The South Gates: (1487,Grade 1 Listed building). This is the first ancient building
the visitor to King's Lynn is likely to see as it is on the town’s main approach
road. Despite appearances, this building is of brick construction not stone and is
amongst the earliest examples of all-brick construction in England. The front ashlar
stone cladding was added in 1520. The town’s early adoption of brick as a building
material was due to the lack of naturally occurring stone in the area. Originally
the gate formed part of the town wall defences and replaced an earlier wooden Bretask.
Although the defences were ultimately not needed, they did serve as a useful way
to control persons entering the town and for revenue collection. The two small arches
are pedestrian passageways, which were added in the 1840’s to ease the increasing
flow of traffic. However in 1899 the road was widened to go around the side of the
gate and a footpath was placed around the other side. With these improvments the
two pedestrian passages became redundant. The near-side passage has since been adapted
as the entrance to the upper room. A peculiarity of this building, one which may
have contributed to it’s survival, is the wide and very high central arch, which
accepts double-Decker buses and most articulated lorries. The East Gate, which was
located on the other side of the town, was demolished in 1800 precisely because its
entrance was too low for the larger forms of transport which were coming into use.
The South Gate is open to the public on Saturdays and Wednesdays from May till the
end of August and on Heritage open day in September.
Customs House: This is perhaps the best known building in King's Lynn. It was built
in 1683, the result of a collaboration between designer-architect Henry Bell and
merchant Sir John Turner. Its design exhibits a Dutch influence and has often been
praised as a building of beauty and balance. Originally used as a Merchant Exchange,
it was purchased by the Crown in 1717 and continued to be occupied by HM customs
and Excise until 1989. It was then bought by a property developer and leased to
the Borough Council who restored it with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Since 1999 it has been used as the King’s Lynn Tourist Information centre. It is
possible to explore the upper floors when visiting the building. In 1984 the area
in the foreground, the creek beyond the bridge and road behind the Customs House,
were used for some of the scenes in the 1985 film, Revolution, which starred Al Pacino.
To the great disappointment of those in King’s Lynn, some of whom had been ‘extras’
in the film, it was a box office flop.
Dukes Head Hotel: (Tuesday Market Place) Also built by Henry Bell and Merchant, Sir
John Turner, a year after the Customs House in 1684. It replaced the medieval, Griffin
Inn, which was demolished the previous year. The new hotel was intended to provide
accommodation for visiting merchants and other wealthy people. The stucco front was
added in the 19th century. In the 1970’s it was extended at the back to provide more
suites and function rooms.
The Grey Friars bell tower is a Grade I listed ancient monument and the only visible
remains of a Medieval Franciscan Priory which once stood on this site. The Friary
dates from 1235 with the bell tower being added in the 15th century. The tower survived
Henry VIII's dissolution because it was a useful land mark for traders and sailors
navigating the difficult waters of The Wash. In 1911 gardens were laid out around
it to mark the coronation of King George V and in 1921 the war memorial was erected.
The tower stands 93 feet (28 metres) high, is built of brick and ashlar and leans
about a degree and a half to the north west. It is one of only three examples of
Franciscan towers in England, the other two being located in Coventry and Richmond
Grey Friars Tower was one of the ultimately unsuccessful finalists in the first series
of the BBC2 programme, Restoration (2003), after having won the Eastern regional
group. A little later, with the benefit of funding from The Heritage Lottery Fund
and English Heritage, the stabilisation and restoration of the tower and re-landscaping
of the gardens was completed in 2006.