Whitefriars

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The Carmelite priory occupied a site between Commonhall Street, Weaver Street, Whitefriars and Bridge Street; Hollar's Map of Chester shows that the church stood directly on Whitefriars.

The house was surrendered to Richard Ingworth, bishop of Dover, on 15 August 1538 'without any counsel or constraining but very poverty'. An inventory was made and the visitor removed a small chalice before handing the property over to the mayor. The inventory shows that the house was not as poverty-stricken as that of the Greyfriars and the church was well-equipped with service books, vestments, and altar cloths; there were five altars in the chancel, including Our Lady's altar, two pairs of organs in the choir, three bells in the steeple, and the contents of the vestry included a purse of relics. The buildings yielded little lead, apart from some guttering. Debts amounted to only £8 9s., less than those of the two other friaries. The house owned property outside the precinct which was let out on long leases. It included seven tenements and gardens, an orchard and a barn in St. Martin's parish, and also the carpenters' house which may have been within the precincts. In 1539 rents of the conventual buildings and property amounted to £2 7s. 10d. a year and two former friars were listed among the tenants when the property was sold in 1544 to John Cokkes of London. The site was immediately resold to Fulk Dutton and the buildings were occupied as a dwelling house during the second half of the 16th century; in 1592-3 the site was acquired by Thomas Egerton, the attorney-general, who demolished the church and built a new house. The antiquarian Webb lamented the loss of the church (which was used as a navigation aid) in the following terms:

  • It was a great pitie that the steeple was put away, being a great ornament to the citie. This curious spire steeple might still have stood for grace to the citie, had not private benefit, the devourer of antiquitie, pulled it down with the church, and erected a house for more commoditie, which since hath been of little use, so that the citie lost so goodly an ornament, that tymes hereafter may more talk of it, being the only sea-mark for direction over the bar of Chester.

Joseph Hemingway writes of secret passages linking Whitefriars to Chester Castle:

  • A very popular opinion has long prevailed, that there anuiently existed' subterranean passages between the castle and various public buildings in the city, though for what purpose, or why or when discontinued, is wholly unknown. This idea received the authority of the author of the Polycronicon, who says," In this cyte been ways under erthe, with vowtes and stotie-werke ivonderly wrought; three chambred werkes." In remarking upon this passage, Mr. Pennant observes, that of these not a trace, nor even the least memory is left, notwithstanding the most diligent search and inquiries have been made. None, says he, have ever been discovered, by the frequent sinking of cellars for new buildings on the site of the old ; tradition has delivered no such accounts to us; nor is their exit to be traced beneath the walls in any part of their circumference. It should be recollected, however, that Mr. Pennant wrote upwards of fifty years ago [before 1780], and that since his time, a greater number of reliques of antiquity has been discovered, than before his time. I am not prepared to speak decidedly on the question, but confess I am less sceptical on the affirmative part of it, than formerly. There is some difficulty in accounting for the blocking up of passages and arches several yards below the surface of the ground, without admitting the existence of continuous ways for some purpose or other; and if we cannot ascertain their direct object, yet the palpable fact is not to be denied or evaded. But what has most tended to incline me to a persuasion of the existence of these hollow ways, were the appearances of a subterranean passage, discovered on sinking the cellars for the buildings now standing on the site of the old Lamb-row. Here was found a distinctly marked road, about five feet wide, and more than five yards deep from the level, running the whole length of the building in an oblique direction, and without termination at either end. The road seemed to proceed in a direct line from the site of the old Friary, situate between Commonhall-street and White Friars, taking a slanting direction across the latter, and pointing obliquely across Bridge-street. At the time of sending this sheet to press, the author is engaged in prosecuting a closer research into this subject, the result of which will be given when he comes to notice our antiquities.

Despite many attempts, no-one has ever found these reputed tunnels.

Sources