Whitefriars Crypt in the City of London is the remains of a 14th-century medieval priory that belonged to a Carmelite order known as the White Friars.
This site was first home to a religious institution in 1253. This crypt, thought to date from the late 14th century, constitutes the only visible remains of a medieval priory that belonged to a Carmelite order known as the White Friars.
At its height, the priory stretched from Fleet Street to the Thames, bounded by the Temple in the west and Water Lane (now Whitefriars Street) in the east. The ground contained a church, cloisters, garden, and cemetery.
The order, members of which wore white mantles over their brown habits on formal occasions, had been founded on Mount Carmel (in modern-day Israel) in 1150 but driven from the Holy Land by the Saracens in 1238. Under the patronage of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, the brother of King Henry III, some members of the order sailed to England and, by 1253, had built a small church on Fleet Street. It was replaced by a much larger church one century later.
When Henry VIII dissolved the priory in the middle of the 16th-century, he gave most of the land to his doctor, William Butte. The buildings soon fell into disrepair. Indeed, this crypt appears to have been used at one time as a coal cellar. The great hall, meanwhile, was converted into the Whitefriars Playhouse, which was home to a succession of companies of child actors.
Eventually, speculative builders moved in, filling the site with a warren of cheap housing. By the 1830s, when Charles Dickens wrote about the district, Whitefriars had developed a seedy reputation as the last refuge of criminals and drunkards.
This crypt, which stood beneath the lodgings of the prior (the head of the friary), was unearthed during building works in 1895. It was cleared and restored in the 1920s when this area was redeveloped on behalf of the newspaper News of the World.
On the Move
This site was redeveloped again in the late 1980s after the News of the World and The Sun had left Fleet Street for Wapping. The crypt, which originally stood on the east side of the site, was raised onto a concrete raft and moved to its present location. It is possible to view the crypt from the outside of the building although there is no direct public access to it.
How to Find Whitefriars Crypt
Whitefriars Crypt is at the back of the offices of international law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer at 65 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1HS.
Turn off Fleet Street and walk down Bouverie Street. Look out for Magpie Alley on your left. Turn in and when you reach the courtyard look over the wall to the basement. There are steps to your left so you can get a closer look at the remains of Whitefriars Crypt.
This information comes from the display board at the site provided by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer (the law firm whose offices house Whitefriars Crypt), used with permission.