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Ipswich Blackfriars
Saint Mary, Blackfriars, Ipswich
Ipswich Blackfriars.jpg
Remains of St Mary, Blackfriars, Ipswich
Ipswich Blackfriars is located in Ipswich
Ipswich Blackfriars
Ipswich Blackfriars
Location in Ipswich
52°03′18″N 1°09′30″E / 52.0550°N 1.1584°E / 52.0550; 1.1584 (Ipswich Blackfriars)
Location Ipswich, Suffolk
Country England
Denomination Roman Catholic
Founded 1263
Dedication Saint Mary
Closed 1538

Ipswich Blackfriars was a medieval religious house of Friars-preachers (Dominicans) in the town of Ipswich, Suffolk, England, founded in 1263 by King Henry III and dissolved in 1538. It was the second of the three friaries established in the town, the first (before 1236) being the Greyfriars, a house of Franciscan Friars Minors, and the third the Ipswich Whitefriars of c. 1278–79. The Blackfriars were under the Visitation of Cambridge.

The Blackfriars church, which was dedicated to St Mary, disappeared within a century after the Dissolution, but the layout of the other conventual buildings, including some of the original structures, survived long enough to be illustrated and planned by Joshua Kirby in 1748. By that time later uses had supervened and their interpretation had become confused. The last of the monastery buildings, the former sacristy, chapter house and dormitory, continued in use as a schoolroom for the Ipswich School until 1842 before finally being demolished in 1849. In 1898 Nina Layard had some success in locating buried footings. A modern understanding of the site emerged during the 1970s and 1980s, through scholarly interpretation and in excavations by the Suffolk County Council team, by which the position of the lost Blackfriars church was recognized and revealed, much of the original plan was clarified or confirmed, and former misapprehensions were corrected.

The site of the Blackfriars church, between Foundation Street and Lower Orwell Street, is preserved as an open grassed recreation area where the footings of the building and a surviving fragment of the wall of the sacristy can be seen, and are explained by interpretative panels. A modern housing development covers the site of the lost conventual buildings.


Contrary to earlier antiquarian tradition, in 1887 it was shown decisively that King Henry III established the Dominican friars at Ipswich in 1263. Henry purchased land in Ipswich from Hugh son of Gerard de Langeston and gave it to the friars for them to live there, instructing John de Vallibus (de Vaux), Keeper of the Peace, to go in person to give them seisin. On 26 November 1265 he augmented this grant with other land purchased from the same Hugh. In the same founding phase Robert Kilwardby, who was appointed Provincial prior of the Dominicans in England in 1261 and became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1272, acquired a messuage on behalf of the friars in 1269.

In April 1277 when visiting Ipswich Edward I gave the friars alms for food, and at Michaelmas term 1291 Queen Eleanor's executors gave 100 shillings to the friars preachers of Ipswich, and to 19 other houses. In December 1296 and January following, when in Ipswich for the betrothal of his daughter Elizabeth to the Count of Holland, the King again gave alms.

The old foundation attribution to "Henry de Manesby, Henry Redred and Henry de Landham", or else to "John Hares", arose from the monastic catalogue of John Speed, who in 1614 drew a distinction between a house of Friars Preachers in Ipswich (founded by the three), and the Ipswich Blackfriars (where John Hares "gave ground to build their house larger"). John Weever, 1631, followed Speed's first edition, listing burials for the former and "personages I finde to have beene registred in the Martirologe of this house" (probably benefactors) for the latter. Later authorities saw the distinction was false, and in reality all these supposed founders were later benefactors of the Dominican friars preachers.


The very copious bequests made to the friars of East Anglia show that the mendicants, who depended upon charitable donations for subsistence, were substantially favoured by the population they served throughout the 15th and early 16th centuries. Many requested burial at the Blackfriars. Yet they became extremely impoverished. The Greyfriars closed first, where on 7 April 1538 the Visitor for the friaries, Richard Yngworth, Bishop of Dover, prepared an inventory and recovered certain church valuables which had been sold. These he caused to be "leyd in a close house w[ithi]n the blak friers, suarly lokyd, and the p[ri]or chargyd with it".

But even before this, in 1536 and 1537, the Black friars themselves were leasing out whatever properties were not immediately in use, including two gardens to Henry Tooley abutting on the garden of William Sabyn, a mansion and garden to Sir John Willoughby, various houses including "Lady Daundey's Lodging" to William Golding, and two dwellings (Friar Woodcoke's lodging, and another) to William Lawrence. They also leased out "a building called le Frayter, with upper chamber, and free ingress and egress", to Golding and Lawrence. The original Frater (refectory) did not have an upper chamber. If "le Frayter" indicates the original dormitory building, that may be the origin of its later identification as a refectory.

In November 1538 Bishop Yngworth returned and the closure of the Whitefriars and Blackfriars followed. The conventual buildings were at first leased to William Sabyn, King's serjeant-at-arms in Ipswich, whose land adjoined the friars' premises, and who is listed with the others in the minister's accounts of the Blackfriars rental. The entire property was sold to him in November 1541 to hold in chief for the twentieth part of a knight's fee, and a yearly tithe of five shillings. Sabyn was a considerable figure, a naval sea-captain and veteran of numerous engagements, controller of the Ipswich customs (in succession to Sir Edward Echyngham) in 1527, Bailiff, Portman and M.P., and a benefactor of St Mary-at-Key. He soon afterwards died, his will being proved in 1543. By intermediate means it became the property of the Borough of Ipswich. The subsequent uses of the site and buildings have their own stories.

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