Church of St Mary, Blackfriars Friary of the Blessed Virgin

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Blackfriars2017 image Ipswich Historic Lettering: Blackfriars 5
Above: views of the site looking towards Lower Orwell Street. The second photograph, Arcade seats in the Friars' chapter house, is courtesy John Norman. To the right is Blackfriars Court, a modern sheltered housing complex.
The Friary church was dedicated to St Mary. It had substantial aisles to north and south, and a choir separated nave and chancel, in the cathedral manner. There was probably a central tower, and early reports of a spired church seem to refer to this one. The chancel had a chapel to the south, probaby constructed after a bequest by the Dukes of Suffolk. Between this chapel and the nave were the chapter house and the sacristy.

The following details are taken from the information board on Foundation Street are quite a revelation to people who walk past the somewhat scant ruins of the old priory church.
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Above: 'In 1983-4 the area was excavated by Suffolk County Council's Archaeological Service, revealing the entire ground plan of the northern half of the Friary. The foundations of the church and part of the north-east range were consolidated for public display and incorporated into the accompanying housing development.' It is clear that the cemetery relating to the church stretched as far as Orwell Place (formerly Stepples Street), so covered the site of today's Unicorn inn and brewery. (See the note about the extent of the overall site below.) Also note the proximity of Town Ditch and Bank (rampart) running along a line of the upper part of Fore Street and Lower Orwell Street (formerly The Lower Wash).
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Above: 'Although no contemporary drawings survive of the Friary Church, enough evidence has been found for Birkin Haward to produce this reconstruction drawing of how it might have looked to someone standing here [in Foundation Street] in 1500 AD.'
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Blackfriars 4<The seal of Ipswich Blackfriars
'During the medieval period, between 1139 and 1298, four Religious Orders settled in Ipswich: two Austin Canon establishments (Holy Trinity Priory and The Priory of St Peter & St Paul), the Dominicans (Black Friars), the Carmelites (White Friars) and the Franciscans (Grey Friars). Unlike Monastic Orders, which avoided contact with the outside world, the Friars were preachers and social workers who settled in towns to maximise their contact with the population and were dependent upon them for their daily sustenance and the upkeep of their buildings.
Ipswich Blackfriars was founded in 1263, following the gift to them by Henry III of a piece of land which he had purchased alongside the Town Defences on the east side of the town. In 1265 a further piece of land was granted to them by the Crown and construction of their Church began. Further land was acquired steadily unitl the mid-14th century; by which time their Precinct covered most of the area between Foundation Street, Orwell Place, Lower Orwell Street and Star Lane.'
As early as the 15th century the Blackfriars Priory was bringing in fresh water through wooden pipes from the springs at Cauldwell Hall, as by the time the surface spring water reached the town, it was polluted. See our Water page for more information.

Note that an even bigger area of the town centre was occupied by the White Friars. In 1278 the Carmelites, or Whitefriars, arrived. They were a very learned order, spending their time studying and lecturing, much in the manner of a modern university. They had their Friary roughly where the Buttermarket Shopping Centre stands today. During the course of the 14th century, it expanded rapidly, and stretched all the way from Queen Street to St Stephens Lane. It was the biggest foundation in Ipswich, and one of the largest Carmelite communities in England. No trace of it survives.

'The Ipswich Friaries were closed by Henry VII in the early 16th century and most of the buildings were demolished. The Blackfriars Church was certainly demolished at this time (1538) but most of the other buildings were retained for alternative uses and at different periods housed an Almshouse (Tooley and Smart's), Christ's Hospital, the Grammar School, the Town Library, the Bridewell (prison) and the Town Arsenal. By 1850 the last of these remaining buildings had been finally demolished, but fortunately a plan and prospect of the surviving Friary buildings was drawn by Joshua Kirby in 1748 just before any demolition had started.'

Thanks also to Simon's Suffolk Churches (see Links) for further information.

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