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Austin Friars in Shropshire
A community of Austin Friars was established in Ludlow, just outside Galeford Gate. The date for this foundation is thought to have been around 1254. At the time Ludlow was a growing market town with only one parish church.
In 1326 they acquired an additional two and a half acres of meadow land to the south of their site. When completed the church was a spacious building with a nave and north aisle together measuring 90ft x 50ft and a smaller choir 70ft x 30ft. The cloister lay to the south of the nave and was surrounded by substantial buildings.
Different groups of Austin friars wore black, white and sometimes grey habits. The Austin friars at Ludlow appear to have worn black.
By the time of the Dissolution records show that they owned gardens, orchards and meadows extending to over 12 acres. The prior and three friars surrendered their house to the Crown in 1538 and the site and gardens were leased out.
By the 19th century part of the precinct wall and an arched gateway were still standing but they were pulled down in 1817. The site was later redeveloped as the cattle market.
The house at Shrewsbury was begun in 1254-5, within a year of the foundation of the house at Ludlow.
In September 1254 King Henry III granted the brethren of Coulon (in France), an area outside the town of Shrewsbury where the dead had once been buried. This grant was in response to a request by the burgesses and parishioners of St. Mary’s.
In 1269 the king have them 10 marks towards their building costs and building was in progress by the 1290’s. The church was finished by 1300 when the chamber where they celebrated divine service was leased. Over the next 40 years the precinct was gradually enlarged.
In 1472 there was scandal surrounding the Austin friars at Shrewsbury when one of the friars is said to have killed a man in self-defence. He sought sanctuary in the church and during the scuffle with the burgesses who tried to drag the friar out, another man was killed. The King intervened and punished the burgesses for the violation of the sanctuary of the church and the building was re-consecrated.
Between 1500 and 1538 the borough records show the friars were involved in at least 13 cases of affray. Some of these recorded fighting in inns or between themselves. There were also 13 cases of trespass or unlawful detention of goods concerning the monks, as well as 26 cases of debt.
An outbreak of the Plague in 1525 reduced the amount of alms that the friars received. The friars depended on these, along with a small amount of rent for their living and the reduction no doubt caused great stress.
In 1530 the friars were involved in scandal once again when the prior, William Man, came to blows with the previous prior, John Towne, and was bound over to keep the peace.
In August 1538, the King’s commissioners found the house in a poor state. The buildings were ruinous, the goods amounted to 26s 8d at most and there was no bedding, food or drink. The only monks in the house were a prior and 2 friars, both of whom were Irish.
In the early 19th century some of the ruins of the buildings were still standing. Owen and Blakeway record the lower part of a square building of red sandstone with two pointed doorways. The upper floor had a range of handsome windows and may have been the refectory; another doorway with recessed mouldings was discovered during alterations to the house. All of these have since been pulled down. Some foundations were discovered during the building of Priory School.
The hermitage of Woodhouse (2 miles northwest of Cleobury Mortimer) was one of the earliest English foundations of friars hermits of St. Augustine. By 1250 there was certainly a settlement at Woodhouse. The remote spot was uncultivated and outside of the parochial boundaries.
The house later received gifts from local families in Hopton Wafers, Woodhouse and Cleobury Mortimer.
The community was founded before the union in 1256 of the most important groups of friars following the rules of St. Augustine. After that date the organisation of the order more closely resembled that of other friars. Houses were normally established in towns or later moved here, but Woodhouse was one of the few to remain in its original solitude.
By the time of the Dissolution of the monasteries the estate comprised some 50 acres, principally consisting of pasture and woodland. This group of friars never aimed for total poverty and so they were able to own communal property.
The community at Woodhouse was always small with an estimated 7 friars in the late 13th century.
There is some circumstantial evidence to support a local claim that William Langland, author of ‘Piers Plowman’ (a poem detailing the narrator’s quest for a true Christian life, from a medieval Catholic point of view) was either a member of this community or received part of his education there.
After the dissolution of some of the smaller monastic houses in 1536 a number of Shropshire priors hid or sold the goods of their houses in an attempt to save them from confiscation by the Crown. In January 1537 Bishop Rowland Lee complained to Thomas Cromwell (Henry VIII’s chief minister) that the prior of Woodhouse had sold the goods of the house and changed his habit, for which Lee had him imprisoned.
In the early 19th century there was an old moated house with the remains of a chapel in Woodhouse, which was thought to be the remains of the Austin cell here. The house was rebuilt in the mid 19th century but part of the large rectangular moat survived.