Lost London – Blackfriars Priory

June 17, 2011

The London area of Blackfriars – centred on Blackfriars Railway Station – takes its name from the former Dominican friary (known as the “black friars” thanks to their dark robes) which stood on the site.

The Dominicans first came to England in the 1220s and soon took up residence in Holborn. But the limitations of that site led them to move to a new location between Ludgate and the River Thames in the latter part of the 13th century. There, they constructed a substantial priory.

The priory subsequently played an important part in London’s civic and religious life – Parliament and the Privy Council is known to have met here and in 1529, a hearing was held here with regard to the divorce of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon.

It was also a place of burial for the wealthy and influential – among those buried there was the beloved wife of Edward I, Eleanor of Castille (at least her heart was – her body was buried at Westminster Abbey).

The priory was dissolved in 1538 during the Dissolution. The Blackfriars Playhouse was built on the site during Elizabethan times and the Apothecaries Company also took up residence there. Those of the original buildings that survived were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. In more recent times, the area became the site of Blackfriars Railway Station.

A reminder of the area’s origins can be found on the facade of The Black Friar pub (1875) which sits opposite Blackfriars Bridge at the western end of Queen Victoria Street (pictured). There you can see a statue of a black friar, the work of Henry Poole which dates from around the beginning of the 20th century. There is also a plaque commemorating the friary in nearby Carter Lane.

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