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The area takes its name from the medieval Carmelite religious house, known as the White Friars, that lay here between about 1247 and 1538. Only a crypt remains today of what was once a late 14th century priory belonging to a Carmelite order popularly known as the White Friars because of the white mantles they wore on formal occasions. During its heyday, the priory sprawled the area from Fleet Street to the Thames. At its western end was the Temple and to its east was Water Lane (now called Whitefriars Street). A church, cloisters, garden and cemetery were housed in the ground.
The roots of the Carmelite order go back to its founding on Mount Carmel, which was situated in what is today Israel, in 1150. The order had to flee Mount Carmel to escape the wrath of the Saracens in 1238. Some members of the order found a sympathizer in Richard, Earl of Cornwall, and brother of King Henry III, who helped them travel to England, where they built a church on Fleet Street in 1253. A larger church supplanted this one a hundred years later.
The Whitefriars crypt
A vaulted cellar of the medieval friary survives under the modern 65 Fleet Street building. The 14th-century cellar was probably part of the White Friars prior's mansion. The medieval remains were lifted up on a crane during the construction of the modern building in 1991 and then replaced (in a slightly altered location); the cellar or 'crypt' can be viewed from Magpie Alley to the south of Fleet Street.
- Holder, Nick (2017). The Friaries of Medieval London: From Foundation to Dissolution. Woodbridge: Boydell. pp. 97–118. ISBN 9781783272242.
- Porter, Laura. "Whitefriars Crypt: Tales from the Crypt". About.com. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
- Holder, Nick (2017). The Friaries of Medieval London: From Foundation to Dissolution. Woodbridge: Boydell. pp. 100, 113–14. ISBN 9781783272242.
- P. Hobsbaum, Ten Elizabethan Poets (1969) p. 166