Vic Keegan’s Lost London. 4: The remains of the White Friars’ home

Vic Keegan’s Lost London. 4: The remains of the White Friars’ home

The photo shows all that remains of a priory run by Carmelite friars, who became known as the White Friars for on occasion wearing white mantles over their brown habits. It can trace its origins back to 1253 after the friars arrived in London, having been expelled by Saracens from the Holy Land, where their order was founded.

For centuries the church with its buildings and gardens occupied all the space on a large site between Fleet Street and the Thames. It was thus well positioned on the road between the City of London (enclosed by a wall in those days) and the government in Whitehall, though the area itself was insalubrious and many friars died because of the unsanitary conditions.

The priory survived the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, which destroyed surrounding buildings, but not Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the mid-16th century, when most of the lands were given to Henry’s doctor, Sir William Butts, who allowed them to fall into disrepair. 

However, in 1608 the dining hall was converted into the Whitefriars Theatre by shareholders including Michael Drayton, one of the most distinguished poets of the age. He, according to gossip in Stratford-upon-Avon, had a drinking session with Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare which resulted in Shakespeare becoming ill and dying.

The remains of the old priory can be approached through the narrow Magpie Alley off Bouverie Street. They are down some stairs at the end of the alley, which also depicts the history of printing including a new journal “The Artful Dodger” launched in 1840.

Categories: Culture, Lost London

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