Ware Friary


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1017519

Date first listed: 26-Jun-1978

Date of most recent amendment: 24-Oct-1997


Ordnance survey map of Ware Friary
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Hertfordshire

District: East Hertfordshire (District Authority)

Parish: Ware

National Grid Reference: TL 35575 14315


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

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.

At the time of its foundation, the Franciscan friary at Ware was one of only three such houses to the north of the Alps. The friary is well documented, with historical records from its inception, from within the 200 year period of its existence, from the Dissolution and after. Although many of the friary buildings were demolished after the Dissolution, a sizeable part of the south range was retained for domestic use. By comparing the architectural features within the house with the archaeological evidence which has been shown to survive well in the surrounding grounds, it is possible to reconstruct the layout of the friary and determine details of its evolution through the periods of monastic and private occupation.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the known extent of the buried remains of the Franciscan friary founded in 1338 on the south side of the town, alongside the north bank of the River Lee or Lea. The religious house was largely demolished after its suppression in 1538, although substantial elements of the southern claustral range were retained as a private dwelling. The buried evidence for the surrounding buildings and other features of the friary now lies within the grounds of this house, misleadingly termed `The Priory'.

The Priory, a Grade I Listed Building, stands approximately 300m to the south west of St Mary's Church, set within 3ha of landscaped grounds between the river and Priory Street. The general layout of the house, that of two wings extending in opposite directions from either end of a central north-south orientated hall, reflects the incorporation of parts of the friary buildings. The west wing contains evidence of a free standing hall, the earliest known building on the site. This may have been built in the early 14th century soon after the friary's foundation, although some architectural details suggest an origin in the 13th century and point to the possibility of a pre-existing structure, perhaps the messuage mentioned in the foundation grant. By the later 14th or early 15th century the hall had been converted into a guest wing attached to the western side of the cloisters, and it is the architecture of this period which largely characterises the present house. The central part and eastern wing of the house were developed from the south western angle of the claustral range, and include sections of the cloister walk and the buildings to rear of the walk such as the frater or refectory on the southern arm. The ornate 15th century arcade, which formerly faced into the cloister garth, was retained as a principle feature of the external walls on the east side of the central hall and the north side of the eastern wing, and is still visible. The roof structure within the three main sections of the house, consisting of scissor based rafters supported via medial purlins on crown posts, is also thought to be substantially 15th century in date. The Priory, which houses both offices and public amenities, is excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath it is included.

The plan of the demolished friary buildings, which were noted as being 'not altogether beaten down' in 1631, has been partly identified through small scale excavations and chance discoveries within the grounds. Substantial wall foundations were exposed some 30m north of the eastern end of the eastern wing during the laying of pipe lines in 1954 and 1977. Archaeological examination of the latter trench revealed a rammed chalk floor between the walls as well as two graves cut through the layer of demolition material overlying the foundations. Similar foundations, consisting of coursed, mortar-bonded blocks of clunch, were exposed by the collapse of a large cedar tree in the same area in 1990. Taken together, these remains indicate the position of the friary church on the northern arm of the cloisters. Further trenches, dug in 1992 as part of an archaeological evaluation prior to the renovation of the house and grounds, uncovered further evidence for the church and of the broad spread of demolition debris surrounding the site of the conventual buildings. Part of a robbed foundation trench was discovered some 10m to the north of the site of the church, and a narrow gulley and pit, each containing fragments of medieval pottery, were exposed in a trench located some 20m to the north west of the house. A small trench located near the eastern wall of the eastern wing confirmed the existence of wall foundations mentioned in a sale document from 1913, and clearly demonstrated that the original building extended further than the present house.

The full extent of the friary precinct is not known, especially as the original foundation grant of seven acres by Thomas, Lord Wake of Liddell, may not have constituted a single area. The River Lee almost certainly formed the southern boundary as well as playing an important part in the life of the community. The friary enjoyed fishing rights on the adjoining section of the river during the brief forfeiture of the Wake family's estates to Henry IV, and it is probable that this privilege was of long standing. Osier beds, doubtless established by the friary alongside the river, were mentioned as a significant component of the estate acquired by Thomas Birch, yeoman of the Crown, following the Dissolution.

In keeping with the tenets of the Order the friary relied on alms for much of its support, and by the late 14th century there was some conflict with the Franciscans of Cambridge concerning their respective begging and preaching rights within the district. Although the friary clearly expanded beyond the original oratory and other houses allowed by the foundation grant it remained relatively poor - not least as it was overshadowed in both the literal and a hierarchical sense by the powerful alien Benedictine priory of St Evroul which had stood to the north (in the vicinity of St Mary's Church) since the 11th century. Henry V's suppression of alien foundations in 1414 may have allowed the friary to expand its influence and to acquire revenues from burials in the church. However, the friary was still sufficiently obscure in 1430 as to be chosen as the final residence of the disgraced minister provincial of the Franciscan Order, Robert Donwe, and at the Dissolution the property was valued at only 29 shillings and 8 pence a year.

From Thomas Birch, whose family may have played a part in the suppression, the property passed through various owners and the house saw periods of major refurbishment - most notably in the 1850s when the architect George Godwin inserted copies of the 15th century windows alongside the surviving originals and his own `Gothick' additions to the building. Residential use ceased during the First World War when the house served as a Red Cross hospital, and in 1920 the owner effectively gave the house and the grounds to the people of Ware through a 999 year lease to the Urban District Council.

All standing buildings, modern made surfaces, fences, railings, bench seats, litter bins and signposts are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all these features (including that beneath `The Priory') is included.

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


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

Legacy System number: 29413

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
An Outline of the Story of Ware Priory 1338-1995, (1995)
The Victoria History of the County of Hertfordshire, (1912), 392
The Victoria History of the County of Hertfordshire, (1920), 451
Martin, A R, Franciscan Architecture in England, (1937), 139-42
Morris, M, 'Herts Arch J' in Ware Priory: A Note on Some New Evidence, (1990), 23-5
Partridge, C, 'East Herts Arch Group Newsletter' in Emergency Excavations at Ware Friary, (1977)
Partridge, C, 'Herts Arch J' in Rescue Excavations at Ware Priory 1977, , Vol. 7, (1979), 143-5
Pollard, H P, 'Trans East Herts Arch Soc' in The Alien Benedictine Priory at Ware, , Vol. III, (1906), 119-132
McDonald, T, Background Research on Ware Priory, 1995, Unpublished notes
The Priory 829-1/9/137, List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest, Ware Town, (1994)
Walker, C, The Priory, Ware. An Archaeological Evaluation, 1992, Unpublished HAT report

End of official listing