The Dominican Friary (Blackfriars) Norwich: Becket’s Chapel, Chapter House, North Range, standing remains in the East Garth, and buried remains


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
The monument is centred on: TG 23139 08825.


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

Location Description:
The monument is centred on: TG 23139 08825.
Norwich (District Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


A medieval friary including the chapter house; Becket’s Chapel; the remains of the north range; the standing remains within glass panels within the East Garth; and the buried remains beneath the wider site including the church and claustral complex.

Reasons for Designation

The Dominican friary (Blackfriars), Norwich, a medieval friary built from the C13 onwards, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Survival: as the most complete surviving medieval friary in England; * Rarity: as one of only 15 medieval friaries to retain substantial upstanding remains in England; * Architectural interest: the claustral complex represents an early use of brickwork in medieval England, whilst Becket’s Chapel and the chapter house also retain C13 and C14 architectural details such as vault responds, a piscina, and window openings; * Potential: archaeological investigation has indicated that the site retains a high degree of archaeological potential including buried remains and archaeological deposits surviving to over 4m deep; * Documentation: the history and archaeology of the friary is well documented, which adds interest by providing a valuable contribution to our knowledge and understanding of the site; * Group value: by association with the Grade I listed buildings of the friary and proximity with the adjacent listed buildings on Elm Hill, St Georges Street and Princes Street, including the St Peter Hungate Church.


A friary was established on this site by the Penitential Friars in 1258 but was later taken over by the Dominicans and occupied until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538. A friary was an institution housing a community of friars. The friars (from the Latin ‘frater’ meaning ‘brother’) were a religious movement which advocated a ‘mendicant’ lifestyle, of absolute poverty, supported exclusively by begging and the gift of alms. Friars lived in the community, preaching and undertaking charitable works, often moving from town to town. Nevertheless, they did establish permanent bases; friaries, from which, unlike monks, they emerged to fulfil their mission. The buildings 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). Five orders of friars established friaries in Norwich: the Dominicans (known by the colour of their robes as ‘Black Friars’), the Franciscans (‘Grey Friars’), Carmelites (‘White Friars’), Austin Friars and the Penitential Friars (‘Sack Friars’).

The Dominicans were founded by St Dominic in 1218 as a religious order committed to learning and preaching. They arrived in England in 1221 and reached Norwich five years later, establishing a friary to the north of the river Wensum, between what is now Colegate Street and Golden Dog Lane. In 1307 they took over the buildings of the Penitential Friars, south of the River Wensum, after that order was supressed by Pope Clement V. A church and other buildings already existed; the C13 chapel (originally dedicated to St Mary but subsequently re-dedicated to St Thomas-a-Becket) and an adjacent vestibule (now known as ‘The Crypt’) still survive today. The Dominicans remodelled these buildings; inserting brick vaulted ceilings to support upper floors. They obtained the surrounding properties and expanded the friary. It eventually included the area between the river on the north, Princes Street on the south, St George’s Street on the west and Monastery Lane and Elm Hill on the east. A new cloister was constructed with a covered walkway and four ranges built around an open courtyard (the cloister garth). On the east side was a dorter (dormitory) and chapter house, on the west was a frater (refectory), and at the north were probably kitchens and storerooms. From c1327 a church dedicated to St John the Baptist was built at the south (on the present site of St Andrew’s Hall and Blackfriars’ Hall). The west end could only be completed after 1345 when royal sanction was given to construct over two roads; one that continued the line of Elm Hill westward and another at right angles to it.

In 1413 a serious fire broke out in Norwich. Two friars were killed and the Dominican’s church and conventual buildings suffered severe damage. They temporarily moved back to their original site across the river until 1449 while carrying out rebuilding. The church was reconstructed between c1440 and 1470 but incorporated several windows of the earlier building. It comprised a large nave and chancel separated by a cross passage (the ‘walking place’), which was surmounted by a tower. The nave is now St Andrew’s Hall and the chancel is Blackfriars’ Hall. Many of Norwich’s wealthiest families donated towards its construction, including the Appleyards, Wetherbys and Cliftons. The Dominicans used both the church and a preaching yard to the south to deliver lectures and sermons. The Friary possessed an extensive library and there is evidence that there was a regular school of philosophy and lectures open to local parish priests and clergy. The Friars performed the usual offices (church services) but welcomed the public to their evening service of compline. An anchoress was housed within the friary and led a life dedicated to prayer, meditation and counselling. The first recorded is Katherine Foster who lived in a cell north of the chancel in 1472; three arched recesses survive of this building. By the 1530s the friary suffered a decline and several possessions and properties were sold off. Part of the churchyard was leased to a haberdasher, William Alman, who was licenced to build a house provided he threw ‘nothing filthy’ from his windows.

In 1538 the friary was suppressed as part of the Dissolution, and the furnishings sold. It was purchased by the City Council; the mayor, Augustine Steward, paying £81 in 1540 and a further £152 in 1544. He proposed ‘To make the churche a fayer and large halle, well pathed, for the mayor and his bretherne…for their common assemblyes…to fynd a perpetual free-scole therin’ and to keep a chapel ‘to pray to Almightye God’. The building was repaved, lodgings built at the east, and three chambers added over the south porch for the priest. Part of the preaching yard was leased out as a garden. The nave of the church was converted into an assembly hall called the ‘New Hall’ and used for a variety of purposes including: ceremonial feasts, Guild meetings, as a corn market, as Assize Courts, and for receptions. The walls were white-washed, benches built between the pillars, and the crossing arch blocked up. The Norwich City Library was established in the south porch (rebuilt in 1774), which became the first public lending library in the country in 1716 but later moved in 1794. Several buildings were constructed around the west porch. An inventory records a pantry, buttery, kitchen, ‘scalding house’ (for preparing meat), backhouse, ‘buttying house’ (for sifting bran and flour), wet and dry larders and a counting house. The chancel became a municipal and guild chapel. In the later C16 there was a large influx of Dutch and French-speaking Protestant refugees into Norwich, bringing particular skills in textile production. The Dutch population (also known as ‘strangers’ or ‘walloons’) began to use the chancel from 1579, which became known as the ‘Dutch Church’, and services continued in Dutch until 1929.

The cloister was used for a range of purposes after the Dissolution. The Earl of Warwick stabled his horses at the site in 1549 whilst on his way to suppress Kett’s rebellion. During the later C16 the refectory was used as a granary and part of the cloister was used by the Norwich Grammar School. Several buildings were used to examine and seal cloths produced by the Walloon weavers. The reredorter (lavatories) was converted into a water cistern, occasionally used as a swan pen. A pulpit and seats were installed in the preaching yard, which became known as the Green Yard. The east range became a place of worship used by Presbyterians from 1672 and Baptists from 1689. A mint was established within the cloister during the Great Recoinage of 1696. In 1712 a hexagonal tower positioned over the cross passage of the church dramatically collapsed. The buildings were repaired (albeit without the tower) and continued to serve civic functions. From 1712 to 1859 part of the cloister served as a workhouse. St Andrew’s Hall became the venue of a triennial music festival; The Norfolk and Norwich Festival, in 1824.

Two major restorations were undertaken in the C19. In 1861 the cloister was altered: the exterior walls were repaired in brick; new windows and a second floor added above the south cloister walk to provide ‘Hall Keeper’s apartments’; the west elevation of the west range was refaced with polychrome brick, the upper floor heightened, a stair turret added at the east, and a small enclosed garden created at the west (resulting in the demolition of several buildings). The north range of the cloister may also have been demolished at this time; maps indicate that it was torn down between 1762 and 1885. In 1863 the City Surveyor, T.D. Barry, carried out major changes to St Andrew’s Hall: a new arch was inserted at the east end and the organ placed beneath it; the west front was refenestrated; the south porch reconstructed; buttresses on the north side repaired; the windows restored; the internal piers and arches restored; the ceiling redecorated; replastering and re-pointing carried out; and new ‘retiring rooms’ for performers built between the hall and south cloister walkway. Becket’s chapel was partly demolished in 1876 and a new organ installed in St Andrew’s Hall in 1880 (restored in 1927 and 1984). In 1899 a Technical Institute was built to the north of the cloister (now Norwich University of the Arts). Blackfriars’ Hall was utilised by the Royal Engineers during the First World War. A new wooden floor was inserted after the war and the roofs of both halls were repaired.

In 1915 the former friary was scheduled. It was one of the first sites in Norfolk to be scheduled, as indicated by its original old county number: Norfolk 4. In 1954 the standing buildings were Grade I listed. The east window of Blackfriars’ Hall was restored in 1959. A programme of alterations were undertaken in the 1970s and 1980s including: the excavation and repair of Becket’s Chapel; redecoration of Blackfriar’s Hall with oak panelling to display civic portraits; a new stage, pull out seating and double glazing in St Andrew’s Hall; a bar inserted into the cross passage; further restoration of the cloisters, and conversion of the vestibule next to Becket’s Chapel into a café. In 1988 the first floor of the south porch was re-plastered and remains of an earlier porch discovered within the structure. The East Garth building was refurbished in 2011 and a lift inserted. The two halls continue to serve many purposes in 2016; as a venue for conferences, antique fairs, markets, weddings, concerts and an annual beer festival. The east and west ranges (East and West Garth) are used by Norwich University of the Arts.

INVESTIGATION HISTORY In 1911 excavations were carried out by the architect Percy Nash for the City Corporation within the cloister, including the east range and chapter house. The internal wall of the east cloister walk and several partition walls were uncovered. Some of these were levelled after being exposed. Nash also uncovered a well and, what he interpreted, as a Roman quay. An architectural survey was undertaken in 1951 by F.C. Elliston Erwood and a detailed plan completed. Becket’s Chapel was excavated and exposed in 1958 by Charles Green for the Ministry of Works (covered by a polycarbonate roof in 1983). He also uncovered a Late Saxon pit next to the chapel. In 1974 the north range was excavated, uncovering the walls and seven inhumations. Archaeological evaluations or watching briefs were carried out at the south-west corner of the cloister in 1991, at the south and west of the cloister in 1992, within St Andrew’s Hall in 1998, and in the East Garth in 2011, which revealed further structural remains of the cloister walkway. A watching brief to the south of St Andrew’s Hall in 2007 recorded ten medieval inhumations, as well as post-medieval garden walls. An evaluation in 2009 revealed medieval pits in the car park east of the cloister and several C16 and later pits to the south of St Andrew’s Hall. A ground penetrating radar survey was undertaken revealing the east wall of the chapter house and the walls of further buildings within the car park.


PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS A medieval friary originally constructed by the Friars Penitential in the C13 but largely rebuilt by the Dominicans in the C14 and C15. The monument includes: the chapter house; Becket’s Chapel; the remains of the north range; the standing remains within glass panels within the East Garth; and the buried remains beneath the wider site including the church and claustral complex.

FRIARY PLAN The Dominicans’ church is located south of the cloister; the nave is now St Andrew’s Hall and the chancel is Blackfriars’ Hall, with a cross passage (the ‘walking place’) between them. The cloister is situated at an angle to it, with a narrow space between, and forms a parallelogram rather than a square. It originally had four ranges with covered walkways on each side surrounding an open courtyard; the cloister garth. The east, south and west ranges remain as upstanding buildings (albeit with later alterations) but only low walls survive of the north range. The east range (now known as the East Garth) contained the chapter house and dorter (dormitory), and possibly the reredorter (lavatories), whilst the west range (now known as the West Garth) contained the frater (refectory) and possibly the kitchen. The south range may have housed the library, Prior’s quarters and infirmary, and the north range may have contained stores and a kitchen. Between the south-east corner of the cloister and the chancel of the church is a vestibule known as The Crypt (although it never served that purpose) and Becket’s Chapel, originally built by the Friars Penitential in the C13. Immediately south of the Dominicans’ church was a cemetery and a preaching yard. An outer court stood to the north of the cloister and contained a brewhouse, among other buildings.

CHAPTER HOUSE The chapter house was built in the C14 and survives as upstanding and buried remains. It is situated immediately east of the east cloister walk and south of the East Garth building. The vault of the chapter house collapsed in the C16 and the remains were partially exposed through excavation in 1911. It is now roofless apart from three 1980s lean-tos. The remains of the chapter house extend to the east beyond a later retaining wall and beneath a car park. The walls are constructed of stone rubble, flint and brick, and have been partly heightened and infilled with C20 brick and concrete blocks. Internally it is partly covered with medieval lime plaster. The chapter house is two bays wide east-west by three bays long north-south. The original entrance doorway is situated in the centre of the west wall and is c1.4m wide with the remains of two windows, each c1m wide, to either side. A set of C20 brick and stone-paved steps lead down into the building, which is c1m below the level of the east cloister walk. It was originally covered by a groin vault; the bases of two supporting limestone piers are located towards the centre, each originally consisting of a triangular cluster of five shafts, and there are responds in the surrounding walls. The responds are formed of a cluster of three shafts but those at the angles have a single shaft. There is a later bricked-up opening between the chapter house and the vestibule now known as The Crypt to the south. A C20 timber staircase is located in the south-east corner. There are two early C20 timber braces supporting the later retaining wall at the east.

The 1980s steel and corrugated plastic lean-tos, the C20 timber staircase and plywood door at the south-east corner, and the two early C20 timber braces are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath them is included.

BECKET’S CHAPEL The chapel adjoins the east side of the vestibule now known as The Crypt and survives as upstanding and buried remains. It was built, together with the adjacent vestibule, in the later C13 by the Friars Penitential and dedicated to St Mary but was altered by the Dominicans in the C14 and C15 and rededicated to St Thomas-a-Becket. The building was two storeys high in the C15, possibly with a further chapel on the first floor that later served as a library and then lodgings after the Dissolution. It was originally vaulted but the walls were demolished to the springing level of the vault and buried in 1874. An excavation in 1958 exposed the remains, which were covered by a polycarbonate roof in 1983.

The chapel is c17m by c 6m and extends six bays east-west by a single bay north-south. The walls are c3m high and built of brick with a flint rubble core resting on a flint foundation. They are rendered internally with lime plaster. The chapel is entered via the adjoining vestibule which appears to contain a stoup in its south wall. An inserted late C20 two-centred brick arched doorway provides access from the west. The chapel walls rise from a brick plinth and are supported externally by C15 brick and flint buttresses. The third bay of the north wall has a later entrance, probably inserted in the C18 or C19. A 1980s tiled staircase now provides access down into the chapel on this side. The floor is c1m lower than the external ground level and is now covered by late C20 concrete slabs. There are engaged piers to each side that originally supported the vaults. These carry responds formed of three chamfered ribs. In the east wall is a large C14 window infilled with brick and, to either side, a tall and narrow C13 niche. At the east end of the south wall is a C13 piscina with a pointed arch and chamfered jambs. There are the remains of several window openings in the north and south walls and a blocked archway in the north-east corner. Both the east and west walls have been heighted in brick in 1983 to form gables supporting the roof; there is a central oculus in the east gable and an off-centre segmental-headed window in the west gable.

The polycarbonate roof and late 20th century railings are excluded from the scheduling.

NORTH RANGE The north range of the cloister was built in the C14 and C15 and survives as upstanding and buried remains. It was largely demolished sometime between 1762 and 1885; probably during the restoration of 1861. The remains were partially exposed and consolidated following an excavation in 1974, and the walls now stand up to c0.5m high. There are three main parallel walls built of flint rubble, which are orientated east-west. The two walls at the south form the north cloister walk, whilst that at the north is an external wall; the space between this wall and the cloister walk is partitioned into rooms. The partition walls are built of flint rubble and brick. A slype (passage) leads north to the site of the outer court of the friary. There are two phases of engaged piers or buttresses within the cloister walk. The earliest phase is formed of C14 or early C15 rectangular buttresses, which are bonded into the walls. The later phase is formed of ashlar piers built as part of the rebuilding of the friary following the fire of 1413, and match those within the south cloister walk. These piers originally supported a rib vault above. They rest on semi-octagonal ashlar bases and rubble foundations.

EAST RANGE The building now known as the East Garth is Grade I listed and is excluded from the scheduling. However the monumentalised walls that survive as standing remains (contained in glass panels) within it, and the buried remains beneath it, are included. The standing remains were first uncovered during an excavation in 1911. Following a refurbishment in 2011 glass panels were erected around them. The walls are built of stone and brick rubble bonded with lime mortar and survive to c0.5m high. They formed part of the internal wall of the east cloister walk and the cross walls that partitioned the range into rooms. Partial excavation in 2011 showed that further buried remains survive. An auger survey undertaken at this time indicated that medieval archaeological deposits survive to over 4m deep beneath the East Garth building.

BURIED REMAINS BENEATH THE CHURCH AND CLAUSTRAL COMPLEX The buried remains and archaeological deposits across the site extend to over 4m deep and will include structural remains (buildings, walls, foundations, floor surfaces, road surfaces and pathways, and construction and demolition debris), inhumation burials, artefactual remains (such as small finds, coins, pottery and animal bones), and environmental material (such as the fills of wells, drains, culverts, pits, middens, ditches, garden areas). The structural remains of buildings extend beneath the garden west of the west range and beneath part of the car park east of the east range. A geophysical survey in 2009 identified several walls up to c1m wide beneath the car park.

CEMETERY AND PREACHING YARD A cemetery is located to the south of the church; excavation of a service trench and bollards on St Andrew’s Plain in 2007 partially exposed at least ten burials before the trenches were backfilled. Historical sources indicate that there was also a preaching yard to the south of the church by the late medieval period.

EXCLUSIONS The buildings now known as St Andrew’s Hall and Blackfriars’ Hall (including the ‘walking place’), the East Cloister Walk, The Crypt, the south range (including the South Cloister Walk and infill ranges adjacent to St Andrew’s Hall), the East Garth (except the standing remains within glass panels) and the West Garth are all excluded because they are more appropriately protected by listing and are listed at Grade I. However the buried remains and archaeological deposits beneath them are included in the scheduling.

The monument also excludes all modern car park surfaces, road surfaces and pathways; lamp posts; bicycle stands; benches; bollards; railings; all modern signs, notices and notice boards; fences and fence posts; gates and gate posts; drains and drain pipes; water pipes and electric cables. However the ground beneath them is included.


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

Legacy System number:
NF 4
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Pevsner, N, Wilson, B, The Buildings of England: Norfolk: 1 Norwich and North-East, (2002), 264-269
Sutermeister, H, The Norwich Blackfriars A History and Guide to St Andrews and Blackfriars Halls, (1978)
Elliston Erwood, F C, 'The Norwich Blackfriars' in The Archaeological Journal, , Vol. 106: 1 (Part III), (1949), 90-94
Nash, P A, 'The Sackfriars' and Blackfriars' Conventual Buildings in the parishes of St. Andrew and St. Peter Hungate, Norwich: Excavations in the winter of 1910-11' in Norfolk Archaeology, , Vol. 22, (1926), 370-382
Green, C, 'Becket's Chapel, Norwich' in Norfolk Archaeology, , Vol. 33, (1965), 298-309
J P R, , 'Excavations in Norwich 1974: 176N. The Dominican (Black) Friary. TG23120885' in Norfolk Archaeology, , Vol. 36 (Part 2), (1975), 102-104
Virtual Past, Norwich Blackfriars Online, accessed 1 February 2016 from
NAU Archaeology, Report 1409: An Archaeological Watching Brief at St Andrew’s Hall, St Andrew’s Plain, Norwich (2008)
NAU Archaeology, Report 1414: An Archaeological Evaluation at St Andrew’s Hall, Norwich (2009)
NPS Archaeology, Report 2727: An Archaeological Watching Brief at the East Garth Building, St Georges Street, Norwich (2011)
Purcell Miller Tritton, St Andrew's & Blackfriars' Hall: Conservation Management Plan (June 2009)


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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