palmer, F D, Olley, H, 'Norfolk Archaeology' in Recent Discoveries on the Site of the Grey Friars, Gt Yarmouth, , Vol. 13, (1898), 29-32
Rutledge, P, 'Norfolk Archaeology' in Thomas Damer and the Historiography of Great Yarmouth, , Vol. 23, (1965), 121

Source: Historic England

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