The Lost Monastic Houses of London

July 3rd –  On this day in 1322, hundreds of needy poor people were crushed to death in a rush to beg food and money at the gates of Blackfriars’ (Dominican) Priory.


Remains of Blackfriars Priory, Ireland Yard

The Blackfriars’ was one of a number of monastic houses established in London in the early Medieval period, which altogether included those of the  mendicant friars not only of the Dominican order (the Black Friars) but also of the Carmelite and Franciscan orders (the White  and Grey Friars, respectively); the hermit monks and nuns of the Benedictine, Cluniac and Carthusian orders; the monk- and nun- like regular and friar-like secular canons and canonesses of the Augustinan order(s); and the Knights Templar and  Hospitaller.  The monastic houses came to dominate not only the religious life, but also the philosophical and indeed even the physical life of the City, becoming wealthy and powerful in the process, and making many enemies as well as friends.

Charterhouse (monks once cloistered here, and offered up silent prayer, beside the plague pit)

Surviving Carthusian Monk’s Cell with Guichet, Charterhouse

The   Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII in 1536-40 essentially resulted in the appropriation by the Crown  of all the monastic houses in England, Wales and Ireland, of which there were several hundred, and of all of their assets (monastic houses in Scotland were annexed by the Scottish King, James VI, in 1587).   The smaller  houses, with incomes of less than £200 per year, as evaluated by the Valor Ecclestiacus, were dissolved  under The Act for the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries of 1536; the larger  ones, by The Act for the Dissolution of the Greater Monasteries of 1539.   After the Dissolution, the assets of the monastic houses were disbursed, under the auspices of Henry’s  Vicar-General and Vice-Regent in Spirituals Thomas Cromwell, and his Court of Augmentations.

Bermondsey Abbey (chants, caught on the wind of a thousand years ago, can be heard here, still)

Surviving fragment of Bermondsey Abbey, beneath glass floor of Del’ Aziz Restaurant, Bermondsey Square

In London, the change in land ownership and usage is evident in the marked contrast between the map of 1520, from before the event, and the  “Copper Plate” one of 1556-8, the “Agas” one of 1561-70, and the Braun and Hogenberg one of  1572 (*), from after the event.  Many of the former monastic properties evidently became parish churches, hospitals, orphanages or schools, or combinations thereof, or Inns of Court, or  play-houses, while others passed into private ownership.  Of the  former monks, nuns and priors, of whom there were several hundred city-wide, and several thousand country-wide, most went to work in the newly created parish churches, although a still substantial number were forced to seek out entirely new ways of life.  All were at least  offered more or less generous pensions, although none of their servants was.

(*) The Braun & Hogenberg map was published in 1572, but still shows “old” St Paul’s with the  spire it lost in a lightning strike in 1561.


3 thoughts on “The Lost Monastic Houses of London

  1. rafterd1972

    I had no idea there were so many orders and houses that were dissolved. Thank you for the very informative post. By the way, I have ordered the book you recommended in yesterday’s post.

    1. rafterd1972

      Thank you. I saw there were others. Usually if a find an author I like, I tend to read more of his or her books. I enjoy your interesting posts.


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