Brick by Brick, a fascinating talk revealing some newly-discovered secrets of King’s Lynn’s St George’s Guildhall, takes place at 7pm on 5 October 2023. It is hosted by Dr Jonathon Clark from Field Archaeology Specialists and Tim FitzHigham, the borough council’s Creative Director, within the historic building.
As part of the regeneration and refurbishment of the St George’s Guildhall and surrounding buildings, Field Archaeology Specialists were appointed to conduct a detailed investigation of the Guildhall to learn more about the intriguing history of the site since the first brick was laid to more modern times.
The talk will feature some already acknowledged but lesser-known facts about the heritage of the site as well as unveiling for the very first time some of the secrets that this exciting façade has been hiding.
There is no need to book for this free of charge event, simply head to St George’s Guildhall on King Street and take your seat in the theatre by 7pm.
Cllr Simon Ring, Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk Cabinet Member for Tourism, Events and Marketing, said:
“I’m really excited about this talk. The expert archaeologists have been beavering away, behind the scenes, unearthing the buildings’ secrets and it’s great that they will be revealing what they’ve found to a public audience. I would urge people interested in this magnificent building to come along on 7 October and learn even more.
“As part of our submission for the funding for the refurbishment and regeneration of St George’s Guildhall, we undertook to run a programme of events, such as this talk and our half term activities next month, to increase visitor numbers and engagement at the venue. We are really pleased with the increase in visitor numbers we have witnessed so far this year.”
Tim FitzHigham, Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk Creative Director, said:
“Everyone involved in the project is committed to the vision for St George’s Guildhall, which builds on community consultation and, in a nutshell, will preserve the arts, embrace the past and build a future that is economically sustainable. Our plan is to create a nationally important art, cultural and heritage centre at the heart of King’s Lynn which will have at its core, the oldest working theatre in the country. With the support of the King’s Lynn Town Deal Board, we have secured Town Deal funding on the UK Government’s Levelling Up Agenda.”
A potted history of St George’s Guildhall
St George’s Guildhall is a Grade 1 listed building, currently in the ownership of the National Trust and leased by the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk as a space for lectures and entertainment. Measuring 32.6m by 8.8m (107×29 ft), it is the largest complete medieval Guildhall in England. It has an unrivalled history for theatrical production. The River Ouse used to flow right up to what is now King’s Street. In 1406 the Guild of St George (which existed by 1376) were granted land to build a quay out into the river. They developed this quay to become the Guildhall.
Following the Dissolution of the Guilds in 1547 the Guildhall became the property of Lynn Corporation, who owned it until 1814. It served as the ‘Common Hall’ (meaning Public), as well as a court house, merchants’ exchange, French school, and even an armoury and gunpowder store in the 1640s. In 1588 it was a court, French school and theatre in the same year. In 1704 there was an unsuccessful attempt to open a button factory for the unemployed.
The earliest record of a theatrical production is in January 1445. It was a nativity play before a Guild feast featuring William, the barber in Grassmarket, and Richard Comber. These are two of the earliest named actors in the UK. In following years the Guild staged theatrical events. A St George’s Day procession with Guild members’ children, a dragon and a castle on wheels took place every year until 1546.
After the Dissolution of the Guilds it was used by companies of players; the Queen’s Players were here seven times between 1585 and 1595. Recent academic research supports local tradition that Shakespeare himself played here with the Earl of Pembroke’s Men in 1592/3 when London theatres were closed due to plague.
Latterly, the building was then left in the National Trust’s care and the centre was opened by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, for the first King’s Lynn Festival on 24th July 1951. The adjoining former warehouses towards the river to the west were converted to galleries in 1963 by Lady Fermoy (lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother) as a memorial to her late husband. Lord Fermoy was Mayor of King’s Lynn and its MP.
This project is led by the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk in partnership with Norfolk County Council, Norfolk Museums Service and in collabaration with the National Trust. To find out more about the vision for St George’s Guildhall and Creative Hub, visit www.visionkingslynn.co.uk.