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 at right.) 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.
Images (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.
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. 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. The traditional picture is that friaries were usually founded on wholly peripheral or poorly drained land (e.g., the Augustinians’ first sites in Toulouse and Winchester) on the outskirts of a town. This might have been generally true, but there is nevertheless some instances to the contrary that religious orders could be quite ruthless in imposing themselves on already-occupied ground (e.g., the Austin Friars’ attempted second set of land acquisitions at Winchester in the 1340s).
More drastically, the Cistercians, for example, had depopulated land to make room for their abbey at Jervaulx in North Yorkshire in the twelfth century. In Norwich, a large area was cleared for the foundation of the town's second Dominican friary in the fourteenth century. Although the Austin Friars began in a modest way in Hull in about 1303, they enjoyed a considerable – and probably a quite necessary - boost when in 1317 they received a royal licence for the donation of a much larger plot of land adjacent to their own property; it measured 205 feet by 115 feet (190 by 108 metres). The Austin Friars’ incorporation and use of this additional land required the demolition of previous tenements thereon, as mentioned in the previous paragraph.
The inclusion of this additional land provided the Austin friars with sufficient space for the construction of a large and more permanent priory. The street in front of their house was called Monkgate (“Monk Street”), a name probably inspired by the previous presence of Carmelite Friars in this street, as mentioned above. The new section of Austin Friars’ land was donated by John Wetwang, a relative of the Augustinian Provincial, Richard Wetwang O.S.A. As well, John Wetwang’s generosity allowed an enlarged east window in the Austin Friars’ church, and for the roof over its whole choir area to be covered by lead.
The new section of Austin Friars’ land was levied an annual rent of 16s. 8d (16 shillings and 8 pence) to the town. The Austin Friars petitioned to be released from this payment in about the year 1321, but failed to obtain relief until Richard, the son and heir of a benefactor, Geoffrey of Hotham, joined by John de Wilflet, assigned to the town rents in lieu from other messuages (land holdings) to the amount of 17s. 9d (17 shillings and 9 pence). (The term messuage equates to a dwelling-house and includes outbuildings, orchard, courtyard and garden.)
The Town of Hull accepted this arrangement, but initially held the Austin Friars would be responsible for the shortfall if ever this new income stream declined for any reason. In 1338 and again in 1341, however, the Town of Hull became more generous, and stated in writing that it freed the Austin Friars from all taxes “in return for their prayers.” In Hull the Austin Friars had their friary next to the city’s market place, which was possibly the most fortuitous location of any Austin Friary - about thirty-five of them - in England because it gave the Augustinian church access to the greatest numbers of pedestrians, the proximity of Holy Trinity parish church notwithstanding. (In Canterbury, the property of the Austin Friars was also well situated, with a gate conveniently opening on to the High Street.)
Image (above). A medieval plan of Hull. The street approximately parallel with the bottom margin and containing the red arrow is Monkgate ("Monk Street"), along which the Austin Friars site was situated. The image below offers further details.
The archaeological excavation in 1994 of the former Austin Friars’ property in Hull raised questions about the relationship of the friary to the outside world. Whereas many Dominican and Franciscan friary churches had great naves, or extra-large transepts to accommodate large congregations coming to hear the friars preaching (as had the Austin Friars’ Church in London, just two metres shorter than the cathedral at Canterbury).
The Austin Friars’ church in Hull had a fairly conventional ground plan, rather like that of many larger parish churches. Only in its earliest phase of its first (temporary) church does the plan suggest provision for a preaching area. This may suggest that the Augustinians of Hull preferred to preach from market crosses and other public places, taking their religion out into the community rather than expecting the community to come to them.
The distribution of wealth among the townsmen of Hull suggests that there was a marked preponderance of poor families there, and that, at least in the fourteenth century, even the merchant class possessed only modest resources. When the tax of 1332 was assessed, on a total of fifty-eight residents of Hull, as many as half of the householders were too poor to be taxed at all. A third of these taxpayers in Hull were assessed on goods valued at less than £1 (one pound sterling), and 58% on goods worth between £1 and £4. Only 9%, a mere five men and women, had goods valued at £5 or more; outstanding among these was William de la Pole, with goods worth £24. This pattern was very similar to that in York at about the same time, and was relatively unchanged in the Hull taxation registers of 1382.
Few urban religious houses anywhere in Europe have been sufficiently excavated archaeologically to produce evidence of the temporary buildings which went up in their initial years, but the Austin Friars’ site in Hull is a fortunate exception. In the “dig” of 1994, ample evidence was found of timber buildings underlying what would later be parts of the cloister. As some of these appear to have been contemporaneous with the first church (itself substantially of timber), they may have served as temporary accommodation for the friars whilst the church was being erected.
Image (above): Hull in 1530, just before the dissolution of English monasteries by King Henry VIII. The red arrow marks Monkgate, the street somewhere along which the Austin Friars’ site was situated.
The survival of evidence of the formal monastic garden at the Hull friary was highly unusual. In most urban religious houses and monasteries, the gardens were quickly destroyed by their redevelopment soon after the dissolution of monasteries by Henry VIII in 1538-39, but in Hull the former Austin Friary remained largely unaltered for about 110 years. It was occupied as a private house and garden until at least the mid-seventeenth century, which seems to have ensured a large degree its preservation.
There remained in 1994 no firm botanical evidence of what had been grown in the friary garden during the 222 years of Augustinian ownership of that particular section between 1317 and 1539, but the main layout of the garden was clear. It comprised a large rectangle separated by pathways into four equal rectangular plots, with a path around the edge of the garden, and a large central feature in its middle. Some of the plots were further sub-sectioned into beds. This was not a pleasure garden but a practical place for growing vegetables, herbs and fruit. A conveyancing deed of 1627 lists the garden as measuring 49 yards by 23 yards, dimensions that were almost exactly what had been stated on the deed of surrender at the time of the dissolution of monasteries and priories in 1539.
In Hull, the Augustinians were the most popular mendicant order – “competing” in this case only with the Carmelites - for the burial of prosperous lay citizens on its property. (This was rarely, if ever, the case elsewhere, particularly because the Franciscan and Dominican friars often had a more numerous and larger communities nearby, were usually longer established locally than were the Augustinians, and hence had better-located sites and the prestige afforded by greater public visibility.) The buildings of the Austin Friars on their Hull property were large and stately. They stretched across Queen’s Street, then the best business street in the city, to Myton Gate (gate meaning street) with a kind of subterranean pathway for pedestrians. The property took up half of the street, and was said to have had fine gardens, fountains and courts.
The church of the Austin Friars had a square tower six stories high, which remained until demolition in 1796 (see the drawing below). The monastery of the Austin Friars was one of the more substantial ones of the Order of St Augustine in England, as evidenced by the fact that it housed Provincial Chapters in 1369, 1435 and 1472. The Austin Friars in Hull usually had eighteen members, and still had that many at the beginning of the sixteenth century, which was only forty years before its dissolution.
As to sustenance, the Hull friars seemed to depend entirely on alms. In this context, bequests played an important role. Many wealthy townspeople sought leave to be buried in the Austin Friars’ cemetery, as will be further explained later in this article. To give just two examples of over two hundred examples that it is possible to offer: Adam Correy was buried there in 1392, and left, as mortuary gift, his horse with saddle and bridle, and to Friar William Bridlington O.S.A. the sum of £9 (nine pounds sterling). Richard Wilflet of Hull, a mariner, in 1520 endowed lights on the altars of the Virgin Mary and St Catherine in the friars’ church.
With usually about eighteen members, the Augustinians at Hull appeared only infrequently in the records of the Prior General of the Augustinian Order in Rome in anything other than procedural matters, and hence apparently carried on their life and work routinely and without encountering any difficulties that required referral to the Prior General, e.g., instances of serious indiscipline or of the Order in Hull experiencing notable public, episcopal or royal displeasure, or internal disputes between the friars about the adoption or interpretation of Augustinian legislation or practices.
In 1424, however, the Hull friary did receive an adverse decision from the Augustinian Proir General. It was a rule of the time that a candidate must join the Order as a member of the Augustinian Priory that was geographically closest to his place of origin and upbringing. This was an equitable “anti-poaching” legislation, such that, when a larger house such as London required more personnel than could be recruited within its own geographical region (limits was the juridical term used), it required the consent of the Prior Provincial in England and of the Prior General in Rome to do so.
In 1423 the Hull friary had received the profession of Augustinian vows of John Sopham, who was a native of Lynn (which town had a large Augustinian priory), and his parents still lived there. On 31st January 1424, therefore, the Prior General responded in favour of the objection lodged by the Lynn Priory (ever associated in history with John Capgrave O.S.A.), whose members stated they had not given permission for his profession.
The Prior General declared that John Sopham therefore was to be a member of the Lynn Augustinians. Augustinian law notwithstanding, the Hull friars had probably operated on the presumption and premise that Sopham could be theirs unless the Lynn friars lodged an objection – which in fact was what they did do. It seems improbable that the Prior General would have become involved in the issue if a protest had not been made to him.
Image (above): The copy of a sketch in 1796 of the Austin Friars’ site, just before its demolition in that year for incorporation into the Tiger Inn. The property had been taken from Augustinian control by King Henry VIII in 1539.Beyond the realm of Augustinian legislation - as also detailed in the Augnet pages about the Austin Friars in Winchester - the Hull friary had recorded dealings with the Crown (the officers of the King) and with the Holy See (officers of the Pope). The dealings with the Crown involved Friar John de Hornyngton O.S.A., a doctoral graduate of Cambridge, who was granted licence by the Augustinian Prior General in Rome to choose any friary of the Augustinian Province of England as his place of domicile. He then had rights to a cell therein for life, and also to retain as his servant one of the brethren of the friary – friaries had a number of members who were not yet priests, or else were permanent non-clerical members.
Hornyngton had taken part in condemning John Wycliffe's doctrines in 1382. Both of them had been Cambridge graduates and professors, and per accidens Wycliffe had taught courses on Augustinian property at Cambridge. Hornyngton had moved into the friary at Hull, but subsequently complained to the Crown that certain envious persons were scheming to expel him, and on 20th August 1381 successfully obtained a writ of protection for himself, the friar assigned to him as his servant, his household, chamber, books and goods. In protecting his rights, Hornyngton was probably wise in opting for the protection of the king’s sheriff rather than from a document of support from a faraway pope.
This practice of having privileges for members of the Order who possessed academic doctorates was then the standard practice, but it can be appreciated why such rights caused a degree of umbrage, brought inconvenience to the chosen Priory that had no effective right of objection, and generally did not enhance the spiritual life and practice of the community. In another “bother” to Augustinian community life and to local Augustinian ministry at Hull, Friar Richard Clay O.S.A. of the Hull Friary was appointed an honorary papal chaplain in 1413. The practice – and often also the abuse – of the position of being the recipient of an honorary papal chaplaincy is explained on other pages in this website.
The particular purpose for Clay’s receipt of a papal chaplaincy in this instance is not known, but previously on 17th August 1402 Pope Boniface IX granted Clay permission for three years so that he literally could be a chaplain to English merchants who were travelling in parts of Prussia and Livonia, traders who did not understand the Teutonic language. The Mass would be celebrated in Latin regardless of who was its celebrant, but the ministry of an English-speaking priest would nevertheless have been much welcomed by these salesmen. The papal register noted that Clay had previous resided in these countries for some time. Was the fact that the Austin Friary at Hull was located at an English port on international trade routes have been a factor in Clay’s involvement in these matters?
For a friar, a honorary papal chaplaincy was a prerogative granted by the Pope (or most usually by papal officials in various nations) that exempted a friar – either for a set period, or else permanently - from receiving tasks and obligations to his religious order, such as exemption from living in a friary, and exemption from his vow of poverty. It denied the religious order much of its authority over the friar, and the community’s access to the income he earned. The former Austin Friars’ site in Hull became largest site for archaeological excavation in the north of England in the year of 1994. It was also the most extensive “dig” ever of an urban religious house in England.
In 1994 when archaeologists investigated a site to the north of the position of the former friary church, they were able to chart the development through time and expansion across the site of its series of friary buildings. There is evidence that the site may have contained kilns for pottery production before the friary was built there. From fragments found on the site, some of the building materials used by the Austin Friars included clay roofing tiles, slate roofing tiles, floor tiles, painted window glass. By means of X-ray fluorescence technology, it is known that the clay used in the tiles came from Nottingham, northeast Warwickshire and Northampton.
Bone fragments indicate that the friars’ diet was mainly cattle, sheep, pig, chicken, goose and duck; the pigs may have been slaughtered on the site. Eleven species of fish were eaten, of which nine were saltwater varieties; the latter may have been purchased as dried, salted fish from Hull fishermen who worked the oceans as far away as Iceland. As an archaeological site, the former Austin Friars’ area was greatly blessed by the high degree of preservation of organic remains in waterlogged soil. In addition to numerous complete items of clothing, evidence was also found of exquisite medieval carpentry in the surviving coffins. Moreover, the human remains unearthed there represent one of the most informative samples of England's medieval population found anywhere in the country.
Mendicant friaries played a very significant part in the life of a medieval town and its community. Not only were their churches and precincts major landmarks, but they also fulfilled many of the roles now performed by governmental social services, e.g., attending to the poor, sick and homeless, and offering both physical and spiritual comfort to those in need. Human burials from the Austin Friars’ site have provided some intriguing glimpses into medieval life. In the cemetery, the 245 articulated skeletons (that is, skeletons with all or many of the bones still in their original positions) represent both friars and lay citizens of Hull. Nearly half of the burials were of women and children, including the tiny remains of two foetuses, one of which was still in the womb.
To judge by their burial clothing, and additionally from documentary records, men and women of all positions in society were interred in the friary. These included a former Lord Mayor of Hull, John de Grimsby, who died about 1440, through wealthy burgesses, down to the poor and needy. By the early fifteenth century there was a thriving practice of wealthy patrons paying to be buried inside chantry chapels, for which evidence was found in the south aisle of the friary church. One of the more remarkable burials was found in the position that would have been the choir of the Austin Friars’ church. It was the skeleton of a large man in an enormous coffin built of English slow-grown oak (the only example of an English-oak coffin in the friary) and sited very close to the high altar of the first friary church. This person must have been either a major lay benefactor, or else an eminent Augustinian Prior in the history of the Hull friary.
All other coffins found on the site were made of Baltic oak - faster-grown, straighter and easier to work than English oak - and most have been dated by dendrochronology to individual years ranging from about 1330 to 1390, with notable clusters around years when the Black Death was known to have been virulent. Instances of different coffins being made from planks from the same tree point to burials being either simultaneous or very nearly so, whilst the makeshift construction of some coffins - with planks roughly nailed together like a packing crate - suggests they were produced in considerable haste. Is this evidence of a city coping with an outbreak of plague?
Certainly, these badly made coffins are in marked contrast to the care taken in preparing the carefully hidden dowels used to hold the best coffins together. Previously, little was known about fourteenth century carpentry, because owners of surviving wood panelling or paintings are understandably unwilling to allow archaeologists to take them apart.The best coffins from Hull, however, have shown an unsuspected level of skill, with dowels around 7mm wide carefully drilled into the ends of planks at times only 11mm thick, allowing for only the smallest margin of error.
Towards the end of the fourteenth century there was a marked change in burial practice. Coffined burials were replaced completely by shroud burials, which allowed far more bodies to be packed into the interior of an already crowded church. The survival of burial clothing was exceptional. The evidence suggests that people were buried in their “Sunday best” clothes. A number of wealthy individuals were buried in all-black costumes which seem to have been highly fashionable at court in the early fifteenth century.
All cloth materials were woollen; there was no evidence of silk or linen. The general standard of tailoring was the equal of anything found in London or Newcastle from the period, albeit typically made in more sombre colours. Particularly interesting were several pairs of male underpants. This woollen variant of modern `boxer shorts' was worn underneath the newly fashionable canvas breeches which tended to chafe the thighs. The use of wool, rather than linen, may indicate that these particular examples were winter clothes.
In the skeletons, plenty of evidence emerged of moderate ill-health. As with almost any medieval population, there were several examples of fractures and infections of the long bones, and tooth cavities. Almost a third of the adult burials within the church had suffered from degenerative joint diseases. Some of the Augustinians appear to have verged towards the sin of gluttony. A fair number of adult skeletons demonstrated marked signs of a bone disorder called DISH (diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis). This is associated with a limited diet high in cholesterol, coupled with a lifestyle which involved very little physical activity.
What is perhaps even more interesting is that, of the 245 Augustinian and lay skeletons in the Austin Friars’ cemetery, there are at least four skeletons with clear evidence of bone deformation caused by syphilis, and more than 100 of them display degrees of deformation which also could also have been caused by syphilis. The analysis of the skeletal material was carried out by the palaeopathologist Dr Charlotte Roberts, of Durham University. The stratification of some of these clearly shows that these particular persons were buried in about 1450-1475. Syphilis, which is present in the body for about twenty years before it begins to leave its mark on bone, was quite advanced at the time of death of the four persons mentioned in the above paragraph.
Carbon dating indicates that these victims had contracted syphilis as much as a century before the return of Christopher Columbus and his ships from the New World - traditionally regarded as the time when `The Great Pox' was introduced into Europe. Although, according to other recent discoveries, syphilis certainly existed in Europe in ancient Greek and Roman times (and probably even earlier), this particular strain of syphilis bacterium had achieved an equilibrium with its human hosts and seems to have become much less virulent over time.
However, it almost certainly underwent minor mutations after some bacteria were carried by humans into the Americas in prehistory, and in that new locality were isolated from the Old World for several millennia. When transatlantic contact was made by the sailors of Christopher Columbus, these genetic changes could cause epidemiological havoc in Europe, which had no immunity to the mutated bacterium.
The discovery in the Austin Friars’ cemetery in Hull now powerfully reinforces other evidence that England had been hit by a mystery epidemic of syphilis 150 years before the disease became widespread in Europe before the time of Christopher Columbus. Radio-carbon dating tests carried out at Oxford University, together with tree-ring dating analyses undertaken by the University of Sheffield, suggest there was a severe syphilis epidemic in Hull as early as the 1340s, i.e., not long before the widespread bubonic plague (the pandemic known today as the “Black Death,” one of the deadliest natural disasters in all of human history.)
Other English towns which appear to have been affected by an outbreak of syphilis at about the same time include York, London and Gloucester, and possibly Norwich. Scotland and Ireland might also have been affected but there is virtually no evidence that any areas of continental Western Europe were affected. Between the years 1,000 and 1,400 AD, the Norwegians were in contact with North America, mostly via Norwegian Icelanders and Greenlanders. And from around 1,300 AD substantial numbers of Norwegian sailors and merchants began visiting King's Lynn and Hull. Direct contact between Scotland and Iceland also began at about the same time. The main European overseas destination for Norwegian sailors and merchants in this period was England. And it is precisely at this time that evidence suggests a less virulent syphilis epidemic in England erupted.
By the time of the Dissolution of the Austin Friary at Hull, all other Austin Friaries in England – about thirty-five of them - had been surrendered. Ex-Dominican friar turned king’s agent, Richard Ingworth, was one of the principal henchmen of the unscrupulous Thomas Cromwell – chief minister to Henry VIII 1533-1540, and promptly executed in 1540 - in visiting the monasteries and friars in order to have them surrender to the Crown. On his way to close monasteries and friaries in northern England in February 1539, Ingworth – an ex-friar himself, but now in the king’s pay - wrote to Cromwell that the monks and friars he was encountering needed Cromwell’s help. Ingworth was “beseeching your Lordship to be good lord for the poor friars’ capacities (i.e., legal permission to obtain employment from a diocesan bishop).
"The bishops and curates will be very hard on them without they have their capacities...” Ingworth knew that the bishops, unless propelled by legal provisions that Cromwell could expedite, would most likely accord the homeless friars with scant compassion. At the time of the Dissolution of monasteries by King Henry VII in 1538-1539, the Austin Friars in Hull had no land holdings over and above their one site, including their garden, in Blackfriars Street (the same mortgage mentioned above, but renamed in the interim). Its taxable worth was assessed as being 5s. (five shillings) a year. The friary, then with only four residents, was surrendered by the Augustinian Prior, Alexander Ingram O.S.A. on 10th March 1539 to the Bishop of Dover.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom that all monasteries were rapidly despoiled at the time of their dissolution in 1538-39, the archaeological and historical evidence of the Austin Friary in Hull has indicated that this particular religious house escaped relatively lightly. The miniscule amount of broken glass recovered from the Dissolution excavation layers suggest that, although the windows were systematically dismantled and removed, along with the roofing lead and the internal fixtures and fittings, much of the Friars’ brickwork and masonry was left standing. After a lengthy period as a private house, the friary buildings were replaced by three pubs standing very close to one another - the Tiger, the Cross Keys, and the Marrowbone and Cleaver.
Three pubs with these names existed in Hull in recent times, but it is not suggested that they stand on sites occupied by their counterparts in the 1650s.) The Tiger used the friary's west tower for guest bedrooms, part of the nave for stables and the west range for its bar. The holy water font of the Austin Friars Church, reduced to indignity as a public urinal, stood in the (original) Tiger pub's main yard. It has now recovered a tiny portion of its former dignity as a birdbath, and graces the garden of the excavation team's masonry expert in a village some twelve miles from Hull.
In Hull, the previous Cross Keys pub of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (see photo below) was an enormous coaching inn with accommodation for over sixty guests, and huge stables. The Cross Keys may have taken its name from the Archbishops of York, who had a hostelry in this area in the fourteenth century; their coat of arms consisted of two crossed keys, which was the sign of St Peter. The Cross Keys in Hull had been an important coaching inn since the eighteenth century, with forty bedrooms and fifteen sitting rooms. Many photographs of the town’s market place (beside which, incidentally, the pre-Dissolution Austin Friars’ buildings continued to stand until 1796) show this particular building with the words Varley’s Cross Keys Hotel across the front of it. This was the Varley family, who were connected with this establishment for over sixty years. Mrs Anne Varley was its proprietor from 1859 to 1907.
Coach trade declined in the late nineteenth century, probably due to the greater speed and comfort of railway travel. The Cross Keys closed as a hotel in 1922 and an entry in the 1929 trade directory names this site as Trinity Chambers, with a Cross Keys Yard at the rear occupied by various trades. By 1937 the building had become almost derelict, parts of which were in a state of almost total collapse, and it was declared to be in such a dangerous condition that it was demolished. If perchance this coaching inn had contained parts of the Austin Friars structure largely demolished in 1796, these parts too were finally destroyed in 1937.
A newspaper article of the 1920s described the Cross Keys building thus: “It was a large and impressive four storied building with a double front and stabling for forty horses, to the rear was the great courtyard in which hung a bell dated 1596 along with great branches of decorated ironwork from which the oil lamps swung when the steaming horses clattered in on a winter’s night. In one of the courtyard buildings was a lovely Georgian bow window with a doorway next to it announcing a savings bank where the farmers left their money on market days.”
For further reading
The English Austin Friars 1249 – 1538 (Vol 1 & Vol II) by Francis Roth O.S.A. (Augustinian Historical Institute, New York: 1966 & 1961 respectively).
British History Online. The friaries of Hull. Scroll down to Austin Friars (No. 88) http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=36286 AN4209