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Guide to Richmond » Friary Tower and Gardens

The 15th century tower, one of the town's oldest monuments, dominates the Friary Memorial Gardens and holds a position of great importance in the history and development of the town.

From the Market Place, Friar's Wynd takes you through one of the two remaining medieval gateways, past the Georgian Theatre to the Friary Gardens where the fine Franciscan Friary bell tower, built by the Greyfriars of Richmond, still stands. The Greyfriars tower represents the northernmost surviving monument to their great, if short lived, impact upon the religious and social life of England.

Dating back to the late 15th century, the Tower originally formed part of an expansion of the Friary which was first established by the Franciscan Order in 1257/8 on land granted by Ralph Fitz Randal, Lord of Middleham.

Friary Gardens ©Moonburst

A visit to the Friary Gardens is a must for any visitor to the town - especially in the spring and summer taking advantage of the beautiful, well-kept gardens.

The site is unique in that so much of the building has survived to the modern day. See more about the Friary Tower restoration 2001-3 (archive on Richmond Online)

The Richmond Greyfriars and their History

An extensive archaeological investigation and report has revealed much more about the site and the Greyfriars who built it.

The Franciscan Greyfriars or Friars Minor, were a particular product of the intense religious demand for a return to the simple message of the Gospels which enveloped Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries. Relinquishing worldly possessions, living by begging and charged with ministering and preaching to the people, the Greyfriars purposefully targeted centres of population. Therefore unlike many other Orders, the sites of their buildings are to be found in urban locations. From their arrival in England in 1224, the Order spread remarkably rapidly, and by the end of the century some 54 houses had been established. Perhaps their lives of poverty and hardship appealed to the people, for they certainly appear to have been well supported. In Yorkshire houses were established at Beverley, Doncaster, Scarborough and Richmond.

Friary Tower, Richmond

The Richmond house was established in 1257. A lawsuit dating from 1386-87, gives a detailed picture of the Friary at that time. In addition to the church, the inventory lists a guest-house (about 50 years old), a washroom 'where the friars commonly wash themselves when they come to the house tired and weary', a building called 'les studies' next to the dormitory, the refectory and 'le parlour'.

Recent archaeological investigations undertaken by On-Site Archaeology (York) (see below), have confirmed that very extensive remains survive below the surface, confirming the importance of the Richmond site in archaeological terms. The close relationship to urban centres explains why so little of the Greyfriars architecture remains, with the sites often falling victim to extensive stone robbing following the Dissolution - in Richmond's case, 1538. That so much has survived both above and below ground is why the Richmond site is so important both historically and archaeologically, being the most northerly surviving monument to their great, but short lived, impact upon religious and social life in England.

The recent work suggests that the former Headmasters House may well be founded upon or incorporate part of an original building, and not a structure dating from the 16 th century as thought. Whilst more work is required to complete the jigsaw, particularly survey of the lawned area to the south of the Headmasters House, the investigations have revealed valuable information.

I feel sure that the Greyfriars would feel comforted in the knowledge that following the opening of the Community Hospital, the spirit and purpose of the Friary has returned as it again tends to the needs of the people.

David Elliott

A History of the Richmond Greyfriars

Taken from On-Site Archeology (York) Report (April 1999)

St Francis

The Franciscan Greyfriars or Friars Minor, both names indicative of their poverty and humility, were a particular phenomenon of the religious fervour for a return to the simple message of the Gospels which marked Europe of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The Greyfriars tower of Richmond represents the northernmost surviving monument to their great, if short lived, impact upon the religious and social life of England.

Eschewing all possessions, living by begging and charged with ministering and preaching to the people, the Franciscan missions, unlike many of the other religious orders, were purposely targeted at centres of population. In Yorkshire houses were established at Beverley, Doncaster, Scarborough and Richmond. Their urban location has contributed to the disappearance of much of the Franciscan architecture of England, for with the Dissolution these sites rapidly became convenient quarries for the towns within which they were located.

From their arrival in England in 1224 the spread of the Order was very rapid and by 1230 sixteen houses had been founded, with that number rising to 54 by the end of the century. Although not large or important enough to merit a mission in the first wave, the house at Richmond was founded in 1257-8 on land granted by Ralph Fitz Randal, Lord of Middleham. The house subsequently came under the patronage of the Scrope family and the date of the foundation is apparently confirmed by the celebrated lawsuit of Scrope vs. Grosvenor 1386-87, during which the date of 1258 was affirmed on the authority of a lost chronicle of the Richmond Franciscans. The lawsuit concerned the two parties' rival claims to bear the arms, azure, a bend or. To back the (ultimately successful) claims of the Scrope family a common seal of the Franciscans of Richmond bearing these arms was submitted to the court, as was a detailed inventory of the buildings of the friary where those arms were displayed in stained glass windows and on wooden boards. The detailed picture of the friary at the end of the fourteenth century, which emerges from this inventory is interesting both for the insights it provides into the life of the friary and for the indications of the development of the complex over time. Apart from the church the inventory lists a guest-house (then fifty years old, i.e. built c. 1340), a washroom 'where the friars commonly wash themselves when they come to the house tired and weary', a building called 'les studies' next to the dormitory, the refectory and 'le parlour'. Other significant evidence for the growth of the friary over time is the grant of a licence to acquire 4 acres from Sir Richard le Scrope and William de Huddleswell for 'the enlargement of their property' in 1364. A further 1.5 acres of meadows adjoining their house was acquired from the Neville family in 1383 (Martin, 1937).

The importance of the role played by the Friary in the social and religious life of Richmond from the thirteenth century until the Dissolution in 1539 is attested to by a number of events and references. The Franciscan emphasis on preaching ensured that their sermons appealed to the people's desire for spectacle and entertainment as well as salvation, and in consequence these were generally well attended. Early on at least the people were also impressed by the friars' lives of poverty and hardship. That this popularity with the common people continued until much later is attested to by the comments of one of the leaders of the Peasant's Revolt of 1381, Jack Straw, that the clergy could be dispensed with and the people's spiritual needs met by the friars (Little 1917). At Richmond this popularity and a growing congregation fuelled by an expanding population (at least before the calamitous Black Death of 1348-50) is suggested too by the enlargement of the friary church into a south aisle during the fourteenth century.

On a practical front the friars' concerns with practical work that could also benefit the wider community found particular expression in the creation of sophisticated systems of water supply. In many of the medieval towns this was the first time such systems had been attempted, and Leland in the early sixteenth century confirms that this too was the case with Richmond;

There is a conducte of water at the Grey Freres, els there is tione in Richemount
(Toulmin Smith 1907-10, p.25)

Whether it was the presence of the water supply or the desire to hear the sermons of the friars, contact between the town and the friary was sufficient to merit the insertion of a postern gate through the town wall. This postern survives in one of the few surviving stretches of the town wall, built from 1313 onwards to keep Scottish raiders at bay, whilst the medieval route between the friary and the market place is preserved as the present-day Friars Wynd. The importance of the friary in medieval local affairs is suggested by the fact that in 1314-15, at the same time as the construction of the town wall, the Archbishop of York sent instructions to the Warden of the friary to preach against the Scots and rouse the people to resist (Martin 1937)

The initial popularity of the Friars Minor and their success in attracting wealthy benefactors and legacies, in the face of often strenuous opposition from the other religious orders, contributed to a great expansion of building between 1270 and 1320. The scale and opulence of these buildings inevitably led to the erosion of their original ideals of poverty and of St. Francis' vision of a community needing only humble churches and dwellings of mud and wood. Already by 1260 the Order had become aware of the spiritual dangers inherent in extravagant churches and friaries of stone, adorned with stained glass and paid for by devout benefactors. The General Constitutions of that year expressly instruct that the bell tower 'shall in future nowhere be made in the shape of a tower', whilst the second provincial minister of England, Albert of Pisa, actually demolished the stone cloisters of Southampton 'though with great difficulty as the men of the town resisted' (Martin 1937, p.3 1). The pressure from these benefactors however, coupled with the rigours of the British climate and perhaps a less hardy calibre of recruits available to the friars after the Black Death had ravaged Europe ml 348-50, proved too strong. Even the third provincial minister, William of Nottingham, had already admitted that it was wise to make buildings fairly large so that in the future the friars would not make them even bigger.

By the later part of the thirteenth century the lavish stone buildings of the friars were beginning to attract adverse comment. Matthew Paris compared them to royal palaces, and in describing the Franciscan buildings at Bury remarked that 'all who beheld them were struck with amazement at the sudden expenditure of so much money by those poor brethren, persons who professed voluntary poverty' (Martin 1937, p.1 1). William of St. Amour went further, complaining indeed that the friars were worse than the devil, for while the devil proposed to turn stones into bread the friars actually turned the bread of the poor into stones (Little 1917, p.63). After the Dissolution the translation of this resentment into a physical destruction of the friars' buildings, coupled with their urban location, has contributed as at Richmond, to the virtual disappearance of Franciscan architecture in England.

The descriptions contained within the Scrope vs. Grosvenor case of 1385-7 and the surviving architecture of the friary church suggests that Richmond followed this pattern of thirteenth century expansion and lavishness. References to stained glass windows at both ends of the church probably refer to the addition of the south aisle, whilst the information that these windows and the entire guest-house were at that time 50 years old suggests a major programme of works which can thus be dated to the end of the great period of Franciscan building in England in the first half of the fourteenth century. The obvious addition of the south aisle and the references to other parts of the church and buildings of the friary dating variously 'to the foundation' and to 100 or 120 years previously do however support the view that the first church and friary erected under the patronage of Ralph Fitz Randal were significant and substantial structures.

References concerning the later history of the friary are sparse, and the major architectural change seems to have been the insertion of the surviving Gothic bell tower, probably in the latter part of the fifteenth century, over 'the walking place', the passage between nave and quire which allowed the friars to pass from the cloister directly into the chancel or through the church to the town. Despite their express prohibition in 1260 these towers seem to have been an almost universal feature of the Franciscan churches of England and one which rather reflected the tastes of their patrons than the strictures of the provincial ministers. The tower at Richmond probably replaced an earlier timber belfry.

At the time of its surrender to the King's Commissioners on 19th January 1539 the friary was occupied by 13 priests and the warden, Dr. Robert Sanderson. The numbers hint already at a decline in the fortunes of the friary from a figure probably nearer 30 in the early fourteenth century. The land passed to Ralph Gower on a twenty-one year lease, and the final item of a rather melancholy inventory of the friary lands and properties, each with their respective rental values, supports the view of a community whose original vibrant presence and message in the town was by now almost forgotten.

There be ii cotags adjoining the Freres Wall besyds Punfold Grene, now in decay for lak of repa 'con, nihil.
(which incidentally appears to confirm that the precinct was enclosed within a perimeter wall)

By the beginning of the seventeenth century the estate was in the hands of Sir Timothy Hutton of Marske Hall, and some indication of the forni of his house can be gained from the room by room inventory of his possessions which took place on his death in 1629. His son sold on the Friary to Leonard Robinson in 1634, and it remained in the Robinson family until the end of the nineteenth century.

The Robinson family made extensive alterations to the house and gardens at the end of the eighteenth century during the conversion of the estate to racing stables recorded in Bradley's plan of the friarage estate of 1818 and mentioned also in contemporary sources. Detailed consideration of the cartographic record of these changes is made below in conjunction with the archaeological evidence recovered from the watching brief The broad picture is of a division of the site into its family aspect, grouped around the old wing with gardens incorporating the picturesque bell tower, and a new working stables area to the north, distinct from the house and accessed from the west by a separate gate.

The long association of the Friary with Richmond School began in 1888 with a 14 year lease on the Friary and its Lodge to provide accommodation for the headmaster. The estate itself was sold to the Marquess of Zetland in 1892, who subsequently in 1899 sold the Friary building to Richmond School for £2400. The old wing was extensively remodelled inside and a new eastern wing added which forms the present front elevation of the building. This wing, designed by Clark and Moscrop of Darlington, contained a dining hall, dormitories and studies and was opened in 1900.

© 1999 On-site Archaeology

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