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King's Lynn brick kiln is still of historic importance even though de-listed, Lynn News letters

I whole-heartedly support the comments made in Friday’s Lynn News by Cllr Alexandra Kemp and Bryan Howling.

With the surrounding land earmarked for development, concern at the threat posed by Historic England’s de-listing the kiln led me to spend weeksresearching its history and significance, including comparison with the “List” entries of over 40 statutorily protected kilns in England.

De-listing itself does not indicate a lack of historic importance, just that Historic England does not now see it as of national importance. It simply makes it an “undesignated heritage asset” in planning terms, of considerable historic significance locally but with no protection at all.

Brick kiln at South Lynn (4457193)
Brick kiln at South Lynn (4457193)

I understand that Historic England made no site visit for its assessment, which I find incomprehensible. Their assessment appears to rely heavily on a report done by an outside firm for an interested developer. It is a good document of its kind but compiled for another purpose by persons working to a specific brief within a cost-limited timescale, hampered by the kiln’s inaccessibility and foliage from close examination of the structure.

The grounds for the de-listing included absence of associated site features which Historic England would want a brickworks to show. Contemporary map evidence shows that many of these features were never on the site at all; others appear only as rare survivals even among online listed kiln descriptions.

This is a good example of our local traditional kiln type, with the added development of a roof vault for better fuel efficiency. It has been pointed out to me that it is unusually large and the brief online Listed kiln descriptions appear to bear this out. The most likely of three potential operators, confident of using such a generous productivity, are the enterprising Bardell brothers who ran (and apparently set up) the brickworks at Bawsey.

After January 1886 the “loop line” from Bawsey through to South Lynn would have provided a useful transport link between the two sites. Their brick-making hey day was the 1880s and 90s and a speculative “outpost” kiln of c1890 would have exploited the early railway-led industrial development beyond the South Gates.

As a rare survivor of this activity, the kiln could indeed be the feature of interest and educational value in the new commercial area suggested by Bryan Howling.If come down it must, proper on-site pre-demolition recording for the benefit of future researchers cannot be too strongly urged, a not unusual request ahead of the loss of a significant heritage asset.

Is the structural condition really irretrievable? Who has inspected it – ie from inside and not with binoculars through the greenery – to claim that it is and what is their evidence? Kilns were necessarily thick-walled and solidly constructed; some peripheral brick loss is visible when the surrounding foliage is dormant but the hole in the roof was already present in 2003.

The vegetation on top is even earlier; even well-tended preserved kilns have it because, I am told, brick kiln dust is fertile for bird-sown plants. Its risk to the public is surely limited by its inaccessibility.For several years it has been surrounded by a close-set tall metal fence, the gap between fence and kiln thickly filled with bushes and saplings engendered by insufficient clearance.

Sadly it also highlights the shortcomings in the national designation system itself, where only nationally important structures enjoy proper protection and locally important heritage assets enjoy none at all apart from a few provisions in the planning framework which only kick in if the structure is actually part of or affected by a planning application. Otherwise they are far too easily disposable.

Elizabeth James


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