Franciscan friary


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020405

Date first listed: 30-Nov-1925

Date of most recent amendment: 11-Feb-2002


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

County: North Yorkshire

District: Richmondshire (District Authority)

Parish: Richmond

National Grid Reference: NZ 17109 01067

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.

The buried and standing remains of Richmond Franciscan friary survive well. The survival of the tower in its complete form is particularly unusual, because the sites of most friaries, due to their urban location, have been built over. Richmond also possesses a significant amount of detailed contemporary documents. Taken together the surviving remains and documentary evidence provides important information about the development of the friary and its impact on the urban landscape of Richmond.


The monument includes buried and standing remains of the Franciscan friary at Richmond. It is located on the north western edge of the medieval town, outside the area formerly enclosed by the town walls. The monument occupies the park and gardens surrounding the friary bell tower and the ground east of and below the modern Friary Hospital and includes the core of the medieval friary site. It has been identified from standing ruins, geophysical surveys, small-scale excavations and documentary references.

The friary was founded in 1257-8 on a half-acre (0.2ha) plot of land granted by Ralph Fitz Randal, Lord of Middleham, whose heart is reputed to be buried in the choir of the friary church. The first buildings were constructed of timber primarily to meet St Francis' ideals of poverty and his vision of a community needing only humble churches and dwellings of mud and wood. This early spirit was eroded and by the late 13th century lavish and ornate stone buildings comparable to the other monastic orders were being built at Franciscan houses throughout the country. Documents from the 14th century and the surviving architecture of the church shows that Richmond friary followed this pattern of expansion and lavishness. In 1364, there was a grant of four acres (1.62ha) `for the enlargement of the house' and in 1383 one and a half acres (0.6ha) of meadow were added. In 1386 a detailed inventory of the friary was drawn up as part of a lawsuit. This records that the friary included a guest house, a washroom, a building called `les studies' adjacent to the dormitory, the refectory and parlour. During the 14th century a south aisle with stained glass windows was added to the church and a postern gate was inserted into the medieval town wall to the south in order to allow easy access from the town to the friary. One reason given for the gate is that the friary possessed a reliable water supply; sophisticated water management systems being common place in medieval monastic houses at a time when they were notably absent in secular society. The surviving bell tower was built in the later part of the 15th century and was built over the passageway between the chancel and nave of the friary church.

The friary was dissolved in January 1539 when there were 14 brethren and a warden in residence. The dissolution survey describes the friary estate as comprising two distinct parcels of land. One focused on the church and included the friary buildings covering half an acre (0.2ha) with an area of waste ground and orchard covering two acres (0.8ha). The other parcel of land was the Friary Closes, which covered seven acres (2.8ha) enclosed by a stone wall and valued at 21 shillings. The monument includes the first of these land parcels, focussed on the church and core buildings. The wider precinct which included the area known as Friary Closes lay to the immediate west and north and can still be identified today, being defined by Victoria Road to the south, Wellington Place to the west and Quaker Lane to the north. This larger area is not included in the monument. The friary estate was leased to Ralph Gower, followed by Sir Timothy Hutton and in 1634 it passed to the Robinson family and remained in their possession until the end of the 19th century. Some of the friary buildings continued in use after the Dissolution, and it is known that the Hutton family had a house at the site in the early 17th century which may have been incorporated into one of the surviving buildings. Maps and illustrations from 1610, 1724 and 1773 show this house as well as a range of other buildings around the church tower. In the late 18th century the house and immediate area was remodelled and a plan of 1818 shows the house with pleasure gardens to the south and south east and the bell tower included in the grounds as a picturesque feature.

The remains at Richmond, combined with a wider understanding of friaries elsewhere, demonstrate that it followed the typical layout of a monastic house, with an east to west orientated church forming the southern side of a four-sided complex known as the cloister. The cloister housed domestic buildings and offices connected with the administrative functions of the house such as the chapter house, guesthouse, kitchens and refectory. The dormitory would be located on the upper storey of the eastern range, to allow direct access to the church. The church lay to the south of the cloister because the lay congregation accessed it directly from the town, and thus the cloister was positioned on the more secluded northern side. The cloister lay at the centre of an enclosure known as the inner precinct, which contained a range of further buildings required for the economic and social functions of the friary such as an infirmary, yards and bake house.

Beyond the precinct there was a larger area, known as the outer precinct, which supported further activities associated with the friary. At Richmond the outer precinct lay to the north and west of the core friary buildings and it is known from documentary sources that the area was divided up into separate enclosures used for orchards, meadows and woodland.

The remains of Richmond friary are dominated by the bell tower which stands to its full height. The other upstanding remains are the eastern end of the aisle with its double pointed arch window and a 6m length of the northern wall of the chancel extending from the north eastern angle of the tower. Excavations have identified the chancel extending for at least 22m to the east of the tower and geophysical survey has identified the nave and aisle extending for 24m to the west. Further below ground remains of the friary survive to the north of the ruins in the area to the east and south of the modern Friary Hospital. These have been revealed through geophysical survey and excavation and include walls, doorways and areas of medieval debris indicating demolished buildings. The walls survive immediately below current ground level and measure 1m wide and are up to 2m deep. The pattern of surviving below ground remains show that the friary buildings originally extended beneath the modern hospital and the south western wing of the hospital may incorporate an earlier friary building.

The church ruins and bell tower are Listed Grade I and the Friary Hospital is Listed Grade II.

Excavations in the 1920s and 1990s revealed a number of human skeletons to the south of the church in the area adjacent to Victoria Road. It is not clear whether this was a burial ground used exclusively for friars or whether local inhabitants were also interred.

A number of features are excluded from the monument. These are: the Friary Hospital buildings, the surface of the car park, yards and paths, kerbs, bollards, benches, the covered seat, all signs, the wall and railings on the south side of the hospital gardens, walls around the flower beds, the summer house, the wall adjacent to Victoria Road, the tourist information centre and public toilets; however the ground beneath all these features is included. The war memorial is also included in the scheduling as it is a semi-sunken feature behind which archaeological remains will survive.

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: 34833

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Adamson, C, The Greyfriars of Richmond, Investigations in the Memorial Gards, (1998)
Diamond, S, 'OSA Report' in Friary Gardens Richmond North Yorkshire, (2000)
OSA Report 98WB04, Sheehan, P, Richmond Community Hospital and site of the Greyfriars of Richmo, (1999)

End of official listing