Greyfriars Leicester

Greyfriars Townscape Heritage Initiative

The Greyfriars Mansion

In the 16th century, a mansion was built on the grounds of the Greyfriars precinct following its dissolution in 1538. The mansion was erected further south than where the church had been located. The family of Alderman Robert Heyrick owned the plot for generations until his great grandson Samuel Heyrick sold the house and lands in 1711. The new owner Thomas Noble made a number of improvements to the house, which were completed by 1720. The grounds of the new manor house extended from the upper end of Market Place, almost to Friar Lane meeting house.

Noble allowed much of the western part of the land to be split up and sold to various purchasers after 1711. A new thoroughfare, ‘New Street’ was built from Peacock Lane to Friar Lane, cutting through the Greyfriars estate from north to south. The manor house and gardens, to the east of New Street, were sold to a Mr Garle in 1752, and Garle’s heirs sold them to Thomas Pares in 1776. Pares extended the house even further and added two wings. It was said to be the largest private house in Leicester.

Greyfriars Mansion, Leicester
This image shows the mansion in 1865 a few years before its demolition.

The mansion house and grounds extended from modern Greyfriars St to St Martins and Friar Lane. When Pares died in 1824, the land was sold to Beaumont Burnaby, who devised it on his death to his wife, Mary. Under Mary’s ownership the house was divided in two, with Mary living in one half until her death in 1866. Mary’s half of the property passed via her trustees to the Corporation of Leicester. The Corporation then cleared the whole area, including the mansion house in 1873-4. A new street ‘Greyfriars’ was created in 1872, partly over the site of the demolished mansion house.

The Greyfriars Area of Leicester after the Dissolution

Greyfriars before 1539

Greyfriars was founded before 1230 but very little is known about the Franciscans at Leicester up to the surrender of the friary in 1539 (VCH ii 1954: 33-4). Richard III’s body was buried in the church of Greyfriars in 1485. An alabaster tomb was built over his remains by Henry VII 10 years later (Billson 1920: 181-2).The Hospital of St Ursula (now Wigston’s Hospital) was founded within the precincts in 1513 and a garden was added in 1520 by William Fisher who paid an annual quit rent of 4s. to the Crown (Nichols I.ii 1815:299). St Francis Lane ran from the Hospital to Greyfriars (Billson 1920: 10).

Greyfrairs surrendered to the Warden in November 1539. It was not a wealthy house, comprising only the house and its precincts and very few possessions and the value of the house and lands was valued at just £1.4s by the King’s officers (VCH ii 1954: 33-4).

Greyfriars in the 16th Century

The lease of the site of Greyfriars was granted to John Bellowe and John Bloxholme who paid the Crown £200. The church was demolished soon after. The site was then sold to Sir Robert Catlyn, who later sold it to Alderman Robert Heyrick (b 1540), sometime mayor of Leicester (d 1618) (Billson 1920:183). We do not know what happened to the site during the mid to late 16th century but some accounts claim it was neglected.

After the destruction of the church, which appears to have happened quickly after the Dissolution, Richard III’s tomb became “overgrown with nettles and weeds, is not to be found” (Speed 1611; Nichols I.ii 1815: 299; Billson 1920: 185-6). Heyrick had the tomb covered with a 3 foot sandstone pillar, but even this construction was lost by 1720 when part of it was reputed to be at the White Horse Inn (Nichols I ii 1815: 298).

The manor house in the 17th and 18th centuries and creation of New Street

In 1711, Heyrick’s great grandson, Samuel Heyrick, sold the house and lands of Greyfriars to Thomas Noble who made a number of improvements to the house, which were completed by 1720. The grounds of the new manor house extended from the upper end of Market Place, almost to Friar Lane meeting house. Much of this area had been built up, including along Peacock Lane (previously known as St Francis Lane), opposite St Martins church (Nichols I.ii 1815: 299).

This picture is confirmed by the relatively accurate Roberts map of Leicester (surveyed in 1711 and published in 1741), which shows the Greyfriars area as a garden and a built up area on the west side (High Street), to the north west (along Peacock Lane), and to the east (aligning with medieval Cank Street and modern Greyfriars street).

To the south, along medieval Friar Lane, the map appears to depict larger houses (Hill 2011:123). The Roberts map also shows the precinct wall along Peacock Lane, part of which survived until 1930 when it was demolished for street widening.

Noble allowed much of the western part of the land to be split up and sold to various purchasers after 1711. A new thoroughfare, ‘New Street’ was built from Peacock Lane to Friar Lane, cutting through the Greyfriars estate from north to south.

The manor house and gardens, to the east of New Street, were sold to a Mr Garle in 1752, and Garle’s heirs sold them to Thomas Pares in 1776. Pares extended the house even further and added two wings (Nichols i.ii 1815: 299). It was said to be the largest private house in Leicester. According to Billson, the mansion house and grounds extended from modern Greyfriars St to St Martins and Friar Lane (Billson 1920: 183-4). Pares also created a Banking House in 1800. The present bank building was built in 1901 (VCH iii 1958: 30).

19th century and Leicester Corporation

When Pares died in 1824, the land (with the exception of the Banking House) was sold to Beaumont Burnaby, who devised it on his death to his wife, Mary. Under Mary’s ownership the house was divided in two, with Mary living in one half until her death in 1866. The other half of the estate passed to John Henry Davis (Billson 1920: 184).

After Mary Burnaby’s death, her half of the property passed via her trustees to the Corporation of Leicester. The Corporation then cleared the whole area, including the mansion house in 1873-4. A new street ‘Greyfriars’ was created in 1872, partly over the site of the demolished mansion house.