History of the Franciscans in Canterbury

In 1224 Francis decided to send some friars to England and appointed Agnellus of Pisa to lead a small expedition. On Tuesday, 10 September of the same year, a small boat landed near Dover and nine roughly-dressed figures disembarked, and so the Franciscan Order was implanted in England. The nine friars were led by an Italian, Agnellus of Pisa, who had previously been Custos in Paris. It included three Englishmen who had joined the Order, probably in Paris where many Englishmen of the time went to study, five Italians and one Frenchman. Within seven weeks of arrival they had established friaries in Canterbury, London and Oxford, the ecclesiastical, political and intellectual capitals of England.

The friars served the poor and the outcast and preached the Gospel to them. In those  early days the friars lived very poorly, receiving no money and only accepting the basic necessities of life. They ate what they begged in food, or what they were given in recompense for their work. In Canterbury, at first, they lived at the back of a schoolroom and  

survived by eating the leftovers from the boys' meal after the boys had finished school. But soon they were given a plot of land to build some wooden huts on for their friary. At one time in these early days one of the friars was suffering from exposure after a journey in the snow and the only way the friars had to warm him was to huddle up to him, because they had no way to buy firewood. Their poverty and their humble preaching gained them popularity, so the Order spread quickly, establishing houses in most major towns. We know all this because early on a friar called Thomas of Eccleston wrote an account of the adventures of the friars as they arrived in England.   

In the years after their establishment in England they added new houses to the Province year by year: Northampton (the administrative centre of the north of England) was added in 1225; Cambridge 1226; Norwich 1226; Worcester 1227. By 1230 the Province was large enough to be divided into seven Custodies based at Oxford, Cambridge, London, York, Salisbury and Worcester. Just thirty years after arriving in England the Province consisted of 1,242 friars in 49 friaries. The Province covered Scotland and Wales as well as England and one of the first English friars, Richard of Ingworth, was sent to establish the Order in Ireland in 1230. Agnellus of Pisa became the first Provincial Minister of the English Province and established a house of studies for the friars in Oxford. Subsequent growth was slower as the Province settled into a more regular and less heroic life, but at the time of the Reformation in the 1530s there were approximately 1,700 Franciscans in Britain, living in 60 Friaries.