Houses of Dominican friars


Victoria County History



R.B. Pugh, Elizabeth Crittall (editors)

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'Houses of Dominican friars: Wilton', A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3 (1956), pp. 330-331. URL: Date accessed: 17 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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The 13th century saw the gradual but complete and final decay of Wilton as a large town and the growth in population and importance of the neighbouring episcopal city of Salisbury. The objects of the first two orders of friars could only be fulfilled in populous towns; and it is in these that their first foundations were made. The Franciscans, in coming to Wiltshire in 1229, within five years of their first arrival in the country, either by accident or owing to well-informed patrons, established themselves in Salisbury. Not so the Preachers, who, as late as 1245, started a house in Wilton. It stood in what is now West Street, but no trace of it remains today. Within 40 years this site proved to have been a mistake and in 1281 the convent moved 3 miles to Fisherton Anger, a suburb of Salisbury. (fn. 1)

The house at Wilton had powerful and rich local patrons, and was helped throughout its short life by the king. In 1245 the king ordered Adam Coks to allow the friars to fell and cart away 8 oaks given them by William Longespée to build their church, and Geoffrey Sturmy was ordered to allow the friars to have 20 trees from Savernake given them by Simon, Earl of Leicester, and 6 trees given them by the Lady of Braybuf. (fn. 2) The following year the king gave 30 marks to this house to be paid by the sheriff, (fn. 3) who was also ordered to deliver 4 oaks to the friars' house. (fn. 4) Two further patrons appear next year. Roger de Sifrewast and William Mauduit each gave 5 oaks. (fn. 5) Three years later William gave a further gift of 20 oaks out of his wood within the royal forest of Selwood, and the king gave permission for the friars to cart them free of charge. (fn. 6) In November of the same year 1250, the king himself gave 20 oaks from Chippenham Forest (fn. 7) and ordered the sheriff to have them carried to Wilton, (fn. 8) and finally on 26 December the justiciar of the forest was ordered to allow the friars all the escheats of these trees. (fn. 9)

Meanwhile the friars' land at Wilton, a considerable piece, was still unenclosed, and in 1254 the king gave 15 cartloads of thorn and underwood from Grovely Forest to help towards this work. (fn. 10) The Dominicans of Wilton were fortunate in that there were so many royal forests in the neighbourhood. In 1255 they received 15 oaks from Gillingham Forest (Dors.) with escheats, (fn. 11) in 1256 7 oaks from Clarendon Forest, (fn. 12) and in 1258 10 oaks again from Gillingham Forest. (fn. 13) Still the building continued and it seems somewhat strange that within nine years of the move to Salisbury the cloister at Wilton was still being built. In December 1271 the king gave 6 oaks for that purpose. (fn. 14) Even more surprising is the gift in 1280 of fuel, the last of many such gifts. (fn. 15) In 1280 the house at Wilton was clearly a going concern and building seems to have been completed. By May 1281 the move to Salisbury had taken place and the Wilton house became a cell.

The subsequent history of this house contains some unsolved problems. The original site comprised 5 or 6 acres and the friars were occupied for 26 years (from 1245 to 1271) in building, (fn. 16) but the remains left in 1538 were wretched. The church measured 34 by 14 ft. and adjoining this was a cloister of 24 ft. and a lodging 16 by 12 ft. There was also a garden and meadow of about 3 acres and the whole property was said to be worth £1 a year. (fn. 17) Again it is impossible to describe the standing of a 'cell' in the Order of Preachers, nor its relations with the parent house. How could the one friar there in 1538 in any sense follow the Rule of St. Dominic?

When the house at Salisbury was dissolved in October 1538 the cell at Wilton could not stand alone. (fn. 18) Eventually Henry VIII sold all the buildings and land to Sir William Herbert. As the sale was not completed before Henry's death Edward VI carried out the arrangements made by his father. (fn. 19)


1 C. F. R. Palmer, 'The Black Friars of Wiltshire', W.A.M. xviii, 162-76. Little has been added to Father Palmer's article.
2 Close R. 1242-7, 325, 326.
3 Cal. Lib. 1245-51, 61.
4 Ibid. 100.
5 Close R. 1242-7, 524.
6 Ibid. 1247-51, 298.
7 Ibid. 382.
8 Cal. Lib. 1245-51, 16.
9 Close R. 1247-51, 391.
10 Ibid. 1253-4, 40.
11 Ibid. 1254–6, 251.
12 Ibid. 333.
13 Ibid. 1256–9, 224.
14 Ibid. 1268–72, 448.
15 Cal. Close, 1279–88, 6. The other gifts were made in 1252, 1254, 1260, 1271, 1274–5, 1276, and 1277. See Close R. passim.
16 W.A.M. xviii, 126.
17 L. & P. Hen. VIII, xiii (2), p. 231.
18 Ibid. xiv (1), p. 112.
19 Cal. Pat. 1547–8, 112.