This was the local residence of the Convent of Friars Minor (Franciscans) founded before 1237 and situated on the east side of High Street between modern-day Sugarhouse Lane on the north and Gloucester Square on the south. The grounds stretched back to the town walls in the east and abutted the boundary to the property of God’s House Hospital to the south east. Sugarhouse Lane represents the Church entry (used also by the laity) and Gloucester Square the friars' entry and presumably the cloister beyond. The western side (towards High Street) was fronted by shops or stalls.

The role of the Friars Minor was to tend the poor and sick and they usually chose sites in the vicinity of the worst poverty in medieval towns and cities. In Southampton the friary was close to both God’s House Hospital and the poor suburb of Newtown which had sprung up outside the east wall. Its early benefactors included Isabella de Chekehull, who donated the land on which the friary was built and Walter le Flemyng, bailiff of the town in 1237.

The building of the friary chapel began in 1280 and was completed by 1287. A new dormitory and chapter house were built in 1291. In 1290 Nicholas de Barbeflet granted them the use of Colewell Spring in Hill Lane and in the early 14th century they began the work of piping the water into the town. After the Dissolution in the reign of Henry VIII the site was sold. Virtually nothing of the friary buildings now exists apart from some slight remains in Gloucester Square. The site of the tower and reredorter can be seen in the remains of the East Wall (images 2 and 3), as can the Friary Gate (image 4).

Other features associated with the friary include:

Friars’ Ambulatory
The stretch of the friary building constructed after 1373 that crossed over Back-of-the-Walls at a height of 14 feet. The building measured 26 x 21 feet. Presumably this structure led to the reredorter (or communal lavatory) constructed in the face of the town's wall.

Friars’ Bench
This was a 'bench’ or walking place on the east side of English Street (High Street), bounded on the south by the conduit in the friars' wall (near Gloucester Square), on the north by the gate to the friars' church (in Sugarhouse Lane) and on the east by a great tenement called the ‘Fryers’ (i.e. the Friary itself). Before 1620 a bench 7 feet wide extended 30 feet from the friars' church gate (in Sugarhouse Lane) to the friars' conduit and thence 41 feet to the main gate (near the entrance to Gloucester Square).

Friars' Conduit
This water conduit stood on the east side of High Street probably near the entry to Gloucester Square. This conduit supplied the friary with water so may have actually have been inside the friary enclosure. According to Southampton in 1620 by Southampton City Record Office, the conduit stood just 41 feet north of the entry to Gloucester Square.
The friars pumped water from Colewell Spring in Hill Lane to the Water House, and thence to the friary. In 1311 the friars granted the use of their water to the town's inhabitants, and in 1420 they passed the whole water supply system over to the town council. This is one of the earliest examples of a municipally-owned water supply in Britain.

Friars' Reredorter and Garret Tower
The reredorter (or communal lavatory) of the friary projected west to east as a bridge across Back-of-the-Walls, so as to utilise the town ditch. The stretch of the town walls thus constituting the east end of the reredorter projected slightly as a species of squat tower and was called the Friars' Garretta (a garretta was a watch tower). In respect of maintenance and defence the friars were responsible for this part of the defences. This feature is later usually referred to as “the fryers jakes or longiles”. (images 2 1nd 3)

Friars' Gate
This was a postern gate constructed in the east stretch of the town wall by the friars in the late 14th century (after 1373) to provide access to their lands outside the walls. (image 4)

Friars' Shambles
The friars owned a considerable block of property on the east side of the High Street, but the conventual buildings occupied only the east side of this block, the street frontages being let to shopkeepers, many of them to butchers. It was the latter group of premises that acquired this name. The original butchers' shops associated with the friary were outside the town wall and approached by a postern gate, but in 1619 four butchers' shops are recorded on the east side of English Street, on the west side of Friars' Gate, (probably Sugarhouse Lane) extending altogether 58 feet and 7 in depth in depth.

1. Artist's Impression of the Friary

Image Unavailable

By John Hodgson, 1986

2. Friary Reredorter

Image Unavailable

Photograph, c.2000

4. Remains of Friary Gate

Image Unavailable

Photograph, c.2000

3. Friary Reredorter: Plaque

Image Unavailable

Photograph, c.2000

Further reading:
Southampton Occasional Notes,,2nd Serues, by ‘Townsman’, p25. (HS/h)
Medieval Southampton, by Colin Plat, passim. (HS/h)
History of Southampton, by Rev. J. S. Davies, p442-450. (HS/h)
Excavations in Medieval Southampton Vol 1, by Colin Platt (ed), p216-218, 322-326. (HS/f)
Southampton Archaeological Society Bulletin, No. 16, p18. (HS/f)
Southampton Archaeological Society Bulletin, No. 114, p3, 5. (HS/f)
Southampton in 1620 and the Mayflower, by Southampton City Record Office, p58. (HS/h)


Browse A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Y-Z

Search is temporarily unavailable, we are working to bring it online!

Get Involved

If you wish to

  • suggest additional information for this entry
  • suggest amendments to this entry
  • offer your own research
  • make a comment

then fill in the form on the Contact page.