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Five years of heritage research successfully completed at King's Lynn

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A five-year project which delved deep into the history of Lynn like never before has now been completed.

The Heritage Action Zone, carried by Historic England and West Norfolk Council, has successfully carried out its mission to uncover more about the town's past in order to lay foundations for the future.

Lynn was one of the first of 10 Heritage Action Zones chosen by Historic England, the driving force behind this nationwide project to breathe new life into neglected historic buildings and sites and encourage regeneration in areas that are rich in uncelebrated heritage.

The South Gate in King's Lynn.. (34553642)
The South Gate in King's Lynn.. (34553642)

At Lynn, the project has produced three research documents, listed one of England’s earliest reinforced concrete buildings, engaged local school children to better understand their heritage, and supported students to produce a short film.

Tony Calladine, East of England regional director, Historic England, said: “It’s wonderful to see how, over the past five years, the Heritage Action Zone has brought King’s Lynn’s remarkable history to life for people who visit and live in the historic town. I’m particularly delighted to see young people so excited by their local history. The historic information that’s been discovered, and made accessible to everyone, will help to celebrate King’s Lynn’s unique character and guide the town’s future development. I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s next for King’s Lynn.”

Cllr Richard Blunt, cabinet member for regeneration and development on West Norfolk Council, said: “King’s Lynn is a town with a wonderful history. The Heritage Action Zone has helped us to learn more about this history and how the power of the historic environment can be used to help us safeguard its future.”

The former Lloyds Bank building
The former Lloyds Bank building

“The Heritage Action Zone programme is just the start of things for King’s Lynn. The work that has already taken place will be built on, by learning about and celebrating its past we are able to inform the town’s future development.”

James Wild, MP for North West Norfolk, said: “King’s Lynn has a rich history and this project has highlighted new and exciting examples of our heritage. By promoting our past to local residents and visitors more people have enjoyed what historic Lynn has to offer. With the Town Deal, we can build on this success and welcome many more people to West Norfolk.”

Research documents have been produced to better understand the areas of Chapel Street, Common Staithe Quay and the Southgates (one of the best-known buildings in King’s Lynn).

Chapel Street car park was once a busy part of the medieval town and sits between the Tuesday Market Place and the Chapel of St Nicholas. The area retained its medieval character until the 1970s and some timber-framed buildings survived into the 20th century.

St James Street buildings
St James Street buildings

New research also showed how the now quiet area of Common Staithe Quay was, 400 years ago, an important and bustling quay on the River Ouse, full of merchants and sailors. The Common Staithe is also the site of King's Lynn's long-closed Victorian swimming baths, one of the earliest surviving examples in the country.

The fascinating and changing history of the Southgates area was explored in detail in the research. The area was a hive of activity, from industry and shipbuilding to the early days of motor transport.

An Urban Archaeological Database has been created, providing a detailed and comprehensive tool to understand and manage Lynn’s historic environment, and includes a wide range of new material and published sources.

Archaeological survey work on the Common Staithe Quay car park.
Archaeological survey work on the Common Staithe Quay car park.

A new heritage trail created by King’s Lynn Civic Society focuses on the theme of pilgrimage to guide people around medieval Kings Lynn.

Two buildings were listed at Grade II: one of England’s earliest reinforced concrete buildings at 33-39 St James Street (presently the premises for Kwik Fit) and the former Lloyd's Bank at Tuesday Market Place.

Built in 1908, the St James Street property is a rare and early example of a complete concrete-framed building surviving from the inter-war period.

The former bank was built in 1928 in a Baroque style, with beautiful sculptural embellishments.

The King’s Lynn Heritage Action Zone has engaged many local schools, teaching them about the heritage of the town through hands-on arts and cultural activities Around 10,000 young people have been engaged in learning about their local heritage.

For example, children from St Martha’s Catholic Primary School learned about the town’s history through a fun activity to recreate some of its buildings using recycled materials.

Students from the College of West Anglia, Historic England and the borough council co-produced Building on the Past, a short film telling the story of Lynn’s Chapel Street.

Set in 1964, the film tells the story of former Chapel Street resident Susan Jay as she prepares to be rehoused away from her dilapidated house, which was demolished to create the Chapel Street car park.

Arts and media students from the College were chosen to be part of the film crew, as part of the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s ‘Kick the Dust’ work experience group. They led the project, interviewing former local residents, briefing actors, choosing images and making the final edits, gaining a range of new professional skills in the process.

There has been hands-on help, too. Supporting business owners, the Heritage Action Zone has carried out a programme of essential gutter clearance for 37 buildings and created a booklet on basic maintenance for historic buildings.

Investigation and survey work has been carried out on the Grade II listed Sommerfeld and Thomas warehouse on South Quay. This late 18th century warehouse is the sole survivor of an extensive grain storage and processing complex.

The building has been secured and made safe. Full repair, funded by the government’s Coastal Revival Fund, will start later this year.

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