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Sunday, 12 January 2014

Grey Friars House, Canterbury.


This blog ought to be sub-titled ‘It was meant to be!’

 Back in December my son had to re-take his Driving Theory test, and as it was on a Wednesday and I wasn’t doing anything I was asked if I would take him. I love going to Canterbury but two weeks before Christmas is not my idea of fun, so I wasn’t really looking forward to the day.

Crossing the Stour, looking for the gardens, which turned out to be a large grassy area.

Crossing the Stour the second time, this time in the right place to visit Grey Friars House. The left hand part of the bridge is very old.

Basking in the December sunshine

We got to Canterbury in plenty of time, had a quick snack then walked to where Joe had to be for 12 noon. He told me he would be anything from 40 minutes to an hour, so I needed to find some way to fill the time. I really wasn’t in the mood to go round the shops so set off down the back streets to see what I could find. About 200 yards down the road I found a sign saying ‘Franciscan Gardens.’ Gardens here in the heart of the City – what gardens?? I followed the footpath across the river and noticed a wall on the right hand side with barred openings, when I looked I saw this beautiful building! So now I had something to explore but needed to find the entrance. I followed the wall which goes all round the building but sadly there was no way to get in, so the only thing I could do was to retrace my steps to the road, to see if there was entrance from there.

Entering the house, the door that can be seen is at the back of the building.

The room that at some stage was used as a gaol. The painting is of the building, and is rather lovely Smile

Graffiti in the Gaol room, on the right can be seen ‘T.Woollett November 1819 for 14 days for……’ sadly I can’t make out what his sentence was for!

The studded gaol door.

As I was deciding to do this I noticed an elderly couple walking across the Green, both with walking sticks. I very politely stopped them and asked if they knew what the building was? The gentleman used to be the caretaker of the building!! This lovely couple then offered to show me the entrance to the Franciscan Chapel. I thanked them but asked them just to point me in the right direction, but no, they insisted on taking me all the way, which turned out to be quite a walk in the wrong direction for them, as they were on their way to catch a bus to go to an Hospital appointment in Margate! As we were walking back past the wall again we could see a Friar and another man going into the building, the old gentleman, who I later learned was called Fred told me the building is usually only open from 2pm for about two hours. As we were walking to the entrance we all had a lovely chat about historic buildings, churches, Deal and Sandwich, and Fred told me about the prison room in the Grey Friars, with a studded door, the trapdoor opening to the river in one of the ground room floors and the beautiful Chapel on the first floor. We finally got to the entrance, and I can honestly say I would never have found it on my own, as it was a long way down the street. I thanked Fred and his wife very much for the trouble they had gone to, and wished them both a Very Happy Christmas.

Looking up the stairs…

The beautiful little Chapel.

The very decorative Cross hanging on the wall of the Chapel.

The opposite end of the room from the Altar, the stairs are on the left, and a doorway to a further room can be seen on the right.

The Grey Friars is actually on an Island, or should I say it straddles part of the river Stour. It is believed that it was originally built as a mill, but was used as early as 1267 as a Guesthouse to the Franciscan Monastery, all of which has now disappeared. Access to the building is through an archway which is part of a building in Stour Street, and is one of the nicest buildings I think I have found.

Looking out of the door..

The Cathedral can be clearly seen from the building.

Straddling the River Stour.

The door was open in the building, with a notice saying that there was a service that day at 12.30pm, so I tentatively peeked in the door to see if either of the two men we had seen earlier were around. There was no sound so I went further into the building, both downstairs rooms were empty, so I made my way up the stairs to the beautiful Chapel. The Friar and the other man I had seen going into the building appeared from a tiny room at the back of the Chapel, so I asked if it was alright  to have a look round and take photos? The Friar said it was fine, but I was very lucky as this was the only time the building was open in the Winter. It was the Friar who told me Fred’s name, and he said I was welcome to stay for the service if I would like to. Knowing that I only a short time I had to decline, but I lit a candle (which I always do in churches if I can) and soaked up the atmosphere of this wonderful little building, and or course I took photos. I left a donation and an entry in the guestbook, as I felt very privileged to have been allowed to look round.

A 15th Century doorway, moved to its present position at some time.

A closer view of the arches under the building.

I will most definitely go back to the building, my friend and I are going to try to get there one Wednesday for the service, and I would recommend anyone visiting Canterbury to have a look round. What were the chances that I found the building, asked for help from a former caretaker of the building and actually found the building open, all at the right time? As I said this was most definitely a case of ‘It was meant to be’ and I am so glad that it was! My son passed his Theory Test too, so it was very good day all round, and I really hope Fred and his wife are keeping well, I won’t forget their kindness Smile

My first view of the building, although it was midday the frost can still be seen on the ground.