Review: Dr Paul Richards walk and talk on Margery Kempe

Dr Paul Richards
Dr Paul Richards

Margery Kempe of Medieval Lynn: Mystic or Menace? With the exception of your reviewer and Dr Richards, this walk was attended exclusively by women. In American universities, Margery (1373-1441) is a feminist icon. In her home town, she may at last become one.

Dr Richards investigated eight Margeries – mystic? menace? pilgrim, wife and mother, neighbour, businessperson, gildswoman, public speaker; most of them at odds with the medieval norm for a lay woman.

Its headline news was that life-long Norfolk archivist Susan Maddock has identified from documentary evidence a site for the house Margery grew up in, as daughter of mayor and leading merchant John Brunham. The reveal in Wyngate brought a smile to the walkers: it is now My Dentist’s.

Using Lynn Minster as his set, Dr Richards rolled six centuries away and brought Margery’s Lynn dramatically and authentically to life with his trademark mix of scholarship and anecdote, his audience exclaiming at the engaging audacity of their colourful Lynn ancestor.

The walk also included visits to Purfleet, from which Margery embarked on her pilgrimages, to the site of the charnel house where her bones may rest, to the mediaeval Hampton Court she would have recognised, and it ended with an excellent lunch at the Bank House.

Here discussions over how to best commemorate Margery – a statue? an exhibition? a chapel in St Margaret’s? – continued.

Margery is credited with miraculously saving the Minster from the Great Fire of Lynn in 1421. Visitors from America and elsewhere – and attenders of captivating talks like this – may wonder why there isn’t more impressive homage made to this unique Lynn woman in the building she saved.