Breathing life into old buildings in King’s Lynn
King’s Lynn Preservation Trust has been saving, safeguarding and breathing new life into old buildings for 60 years, writes JUDY BATES.
If the trust had not stepped in, large chunks of Lynn’s heritage could have been demolished, historical street scenes lost and architectural treasures fallen into disrepair or wiped out altogether– and replaced by who knows what? A multi-storey car park on the iconic waterfront, maybe?
Importantly, those buildings saved by the Trust are not just sitting there now. They have been put to work and are living useful lives as homes, offices and meeting places.
Nick Balaam has been the trust’s chairman for four years. He said: “The trust has played a very important role in preserving key historic buildings in King’s Lynn. Some are major properties such as Thoresby College and Hampton Court, or the grand merchant houses such as Clifton House, but others are representative of the more ordinary lives of the town. These include properties in Pilot Street, London Road, Priory Lane and Church Street.
“The work of the trust has done a lot to emphasise the importance of Lynn’s historic buildings and it has, by example of the properties it has restored, made a major impact on the preservation of the street scene parts of the town.
“It is regrettable that the good example set by the early work of the trust was not followed by others and much of the character of the town centre was lost to redevelopment in the 60s and 70s. Without the examples and work of the trust things could have been much worse – such as the multi-storey car park on King’s Staithe Square which was planned in the 60s.”
Nick has the perfect credentials for the chairman’s job. He is an archaeological scientist who has worked for English Heritage, has managed some of its operations, including historic properties in East Anglia, such as Audley End House and Castle Acre Priory, and now works as a consultant in the management of historic properties and museums.
His first practical involvement here was managing the conservation of the wall paintings in Greenland Fishery and then the restoration of 90 London Road.
The trust was formed at a time when the town’s Civic Society was worried about the future of the partly-restored medieval Hampton Court in Nelson Street and it was agreed to set up an organisation to oversee the rest of the work.
The new trust, and its first chairman Lady Evershed, launched an appeal in 1958 to raise £6,000 to buy the building and the Queen Mother was one of the first donors.
The former chantry college nearby, Thoresby College, was another early project. This time Lady Fermoy and her daughter Mrs Shand-Kydd generously stepped in to buy it and donate it to the Trust on condition it was used for the people of Lynn. In the Trust’s hands it has been restored and maintained and has been a youth hostel, flats for the elderly and offices for charities and other organisatons including the Trust itself. Six figure sums have been spent on it including latest restoration work only last year.
A similar amount was spent in the 1970s restoring cottages in Pilot Street which were then auctioned. Others included properties in King Street, in Church Lane and All Saints Street, Priory Cottages, the Greenland Fishery in Bridge Street and carrying external repairs to Clifton House in Queen Street. An end-terraced property in London Road, once visited by a young Queen Victoria, was up for demolition when the trust bought it for £950 and converted it to flats which were sold on long leases.
The most recent, was a 19th-century town house at 90 London Road which had fallen into disrepair and because of its architectural merit the trust bought it in 2014 and converted it back from flats into a single dwelling.
The projects have attracted royal interest. The Queen Mother, a great friend of Lady Fermoy, was a keen follower and made various visits to see progress of projects, The Queen unveiled a plaque in the archway at Thoresby College to mark the trust’s 50th anniversary and the Duke of Edinburgh opened Priory Cottages.
The money comes from loans, grants, subscriptions and donations but also from the buildings themselves in the form of rents and the sale of leaseholds to create rolling funds for maintenance and future projects.
According to Doreen Leventhall, who is Secretary to the trust, people have finally woken up to the importance of historic buildings and most of the best ones have been saved.
She said: “We are happy to consider future projects but high property prices make it difficult for us to compete against commercial developers.”
The trust will continue a watchdog role and work in partnership with others to safeguard the town’s historic core.
And in the meantime, there is a 60th anniversary to celebrate. The trust has already commissioned a film of its work via students from the College of West Anglia and Doreen is planning special walks and peeks behind the scenes during the King’s Lynn Festival. The trust hopes to organise a further celebration event later in the year.
If you get the chance take a stroll past some of these buildings, go inside if you have an opportunity, and say thank you to the trust for making sure they are still here.