The Greyfriars

  • 15 Jan 2012
  • Worcester People and Places
  • Back
The Greyfriars in Friar Street is the finest half-timbered building in the City. The building was only part of the Friary which took in all the ground occupied by the present building and that of Laslett's Hospital. Greyfriars was an order of mendicant preachers founded by St.Francis of Assisi. They came to Britain about 1224, and were not welcomed by the religious orders already in possession, but by their zeal and merit established themselves in this country. A few years after their arrival they were given land on the east side of the City by William de Beauchamp, Lord of Elmley Castle, Hereditary Sheriff of the County, and Castellan of Worcester. The Worcester Friary became very important, exercising authority over others in the West Midlands, this being one of seven districts into which the Franciscans mapped England. During the three centuries of prosperity the order deviated from the high standards of self-denial prescribed by St. Francis. Contary to his rules, Friars accepted houses and lands, and the simple life lost its attraction. An old ballard told:

  • 'No baron, or Squire, or Knight of the Shire, Lives half so well as a Holy Friar'.
Their breaches of discipline brought about their downfall. Henry VIII seized their houses as he did the monasteries. At the Dissolution in 1539, the Greyfriars, as well as the Black Friars in Broad Street, was brought from the Crown by the Municipal Corporation of Worcester. For three centuries the whole of the Greyfriars was preserved, though it was sometimes put to strange use. The entire fabric remained intact, even the stained glass which filled the windows of the great hall and bore the arms of gentry who had been benefactors of the Friars. In the late 18th century, the Corporation decided to use the Greyfriars as a prison, and in 1796, Valentine Green described it as follows:

"Those apartments which once held the religieux to their devotions, now hold the debtor and the criminal to their recollection and repentance ... The refectory is a spacious and handsome room. The wainscoting, which is in Irish Oak, is ornamented above with carvings in which the instruments of the Passion are represented, inscribed BV and on some IHS whilst others have the Plumes of Feathers..... This building is the most entire remains of an ancient religious house of any in the City; not a room has been changed".

The Friary extended from Friar Street eastwards to the City walls, its church dedicated to St. Laurence's Lane, which later became Union Street. Sadly in 1822, the Corporation decided to build a new prison on the site. The beautiful half-timbered Friary, with its church, garden and orchard abuting upon the City wall could so easily have been preserved, but to save a few hundred pounds, an irreparable loss was inflicted upon the City.