Greyfriars Franciscan friary


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Greyfriars Franciscan friary
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Great Yarmouth (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TG 52398 07317

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.

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.


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.

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.

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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


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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