The priory of the Austin Friars at Hull, more by accident than by design, was in 1539 the final residence of the Order of St Augustine to be surrendered on the order of King Henry VIII of England. Over four centuries later in 1994, an archaeological investigation of its former graveyard uncovered far more historical information about this Austin Friars' site than had ever previously been recorded.
Hull is located in the north-east of England, where the River Hull joins the River Humber, twenty miles from the sea on England's east coast (see map two pages ahead).
It was originally a little settlement called Wyke that belonged to the Cistercian abbey of Meaux near Beverley, not far away. In 1293 King Edward I purchased Wyke from the abbot of Meaux and built a town there, which he renamed Kingston-upon-Hull (now more commonly known simply as Hull.)
King Edward I, who visited Hull in 1,300 AD, correctly recognized the town's potential importance as the site for a port and as a potential war base in conflicts with Scotland and France. In the decades and centuries that followed, the main exports through the port of Hull were wool, salt, grain and hides. The main commercial imports were wine, wood, iron, pitch, furs and wax from ports in Scandinavia, France and Holland. In the course of their work, Hull's fishermen undertook deep-sea fishing as far afield as the coasts of Iceland.
A significant local industry in Hull during the thirteenth century was the making of tiles and bricks. The first brickyard was built in Hull as early as 1303, and it seems that the popularity of brick as a building material may have spread from Hull to the other parts of England.
It was in 1301 that land near Hull’s marketplace was consecrated for Holy Trinity Church, whose construction may have begun as early as 1285. This parish church was the outstanding achievement in ecclesiastical building in medieval Hull.
Its construction continued throughout the fourteenth and into the early fifteenth centuries, and the addition of its tower began in the late fifteenth century. Both Holy Trinity parish and its church still exist, with the church – subsequently altered and expanded - still containing early medieval remnants (see photos at right).
Records indicate that the first Austin Friars arrived in Hull in 1303, their early patrons being the de la Pole (Paule) family, who were wealthy wool merchants and involved in local government in Hull. The land given by the de la Pole family to the Austin Friars was located on the opposite side of the marketplace to Holy Trinity Church, and just a few hundred metres away from it.
The de la Pole family already had contact with the Order of St Augustine before 1301, because William de la Pole the Elder had received favours from Simon de Pistola O.S.A., the Augustinian Prior General in Rome, in 1295-98.
The Carmelite Friars were present near the Hull marketplace on Monkgate (Monk Street, i.e., (gate meaning street) from about 1285-1293 onwards, until in 1304 they moved to a new and larger site at Aldergate (later re-named Whitefriargate) that was given to them by King Edward I.
The only two mendicant orders to be present in Hull, the Carmelites and the Augustinians both listed the de la Pole family among their benefactors. Hull was recorded as having a population of 2,000 inhabitants in the year 1377, which would not appear to be a great number to give financial support to their parish clergy and to two friaries.
One of the interesting facts literally uncovered during the extensive archaeological excavation of the former Austin Friars’ site in 1994 was that, in the friary's early years, a number of occupied tenements were deliberately demolished to make way for a much larger Austin Friary. Traces of the wooden buildings that had pre-existed the four phases of the Austin Friars’ construction and rebuilding were found underneath the friary's street frontage.
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Photos (at right):
Picture 1: A map of England, showing the position of Hull.
Picture 2: Holy Trinity parish church, Hull.
Picture 3: Holy Trinity parish church, Hull.