Dominican friary (remains of), and a section of the east precinct wall


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
The two scheduled areas lie between Foundation Street and Fore Street. West area: NGR: TM1663544331. East area: NGR: TM1667544313.
Statutory Address:
Blackfriars Court, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP4 1DY


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Statutory Address:
Blackfriars Court, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP4 1DY

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
The two scheduled areas lie between Foundation Street and Fore Street. West area: NGR: TM1663544331. East area: NGR: TM1667544313.
Ipswich (District Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


The scheduled remains of the Dominican friary, founded in 1263 by Henry III, including early to middle Saxon and later domestic occupation, as well as part of the C10 town defences.

Reasons for Designation

The remains of the church, sacristy and chapter house, of the Dominican friary founded in 1263, as well as a section of precinct wall to the west of Lower Orwell Street, are scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Period: the upstanding remains are characteristic of a Dominican friary church and associated structures, constrained to occupy a restricted site; they represent significant elements of the buildings of an urban monastic order immediately before the Reformation;

* Documentation: the site is particularly well documented both archaeologically and historically, and the significance and understanding of the surviving remains of the friary buildings are enhanced by the records of archaeological investigations carried out in the 1980s to exacting standards, and also by contemporary and later historical records;

* Group value: its remains represent the considerable presence of friaries and other religious houses in the urban landscape of the Middle Ages, both in Ipswich and in other towns and cities throughout England, and it has value as a comparator with other Dominican friaries, where they survive as records or as standing remains. It is also representative of the other religious houses of Ipswich: its shared boundary with the town defences, and its setting within a space determined by its urban location, are reminders of the close inter-relationship between social and religious aspects of life in the Middle Ages. The friary also forms a significant part of the rich and diverse nationally (and internationally) important archaeology of medieval Ipswich;

* Potential: the archaeological potential of the site is limited; although deposits may remain beneath the footings of the friary buildings and precinct wall, the main potential of the site is as a source of information, education and enjoyment of the historic environment.


Ipswich was one of a small number of trading settlements, generally known as emporia or wics, that were at the forefront of urban regeneration in England from the mid-C7 onwards: the most successful, and those most usually cited also include London (Lundenwic), Southampton (Hamwih), and York (Yorvik). Excavations undertaken between 1974 and 1990 on 34 sites across the Anglo-Saxon and medieval town and into the medieval suburbs have produced abundant evidence of settlement and industry, providing insight into the chronology, nature and form of settlement and the town’s significant pottery industry.

Archaeological evidence indicates that Anglo-Saxon Ipswich was a new settlement, established in the early C7 on an area of gravel and sand at the head of the Orwell estuary. Its origin pre-dates the beginnings of pottery production, in about AD 650, which exploited an extensive zone of London Clay to the north of the settlement and its cemetery. Excavation evidence indicates that in the early C8 the town expanded towards the potteries, over the cemetery, apparently establishing the present street pattern, with buildings seen lining the street frontage of St Stephen’s Lane. In the late C9 and early C10 a new type of cellared building was introduced, more widely spaced and set back from the street front, and this appears to have remained the dominant form throughout the C10 and C11. The first circuit of defences was constructed in the early C10, but by the mid-C11 the town had outgrown these to form suburbs, suggesting a thriving urban economy. By the late C11, however, both documentary and archaeological evidence indicate economic retraction, with cellared buildings in the Buttermarket and Foundation Street sites abandoned or destroyed, remaining waste until the C13. During the medieval period the town expanded again, with further growth of suburbs, but with much of the intramural area occupied by the churches and claustral buildings of the White (Carmelite), Grey (Franciscan) and Black (Dominican) Friars.

The Dominican Friary in Ipswich was founded in 1263 by Henry III, on a plot of land gifted to the friars by the king, with a second grant of land following in 1265. Over the next 100 years the Black Friars acquired land extending south to Star Lane, and from Foundation Street to the town wall. By the end of the C13 it housed as many as 50 friars, significantly reduced in number by 1538, when the friary was dissolved. After its dissolution the buildings were taken over by the grammar school which initially occupied the refectory, moving to the first floor of the dormitory in the east range in 1767, following the demolition of its former home. A plan and prospect drawn in 1748 by J Kirby shows the south wall of the church, the sacristy and chapter house (described by Kirby as the chapel), a garden or orchard on the site of the first cloister, the frater or refectory (described as the Grammar School) and a second cloister surrounded by buildings (probable former dormitory ranges). Excavations of 1979 and 1983-85, undertaken in advance of development of the site for housing, found evidence of modifications to these buildings as part of their conversion to school use. The school remained in the friary buildings until their demolition between 1842 and 1849. The site was later developed with terraced housing lining Foundation Street and the newly laid out School Street and Tooley Street. Christ’s Hospital School, to the north of School Street, opened between 1861 and 1864. The wall that formed the east boundary of the playground, referred to as the Standing Wall, was considered to be the remains of the sacristy.

In 1898 Miss N F Layard opened eight trenches, pursuing a stone wall and tiled floor, recording her findings in an article for the local paper. Her interpretation of the friary plan was revised by the result of excavations undertaken in 1976, which confirmed the plan proposed by R Gilyard-Beer. This was a correction to Kirby’s interpretation of the site, using his plan and prospect, C19 illustrations and other evidence. He describes the elements of the church, its relationship to the cloister and refectory, and proposes a second cloister to the south. The results of these excavations and Gilyard-Beer’s plan were published in the Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology of 1977.

Before the excavations of 1976 confirmed the plan of the friary buildings, the only scheduled element of the site was the upstanding wall. In 1978 the scheduling was revised, but the scheduling proposal coincided with the enquiry about a proposed new residential development. As a result in 1979 Scheduled Monument Consent was granted for extensive excavations in advance of the proposed development, and again between 1983-1985, as a result of planning consent and Scheduled Monument Consent being granted for redevelopment of the site for housing. These excavations found evidence of middle Saxon and later domestic occupation and also produced a complete plan of the north half of the friary. They also confirmed that the north end of the Standing Wall was a Victorian creation, but the south half was the Sacristy wall, repaired and partially rebuilt. In 1985-86, as the final stages of the excavation were completed, a revision to the scheduled area was prepared: this proposed the descheduling of the area south of School Street, and also of the east end of the monument north of school street, apart from the section of precinct wall immediately to the west of the junction of Lower Orwell Street and Fore Street. It also suggested the inclusion of the south-west corner of the friary church, previously under School Street. This amendment proposal was not carried forward, but following excavation, the walls of the friary church and the north end of the east claustral range were consolidated and left exposed as a monument, with a clear view along the length of the church, from west to east.


The scheduled area of the Dominican friary includes foundations and surviving walls of the friary church: the nave, walking place and choir, as well as the sacristy and chapter house to the south of the choir, and a section of precinct wall to the west of the junction of Lower Orwell Street and Fore Street.

The scheduled area occupies a roughly L shaped space laid to grass and paths. The friary walls are delineated by consolidated septaria and flint, with the ten aisle piers marked as squares in the same way; the walking place between choir and nave is a tarmacked path. The short arm of the L extends south into the space between housing blocks and contains the sacristy and chapter house. The foundations of the north wall of the church do not survive, and are not within the scheduled area, but the west and south wall stand up to about 0.25 metres. At the west end of the nave, the stonework that defines the altars to either side of the entrance to the walking place and choir stands to about the same height. A wall defining the east end of the choir, constructed of septaria and flint, roughly coursed, stands to about 1.5 metres. To either side of the west end of the choir are resonance chambers, marked out at ground level, but defined in part by a single course of stonework. There was a chapel to the south of the choir, but this is not defined by surviving masonry, and is not included in the scheduled area.

The sacristy is to the south of the west end of the choir. Its north and south walls stand up to 0.50 metres but the east wall, historically preserved as a boundary wall, stands to about 3.5 metres. The lower part of the east side of the wall is a patchwork of brick and stone, with septaria above. Its west face contains restored blind arcading with ashlar quoins, the four reconstructed arches of different form and height. The chapter house is attached to the south side of the sacristy, with north, east and part of its south wall remaining to about 0.50 metres.

About 20 metres to the east of the east wall of the choir is a short section of precinct wall, surviving as consolidated septaria to a height of about 0.30 metres. To the centre of the east side of the wall, its outer face, is a small semi-circular protrusion, described in the site summary as a small buttress or mock turret. In the course of excavation 42 metres of wall was exposed running from north to south. A further section of wall was discovered to the south at the Shire Hall Yard site in 1981-1982. It is considered that the west precinct wall lies under the pavement on the east side of Foundation Street.

The excavations that took place in 1979 and from 1983-85 found some evidence of prehistoric and Romano-British occupation, and of settlement from c.600 onwards. From c.720 settlement across the whole site, representing all periods before the construction of the Dominican friary, included pits, wells, boundary fences, as well as both sunken featured and surface post built structures. Evidence of industry was also found in the form of Mid-Late Saxon iron smelting hearths and part of the bank and ditch of the Late Saxon (c.900) town defences were discovered to the east of the site. Two cemeteries were also revealed, in one of which, to the north of the site, 95 burials were uncovered; its full extent was not exposed, and clearly continues to the north. The west claustral ranges of the friary, including the parlour and refectory were identified, and that part of the south claustral range within the excavated area was examined. Part of an intramural road running between the north and south gates of the friary was also exposed. All earlier examined archaeological deposits were fully excavated; the south and west claustral ranges are now under housing.

EXTENT OF SCHEDULING The scheduled area incorporates the plan of the friary church, including the nave and south aisle, the walking place, tower and choir, as well as the sacristy and chapter house to the south of the choir, set within a small park bounded to the north and south by housing. A freestanding section of the precinct wall to the east of the church, about 4 metres to the west of the junction of Lower Orwell Street and Fore Street is included within a separate area of protection. This measures about 5.5 metres in length, from north to south, and 2 metres across, at its widest point.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
SF 32
Legacy System:


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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