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Historic England research gives new insights into medieval King’s Lynn

A picture of people standing outside the Town Hall

Published: Thursday, 12th April 2018

Historic England will host public talks at King's Lynn Town Hall to share the findings of the research, which are revealed as Lynn celebrates its first year as a Heritage Action Zone.

Research carried out by Historic England at three sites within Lynn - Common Staithe Quay car park, Chapel Street car park, and the Southgates area - has led to a new understanding of what these historic parts of the town were like, and how they were used.

The findings were presented to councillors on 12 April. The research, which has been carried out as part of Lynn’s Heritage Action Zone scheme, will inform the types of new developments that are possible within Lynn’s historic centre. Lynn, which this month celebrates its first anniversary as a Heritage Action Zone, was one of the first places in England to be awarded the status.

Research highlights

By the 16th century Common Staithe Quay car park was a public quay which led to an open space surrounded by warehouses. This layout remains recognisable today, and where the warehouses once stood, three buildings were erected: the Corn Exchange (mostly rebuilt as an arts centre in the 1990s), a grand Georgian house (formerly Barclays Bank), and an island of Georgian and Victorian buildings which included a public swimming pool and a store for buoys.

It is believed that the area of Chapel Street car park was occupied from the late 13th century and by the 16th century it was densely developed with timber-framed, and possibly stone, buildings. Many were houses and others were shops where merchants and traders could take advantage of passing trade on the busy route between Tuesday Market Place and St Nicholas Chapel.

The 580-year-old South Gate has, ever since it was built, been the main entrance to Lynn. But its surroundings have changed significantly. Gone is the river which flowed in front of it, the nearby shipyards and timberyards, and the inn from which stage coaches left for London. The buildings there now once housed a 1920s classical-style bus depot and a 1950s Ford garage. And there is a medieval bridge under the road that goes under the South Gate.

The new insights into the medieval town of King’s Lynn are the result of Historic England going out on site and carefully piecing together new and existing research from the Norfolk Historic Environment Record and the King’s Lynn Borough Archives.

Find out more about the research: talks open to the public at the town hall

Talks at the town hall for the public are free to attend. To book your place email

  • Tuesday 22 May – Common Staithe car park
  • Tuesday 5 June – Chapel Street car park
  • Tuesday 12 June – Southgates Quay

The research reports are also available to download from

Councillor Alistair Beales, cabinet member for Corporate Projects and Assets said: “Sensitive and appropriate development that fits in with the town’s significant maritime and merchant history is crucial to the future economy of the town. This first stage of work has given us a much greater understanding of our town. I am really looking forward to the next stage of this project which will look at the types of development that might be possible and feasible.”

John Neale, Planning Director for Historic England in the East of England said: “This work gives us vital information that will help us lay the foundations for what comes next for Lynn in development and regeneration. Through the Heritage Action Zone we’re all working together to make the most of the town’s rich history to create a vibrant place for local residents and business owners to live, and for tourists to visit.”

Next steps for Lynn’s Heritage Action Zone

An Urban Archaeological Database is being created for King’s Lynn. Information from the database will then be put into the Historic Environment Record, which is used by researchers, local history enthusiasts, and developers to understand more about Lynn’s rich historic environment. The work is being carried out by Alice Cattermole and Richard Hoggert alongside Norfolk County Council’s Historic Environment Service. The team is asking anyone who has researched Lynn’s archaeology, historic buildings, areas or parks to get in touch. Email

A feasibility study is also being delivered by a group headed up by AR Urbanism. They are looking into what new developments are possible and fitting for Lynn’s historic centre, and that capitalises on the town’s rich mercantile legacy – to ensure that Lynn remains a thriving place to live, work and visit. The project will also identify priorities for the next projects for the Heritage Action Zone.


King’s Lynn Heritage Action Zone is led by Historic England and the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk in partnership with: the Greater Cambridge and Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership, West Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, King’s Lynn Town Centre Partnership and Business Improvement District, and Norfolk County Council.


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