Blackfriars, Foundation Street IP4 1BN

Walk in the footsteps of Dominican Friars between their remaining low walls of septarian stone. Find the marine worm borings that give clues to where this ‘Harwich Stone’ was obtained.

Blackfriars was a medieval religious house of Dominican Friars and preachers. Founded in 1263 by King Henry III and dissolved in 1538.  It was the second of the three friaries established in the town. The others being Greyfriars and Whitefriars.

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. 

Joshua Kirby's Prospect and Plan of the buildings on the Blackfriars site preserved an important record, but unfortunately misinterpreted much of the layout of the site.

In a study made in 1976 based upon contemporary understanding of English medieval friary construction, R. Gilyard-Beer observed that Kirby’s supposed church was in fact the refectory or frater of the former Blackfriars, that the hall shown behind it had contained the sacristy, chapter house and dormitory, and that the courtyard between them was the true site of the friars' cloister.

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.

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.

[Source: A History of the County of Suffolk, Vol. 2 (VCH, London 1975).]

Links: Simon's Suffolk ChurchesIpswich Society Image Archive; Historic England Listing