Grey Friars – A History Group Talk

Grey Friars – A History Group Talk

The first meeting of the New Year took place in the Orpen Hall on January 10th. The guest speaker was Alan Skinner, former Principal of Grey Friars Adult Education College.

Grey Friars Location
Showing the northeast corner of the old town in 1777
Grey Friars House is above the word Frere

History of Grey Friars

Alan’s talk was about the history of Grey Friars, or more precisely the area where it is located in the northeast corner of the old Roman town. It is difficult to ascertain exactly what was there during the Roman and Norman periods but between the 13th and the 16th century the site was occupied by Franciscan Monks, the Grey Friars, until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538.

Poor Repair

The buildings remained in a poor state of repair. They were much damaged one hundred years later in the Civil War and Royalist prisoners of war were detained there after the siege. In Georgian times the area became very desirable and several large houses were built close by – Hollytrees, East Hill House, The Minories. The building which is now the centre part of Grey Friars was built around 1750.

The building changed hands several times and in 1829 the area where Roman and Castle Roads are now was leased to the Colchester Botanical Society to make into a Botanical Garden. This initially proved popular with the rich and fashionable although by the 1850s the garden had fallen from favour and was sold off for housing and would eventually become Castle Road and Roman Road.

Much Extended

The Grey Friars house, much extended, continued as a private residence until 1903 when it was purchased by a group of French Nuns.  They converted it into a boarding school for gentlemen’s daughters. The Nuns sold Grey Friars to Essex County Council in 1920 when it was used to house part of the County High School for Girls. They stayed there until the 1950s when they moved to their current premises in Norman Way. Grey Friars was then used at different times as temporary accommodation for Monkwick and Phillip Morant Schools, and the Technical College, now Colchester Institute. In 1965 the building became an Adult Education College until being sold in 2008 for conversion into a luxury hotel, which opened in 2014.

Alan Skinner’s talk was very well received and many of the members of the audience had their own fond memories of Grey Friars.

Can You Help Trace William & Sarah Pettican’s Graves?

From time to time the Secretary receives enquiries from people studying their family history. A recent enquiry from Kiern Pettican, who lives in Kent, is seeking to trace the graves of her great-great-grandparents William Pettican 1848-1912 and Sarah Rebecca Pettican 1853-1921. They married in the old church in 1869 and were living in Old Church Lane in 1881.  Searches of the churchyards have been unsuccessful. She would also be interested in copies of any photographs of Old Church Lane from the period.

If any reader can help please get in touch with Gill Poole 01206 240512.

Forthcoming Events

  • February 8th    “Silver End the Crittall Village” a talk by Natalie Banks.
  • March 8th         AGM plus a talk and video “Life in the 1950s” by Peter Jones
  • April 13th          “44 Years of Elected Office” a talk by Sir Bob Russell

Meetings start at 7.30. Members £1 – Visitors welcome £3.   Find out more here.