Published on April 5th, 2021 | by All Things Warrington


The Ghostly Augustinian Friar of Friars Gate

To my mind the most believable ghost stories are those that come from the mouths of babes. It can be of no surprise therefore that the following tale captured the imagination of the Warrington public when first told back in 1897. 

An ancient Augustinian monk, painted by Early Renaissance artist Piero Della Francesca.

The man in the strange cloak walked towards her. He did not make eye contact with her. It was as if, she said, she wasn’t there.

The story surfaced when a gentleman called Robert Davies sent a letter to the Warrington Guardian newspaper in response to an earlier article discussing the existence of an ancient Augustinian friary near Bridgefoot.

When the Friary was established in the 13th century, the ‘centre’ of Warrington had started to shift from its medieval location in Church Street to land above the new Warrington Bridge / River Mersey crossing at Bridgefoot. Such a location was ideal for the Augustinian Friars who, unlike some religious orders, did not seek seclusion but preferred instead to live alongside busy thoroughfares where they could preach and collect donations from passing travellers.

Although the friary building itself was modest in size, its grounds are believed to have stretched upwards from Bridgefoot to Friars Gate and as far back as Barbauld Street.  

In his letter to the newspaper, Mr Davies told how a lady he once knew had spent many of her mid-nineteenth century childhood days at her aunt’s house which, unknown to her, was located on what would have been the grounds of the old Friary.

A further clue to the Friary’s existence is the Wetherspoon’s pub at Friars Gate. The pub was named after one of the friary’s scholars, Thomas Penketh, who is the only Warringtonian mentioned in a Shakespeare play (Richard III). Thomas apparently assisted Sir Edmund Shaw in a conspiracy that helped Richard take the throne from Edward V.

One warm summer’s evening the lady, at the time a young child, was playing on the doorstep of her aunt’s house when an old man “with a bald head and curious long hairy cloak” walked past her and up the stairs. He had entered the house without acknowledging her – she said it was as if she wasn’t there – and she had watched him disappear into a room at the top of the stairs. She ran to tell her aunt about the stranger but on checking the house thoroughly, her aunt could find no trace of anyone. 

Mr Davies said his friend had recalled the story to him only as “a strange occurrence”. She “had not”, he claimed “the remotest ideas of monks or friars” and she had no prior knowledge of an ancient Friary having stood there. Indeed, at the time of the sighting, the Friary had been absent from the town’s landscape for over 250 years, having been destroyed in all probability during the English civil war of 1642-1651.

The friars themselves had actually been banished from the town decades before this following Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the mid-1500s. Prior to this, however, the sight of an Augustinian friar walking quietly through the streets of Warrington would no doubt have been a common occurrence. 

The glass covered hole in the pub’s floor showing some of the Friary’s foundations. If you can see the reflection of a strange looking man with a receding hairline and odd clothes in this picture it’s probably just my reflection!

Was the figure the young girl encountered the ghost of an ancient friar revisiting a once familiar spot?

Today the foundations of the old Friary can be seen in the J D Wetherspoons pub at Friars Gate. The pub – called The Friar Penketh – has a glass covered hole in its floor. Take a look through the glass and you’ll see the ruins of the ancient Friary and maybe, just maybe, the outline of a bald headed man in a curious long cloak. 

Or maybe not. For when work was being carried out on the pub’s foundations back in 2001, human remains – believed to be those of a number of ancient friars – were disturbed. These remains were carefully excavated and reinterred at the town’s Manchester Road cemetery. So perhaps the ghostly Augustinian Friar of Friars Gate is now, after all these years, finally at peace…

More Warrington ghost stories can be found in the Ghosts section of All Things Warrington.

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