In about 1224 a group of Friars Minor who followed the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi came to the town.The Franciscan Friars were also called Greyfriars because of the colour of their robes. They lived a humble life. They settled in the poorer part of the town near God’s house hospice. When completed (around 1233), the friary included a quire, church, vestry, chapter house and a cloister, frater (dining room), infirmary, tailor’s house, parlour, kitchen, washhouse, toilet block and a library.
They created a water supply for townspeople from Hill Lane via Conduit House (opposite the Mayflower Theatre) to their Friary. In 1410 the town took on the system making it the earliest urban water supply in England.
Their Friary was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538. It was opened again for a short while during the reign of Queen Mary but was closed again by Elizabeth I in 1558. Today the site is occupied by the Friary House, an office building and the Gloucester Square car park.
The only remains are:
- “The Round Tower” – Built in the late 1200s and was used used as a dovecote. The honeycombs that you can still see in the base of the tower, used to be the nesting holes for doves. When the town wall was built the back was demolished to integrate it into the wall and the front was made higher. Thus it became a half-round tower.
- “The Friary Gate” – When the Walls were built in the late 1300s the friars were cut off from their orchards and the poor people in the Newtown suburb. In 1373 they were allowed to build a gateway through the walls, as long as they provided defences for the gate.
- “The Reredorter” – Built in the late 1200s. The dorter is another name for dormitory. So you could say that the reredorter was a medieval ensuite. The toilet block could be reached from the dormitory. According to archaeologists there used to be no doorway at ground level. The waste fell down into a stone lined drain that was washed clean by water from the town ditch and the tide. The smell must have been – not very pleasant!!!