King's Lynn, Norfolk

St. Margaret's Church, King's Lynn, Norfolk

The first Bishop of Norwich, Herbert de Losigna, wrote a missive to the men of Lynn (not yet King’s Lynn) in 1101 saying that “at your request I have begun to build a church at Lynn”. This gives us a pretty firm foundation date for St. Margaret’s, the oldest church in King’s Lynn.

In the early Norman period a small priory of four monks seconded from Norwich Cathedral Priory was attached to St. Margaret’s Church to look after the priory’s affairs in the west of the county. During this period, and indeed right up until the time of Henry VIII the town was known as Bishop’s Lynn – the town was surrendered to Henry and thus became King’s Lynn.

King’s Lynn was one of only three UK towns in the Hanseatic League (along with London and Ipswich) and as such developed into England’s largest port. By the 13th Century St. Margaret’s was far too small to cope and it was totally rebuilt leaving very little of the original Norman work. In turn this 13th Century rebuild is barely visible now after a massive rebuild in the 15th Century. At this point the church began to take on its Cathedral-like size and appearance. The north west tower was rebuilt in 1453 after its predecessor began to sink into the soft ground. The south west tower had a spire on it until 1741 when it blew down. Unfortunately it landed on the nave and aisles and all was rebuilt once again immediately following that disaster.

By the Victorian period King’s Lynn was in decline and only the arrival of the railway began to turn that around. In 1874 Sir George Gilbert Scott arrived and began working on St. Margaret’s, clearing out all the 18th Century galleries over the aisles and crossing and opening up the church “from end to end”. Stained glass was placed back into the windows to replace the clear glass installed after the 1741 storm. The final Victorian addition was G F Bodley’s massive reredos which was erected in 1899.

St. Margaret’s today feels a little ‘squashed in’ amongst the merchant’s buildings of the Old Quay Quarter of King’s Lynn, you can’t quite get a good view of it to appreciate just how large and attractive a church it is. King’s Lynn has recently undergone a series of regeneration projects which may help put the town back on the path to glory.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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