Once upon a time, in Northampton, there was a horrid, huge, concrete bus station known locally as the ‘Mouth of Hell.’ It was, to the relief of many, destroyed earlier this year.
Now there are proposals for a new series of shops, cinemas and even a trampolining centre on the site. While that is an improvement, one can only hope that there is a through archaeological investigation of the area before this can take place.
The ‘Mouth of Hell’ stood on what was the old Greyfriars monastery, a large and important friary in the medieval town centre. Leland describes it as, ‘The Grayfreres House was the beste buildid and largest house of all the places of the freres, and stoode a little beyond the chief market place, almost by flatte north. The site and ground that it stoode on longid to the cite, whereupon the citizens were taken for the founders of it. There lay ii. of the Salysbiries buried in this house of Grey Freres. And as I remember it was told me that one of the Salisbyries doughters was mother to Sir Wylliam Par and his elder brother.’
Limited excavation was done in the 1972 before the now demolished bus station was built, and some fragmentary burials and bits of tile, glass, pottery and metal were found. None of the burials appeared to be particularly high status and there were animal bones mixed amongst them. The church was located but its shape was unable to be defined, and the main buildings of the cloister joined the choir rather than the nave.
Greyfriars of Northampton held several notable burials including Friar Bungay (famous in a play as a sorcerer who, with Friar Bacon, creates the Brazen Head to protect England–but in reality a notable scholar and mathematician !) and the 1st Duke of Buckingham, Humphrey Stafford, who was killed at the Battle of Northampton in 1460. He lost his life defending Henry VI in his tent, along with several other prominent Lancastrian lords. Buckingham was the grandfather of Henry Stafford, second Duke of Buckingham, who betrayed Richard III, and his wife was Anne Neville, the sister of Richard’s mother, Cecily Neville. (If the Duke were found, his y-DNA could be used to identify Henry Stafford’s bones if THEY ever turned up in Salisbury, possibly on another Greyfriars site!)
Below are the proposals for the Greyfriar’s site in Northampton. It might be worth contacting the relevant authorities in order to try to ensure that a proper archaeological assessment is given for this important friary, as some of the records for other medieval buildings around the town are scanty and rather poorly recorded.
Sources: British History Online, the Franciscans of Northampton
Excavations at Northampton Greyfriars 1972, J.H. Williams