Location of board

New London Road, near junction with Parkway, by the subway


The site of the Dominican Friary was excavated during the construction of Parkway between 1969 and 1970. Further work was undertaken in 1973 and 1977.

The Dominican Order of Friars was founded in 1216. The Dominicans, or Black Friars as they were known, sought to teach by public preaching. They actively associated with the local people, not wishing to isolate themselves behind closed doors unlike other monastic orders. As a result of this more open policy, the order became very popular with the townsfolk, who often regarded the more secretive monastic institutions with suspicion and even mistrust.

The Chelmsford Friars founded their church on the main route to London on the Moulsham side of the River Can close to the bridge. The cloister was on the north rather than the normal south face of the Church. This enabled the south side of the complex to be used as an open preaching yard where the townsfolk could gather.

The Friary was founded between 1234 and 1277 (when Edward I sent alms) and consisted of a long narrow flint-built preaching nave approximately 26m x 9m (90' x 30') with a small attached chapel to the south. Other rooms included the chancel, the chapter house, and the reredorter (lavatory). The reredorter was serviced by a sluice drain which was fed from the river and discharged back into it further east.

A number of burials were found both within and outside the church; some still had traces of the wooden coffins which had been preserved by the waterlogged soil. Two stone coffins and at least three stone-built tombs were also excavated.

Excavations have revealed decorated medieval floor tiles, painted window glass, and a bone parchment pricker, used by monastic scribes to follow a manuscript.

When Henry VIII ordered the dissolution of the monasteries, the Friary was pulled down in common with most other monastic institutions, and the land sold to Thomas Mildmay. A map of Chelmsford drawn in1591 shows the empty squarish site occupied only by a half-timbered hall and the retained monastic kitchen. These buildings formed part of Moulsham School which was founded in 1551 and later pulled down in the eighteenth century.

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