Monastic Wales.

Discoveries made on the Friar's Estate, Bangor, Archaeologia Cambrensis, 5th series, 17 (1900), 24-42

Harold Hughes and P. Sheakson Gregory

The April number of the Archaeologia Cambrensis, 1894, contained a short notice of discoveries made on the Friar's Estate, Bangor, with a sketch-plan showing portions of ancient walls, and a suggested arrangement of the buildings of which they once formed a part.
All subsequent discoveries tend to confirm the general correctness of the plan there indicated.
The Friar 8 Estate had recently been sold to a syndicate, who had made the purchase with the view of converting it into building property. The first discoveries were made while making roads for this purpose. When the matter was brought before the members of the syndicate, they were not prepared to grant permission to carry out any systematic series of excavations. All discoveries have resulted from chance utilitarian works happening to bring to light ancient foundations or objects of interest. The positions of the finds are indicated on the plan here reproduced.

A main sewer runs along the back roads north-west and south-east of the new Seiriol Road, crossing the latter. Minor sewers branch into this from the other back roads, and run up and down Seiriol Road. In excavating trenches for the formation of the sewers, most of the foundations were brought to light. They are constructed, for the most part, of large sea boulders carefully fitted together, but contain a few blocks of conglomerate and limestone. Where the main sewer runs across Seiriol Road, a large mass of masonry was cut through, at 'A' on plan. This masonry is at the junction of two walls at right angles to each other, one running slightly north of east, the other west of north. For practical purposes, they may be said to run east and west, and north and south respectively. In sinking other trenches, the wall running east and west was cut through in two places further west, while that running north and south in one place north of the portion marked 'A'. The walls were first struck about two feet below the surface of the ground. The height of walling then standing was 3 ft. 10 ins. The wall running east and west measured 6 ft. 2 ins. in thickness, that north and south about 4 ft. 9 ins. At a distance 26 ft. south of the east and west wall, portions of a wall lying parallel with it were unearthed. The first portion discovered was in sinking the trench in the south-east back road, when a wall 5 ft.10 ins. wide was brought to light. The same wall was touched at three different places where it crossed Seiriol Road. In the latter three cases, the excavations were only carried down to a slight depth below the upper remaining portions of the wall. At the most western point of this wall it was found to be of extra width, as shown on the plan. No further foundations were come across in sinking the deep trench which was continued south-east of this wall in the back road, nor were any discovered to the south in Seiriol Road, though in this direction no deep excavations were made. Carrying the trench along the back road north-west of Seiriol Road, a portion of a light wall, 1 ft. 9 ins. wide, was come across. This wall was parallel with and about 9 ft. 3 ins. distant from the main wall first mentioned running north and south. Its foundations were carried to no great depth, a thickness of only about 1 ft. remaining standing. No further foundations were discovered in this trench until it arrived at the junction of the back road parallel with and north-west of Seiriol Road, at the point marked 'B' on the plan. Here, a wall, 4 ft. wide, running approximately north and south was cut through. This wall is about 60 ft. west of the main wall, running north from 'A'. A wall about 4 ft. wide running west, joined at right angles to wall B, was next discovered. Continuing the trench further north-west, the foundations of another wall about 4ft. wide, running approximately north and south, were cut through. A second portion of this wall was discovered in the back road parallel to Seiriol Road, in the position marked o on the plan, This latter portion would seem to indicate a wall about 8 ft. 3 ins. wide. The excavation, however, may be at the return angle of a wall. The distance between this wall and the next wall to the east is about 20 ft. 3 ins. Continuing the trenches in the latter two back roads, no further foundations were discovered. Returning to Seiriol Road, portions of a wall about 4 ft. 6 ins. in width, approximately parallel, with and about 20 ft. 9 ins. distant from the wall running north from 'A', were discovered. This wall would seem to terminate northwards at a wall running east and west. A portion of such a wall was brought to light, but not sufficient to note its exact direction. A small portion of another wall, running east and west, was discovered at 'D' on the plan. A portion of a wall, which may have been a wall running north and south, and joining the latter two, was touched at 'E', but insufficiently to show its exact direction.
We have, therefore, evidence of two main walls running east and west, with a distance of 26 ft. between them. Apart from all other evidence, taking into consideration that no foundations were discovered further south, although the trench in the back road was sunk to a considerable depth, we may conclude that these walls formed the outer walls of a building, the space between being roofed over. Running at right angles to the north of this building we have four main walls, the two western being separated about 20 ft. Then comes a space of about 60 ft. between the second and third walls, while the third and fourth are separated by about 20 ft. The 60 ft. division we may take for granted was for the most part open to the sky, with the exception of light structures, which may have been supported against the enclosing walls. On the east and west of this space would have been ranges of buildings about 20 feet wide internally. The eastern of these two sets of buildings did not continue of this width, but after running 20 ft. wide for some little distance, it was extended out further to the east.

Within the main building, running east and west, were discovered three objects of special interest: two richly-carved sepulchral slabs, and one stone coffin. The slabs are those figured nos. 1 and 2, and both lay close to the southern wall. The stone coffin lay close to, and parallel with, the northern wall. Along the inside of the southern wall, where it crosses Seiriol Road, particularly between the wall and slab no. 1, were discovered many fragments of the lead fret of leaded lights (see fig. 2). A much corroded fragment of an iron stancheon and saddle-bar, at the point where they cross each other, was discovered (see fig. 1). We have, therefore, evidence that this wall contained windows with leaded lights. Close to the same wall, on the inside, where it crossed the back road, were found several fragments of plaster still retaining very smooth and perfect faces.
South of this building, both in Seiriol Road and the back road, numerous skeletons were discovered, but not a single slab. The bodies seem to have been buried simply in the soil and covered over. At 'F' on the plan, there were certainly some rough stones, but it is doubtful whether they covered a grave. Immediately north of this building, in the 60 ft. space, close to and parallel with each other, two sepulchral slabs were found. They are figured 3 and 4 on plan. They were absolutely plain, without inscription or carving. The whole of the ground, from 'A' to H, bore signs of fire, being covered with a thick layer of charcoal, burnt pieces of wood, burnt fragments of clay (tile or brick). Large pieces of lead, bearing the appearance of having run down in a melted state, were discovered. Possibly they may have formed part of a lead roof. A further object of interest, found some distance below the surface, at 'J' on the plan, was an immense lead weight, measuring 1 ft. 2 ins. in length and 5 ins. in diameter. Near it a second weight, 7 ins. long and 2 ins. in diameter was found. Each weight had an iron ring let into the lead at one end. That of the larger weight was broken. The weights at present are at Mr. Owen's foundry, Hirael.

Further to the north were discovered three carved sepulchral slabs, of special interest, marked nos. 5, 6 and 7. The data we now have before us is sufficient to suggest the class of buildings to which these remains belonged, and approximately their general arrangement. The long building running east and west, with its sepulchral slabs and lead-glazed windows, the open burial-ground on the south side, the open court between ranges of buildings on the north side, would appear with almost a certainty to have been a church. The enclosed open court at once suggests a cloister garth. We therefore conclude that the remains formed part of a house of a confraternity. The width of the cloister garth is certainly very small, but probably the whole house would not have been large. The small foundations at 'K' may have supported a lean-to roof over the eastern walk of the cloister. The sepulchral slabs may have helped to pave the southern walk. The sacristy and chapterhouse probably occupied the buildings east of the
cloister garth. We might expect the chapterhouse to occupy the position where the sepulchral slabs, nos. 5, 6 and 7, were found, though possibly there was a chapel here; and to find the refectory to the north of the cloister garth, while the cellars would occupy the range of buildings to the west. In the brief report before referred to, it was suggested that the thick wall discovered in the back road, west of the buildings, formed part of the entrance. This would be in a not-unusual position.

Sepulchral Slabs
The illustrations of slabs no. 1, 2 and 5, are from sketches made with the assistance of photographs kindly taken by Mr. J. E. Griffith, of Bryndinas, Upper Bangor. The history of these slabs since their discovery is as follows: for several months they were stacked in a small hut used by the workmen for storing their tools and having their meals in. During this time they received certain damage. On the removal of the hut, they were placed unprotected on the open ground. Here they remained a considerable time, and all efforts to get them removed to a place of safety were futile. It was during this time that Mr. Griffith obtained photographs of the slabs. Permission at last was given to the authorities of the University College of North Wales, to remove and take charge of them for their better protection. They were carefully conveyed to the College Buildings in January, 1899. Owing to a claim being made by the contractor to the estate to the possession of the slabs, the College authorities, not wishing to have in their charge any objects with a disputed title, they were again removed. Since February, 1899, the slabs have been stacked in the Slate Yard of Mr. Edward Jones, Mount Street, Bangor, where they still remain. We understand that Mr, Kowland Williams, of Colwyn Bay, the contractor, has determined to present these slabs to the Museum of the University College of North Wales, and has kindly offered to mount them on slate slabs. Slab no. 1, was discovered 1 ft. 2 ins. below the surface of the ground. Although the ground was excavated to a depth of 4 ft. 6 ins. beneath the slab, no human remains were discovered. The slab was situated parallel to and 6 ins. from the south wall of the church. The head of the slab was missing. The remaining portion is broken in two. The slab is ornamental with carved foliage, most gracefully arranged, running up the middle of the slab and forming a stem. The foliage consists of three-lobed leaves, and starting from two large sprays at the base is a repetition of a three-leaved figure, a centre leaf supported by two side leaves. As no two leaves repeat, but all differ in detail, size and height, there is no sense of weariness or hardness produced. From the appearance of the foliage, we should not imagine the slab would belong to a period later than 1300.
There is a certain barbaric rudeness in the arrangement and execution of the ornament on Slab no. 2. This slab was found within the church, about 12 ft. west of no. 1. The main feature in the decorations is a floriated cross. The carving of the foliated head is extremely bold. Over the stem of the cross is a square figure charged with armorial bearings. Writing of similar armorial bearings on a slab in Gyfl Church, the late Mr. Stephen Williams remarked that the heraldry looked more English than Welsh. The squares shown white on the drawing are filled with lead. While the slab lay in the workmen's hut the lead was picked out of one of the squares. Appearing under the square figure on the left of the slab is some object resembling the scabbard of a sword. The carving in the right-hand corner, above the foliated cross-head, has come out indistinctly in Mr. Griffiths' photograph. Possibly it might be shown in greater detail should an opportunity be given to carefully examine the original slab again. We do not recollect having seen a similar arrangement of ornamentation on any slab previously. The carved foliage has the appearance of being of late thirteenth-century workmanship.
Slab no. 3, found outside and close to the northern wall of the church, is without ornamentation. It is 5 ft.7 ins. long, 1 ft. 9 ins. wide at the head, and 1 ft. 1:1: ins. at the foot. It was discovered about 1 ft. 9ins. below the ground level. It has now disappeared.
Slab no. 4 is similar, and parallel to no. 3. Its length is 6ft. 0in., the width at the head is 1 ft. 9 ins., and at the foot 1 ft. 3 ins. This slab was broken after it was taken up. It has now disappeared.
Slab no. 5 was the first discovered on the 26th of February, 1898. It lies considerably to the north of the building we suggest formed the church. When taken up it was scarcely damaged. When removing it from the workmen's hut, it was broken into two pieces, and subsequently it was reduced to five fragments, and some of the most excellent foliage irreparably damaged. The ornamentation consists of a floriated cross extending the length of the slab. The edges of the slab are deeply bevelled. A dragonesque beast holds the root of the stem of the cross in its mouth. The beast was developed very faintly in Mr. J. E. Griffiths' photograph, and doubtless, it could be shown in further detail should an opportunity be given of examining the original slab again. The stem is formed of a series of three three-lobed leaves one above the other, with three-lobed leaves branching out on either side at intervals. Each arm of the cross consists of three main stems, each terminating with a three-lobed leaf, and two subsidiary stems terminating in the same manner, appearing below the former. An open flower is placed at the crossing. In delicacy of carving this slab far excels any of the others found, but there is a certain uncultured grandeur in nos. 2 and 7, which compensates for the finer feelings expressed by the carver of this slab. The carving certainly bears evidence of having been worked in the thirteenth century.
Slabs nos. 6 and 7 were only discovered this summer. They lie further north, on a plot of land at the corner of Beach and Seiriol Roads, bought by Inspector Rowlands of the Police Force, and on which he is now erecting a house. Their former positions are now occupied by the kitchen fireplace. Inspector Rowlands removed the slabs to the Police Station. At present they stand outside the building; and it was in this position, through the courtesy of Inspector Rowlands, that the sketches were made to illustrate this article.
Slab no. 6 is in three pieces. A lower portion is apparently missing. A floriated cross with a long stem forms the main feature in the decoration. The head is contained within a circle, but differs from all the other examples found, in an absence of floriated arms. The ends of the various arms in this instance are joined together with curved lines, the spaces between these and the outer circle being filled with foliage. A large single flower occupies the centre of the head. The upper parts of the spaces on either side the long stem are filled with foliage. The ornamentation is certainly of thirteenth-century character.
The decoration of Slab no. 7 consists of a floriated cross, a shield, a sword in a scabbard, and foliage. The head of the cross is contained within a circle. A boss in the form of a flower occupies the crossing. The cross, within the circle, has four main arms, and four subsidiary arms placed diagonally, each terminated with a three-lobed leaf. A shield lies on the long stem. The carver has obtained a much better outline to the shield on the one side than on the other. A sword in a scabbard lies beneath, placed diagonally left to right, looking at the stone. The pommel is floriated, the slabs nos. 6 and 7 have, since writing this paper, been purchased by Colonel Piatt, and generously presented to Bangor City Museum.
All slabs are worked in coarse-grained conglomerate stone.

Stone Coffin
The stone coffin found near the north wall of the church measures 5 ft. 10 ins. long outside, 1 ft. 10 ins. wide at the head, and 1 ft. 7 inches at the foot, and 1 ft. 7 ins. deep outside. The interior is but roughly shaped. The sides are about 4 ins. thick. The drain-hole in the bottom is about 2 ft. 4 ins. from the foot. It was found 12 ins. below the surface of the ground. The stone employed is a conglomerate.
The coffin was found to contain nothing but a quantity of soil and lime, and a few stray human bones. It was removed to the Penlon Slate Yard, where it still remains.

Worked Stones
Very few wrought stones were found. Fig. 4 is a small portion of a stringcourse. The moulding is characteristic of thirteenth-century work. Fig. 5 is the section of a stone found in the middle of the wall, at 'B' on the plan. It is of a very simple section, and probably would be of thirteenth-century workmanship. Fig. 6 shows a coped stone of uncertain use. Fig. 7 gives the section and elevation of a small portion of a bold roll or shaft moulding. Small portions of iron still remain fixed in this stone. The section is characteristic of thirteenth-century workmanship. Fig. 8 illustrates a stone of uncertain use. It is that of a section of a cone with a segment cut off. Fig. 9 illustrates the plan of the top bed, and the back elevation of a stone originally forming part of a gable coping. Fig. 10 is a sketch of a portion of a roof slate. Several other fragments of roofing slates were discovered. A small portion of a thirteenth-century abacus of the capital of a small shaft has been found.

Human Remains
Dr. P. J. White, M.B., Professor of Zoology at the University College of North Wales, has taken great interest in the skeletons found, and has examined them as far as circumstances permitted. Skeleton beneath Slab no. 5: this skeleton lay 3 ft. below the surface of the ground, but only slightly beneath the slab. The arms lay extended, the hands being clasped over the lower part of the body. Dr. White expressed the opinion that the remains were those of a short, thick-set man, of advanced middle age, and that he must have been very muscular, judging from the ridges in the bones for the attachment of muscles being very strong. The skull he considered a remarkable one: very narrow in front, and widening out behind. The teeth were well worn. The skeletons discovered south of the church are marked S. 1 to S. 8 on the plan.
S. 1: Four skeletons were cut through, in sinking the trench in this position. Three were 4 ft. 5 ins. below the surface, while over the middle skeleton there had been a second burial 3 ft 3 ins. below the surface. These skeletons were too much smashed up by the workmen's pick and shovel to permit of examination.
S. 2: this skeleton had the right arm bent upwards, the hand resting on the upper part of the chest, the left arm was bent across the body.
S. 3: this skeleton was not properly excavated.
S. 4: two skeletons lay in this position, both smashed up by the workmen in forming the trench.
S. 5: three skeletons, a full-grown female and two children. The two children lay on the left side of the adult. The feet of one child touched the head of the other. The left hand of the adult was extended, and touched the head of the lower child. The right arm was bent, the lower portion resting across the body, the head inclined to the left. The children lay with arms extended. These skeletons were come across about 2 ft. below the surface of the ground.
S. 6: this skeleton was not properly excavated.
S. 7: this skeleton was much twisted in its grave. The knees were bent up and pressed down, the head very much bent forwards. The inclination of the body was north north-east by south south-west. The skeleton was suggestive of the body having been hastily pressed into a grave too small to properly contain it.
S. 8: this skeleton had its right arm bent upwards, the hand resting on the upper part of the chest. The left arm was bent across the body. On this skeleton* Dr. White came across a bit of corroded iron (see fig. 3), possibly a portion of a clasp.
The evidence given by the various remains found, we consider sufficient to establish the existence of a church with conventual buildings on this site. That, although of no great size, they were of some importance, the discovery of sepulchral slabs, so elaborately worked, bears witness to. The character of the workmanship and design of the objects discovered would indicate that the buildings existed at a date previous to 1300.
There is nothing in the finds to show us absolutely to what Order the buildings belonged.
Friars' School stands about 300 yards distant from the site of the recent discoveries. In the walls of the school-buildings are built several sepulchral slabs, described in a former number of Archaeologia Cambrensis. They are said to have been found near the school-house. Human remains are reported to have been discovered to the north of the school-house, between it and the stream. This position has generally been regarded as the site of the friary.
The recent discoveries, however, have established the fact that a religious house existed on the same estate, but considerably removed from the school. Should the existence of a friary between the school-house and the stream be established, we should then have evidence of two religious houses on this estate.
With regard to our present data, it might, however, be argued that the original buildings stood near the beach, but at a later date were removed to a position near the present school-house.
We will briefly refer to the evidence, apart from archaeological discoveries, in support of the theory that two houses did actually exist. Leland mentions: "A priory of White Freres by Bangor, dedicate to Jesu." Browne Willis, quoting Leland as his authority, mentions "a House of Black Fiyers," and then proceeds: "This was founded, as 'tis said, anno 1299 by Tudor ap Grono, Lord of Penmynydd and Tre Castle, Co. Anglesey, who was there interred, anno 1311." Pennant says: "The house of friers preachers stood a little way out of the town. It was founded as early as the year 1276; Bishop Tanner gives the honour of it to Tudor ap Gronw, Lord of Penmynydd and Trecastell in Anglesey, who enlarged or rebuilt it in 1299, and was interred here in 1311." A former number of Archaeologia Cambrensis [1878, p. 153] mentions the will of one Roger Sylle, who bequeaths two legacies, "to the Freres of Bangor" and "to the Freres of Saint Frauncis at Bangor."
Further discoveries may throw more light on this vexed question.

Monastic sites related to this article

Bangor, Gwynedd(Friary)