Sunday, 9 March 2014

Towers And Steeples

At the end of my last post about the ancient town of King's Lynn I mentioned a conversation with a knowledgeable man from True's Yard Museum. This chat took place over the museum's scale model of the town which showed a few features that even I was able to identify. Such as....

Well, I could hardly fail to spot such an individual structure, but you're probably wondering what on earth it could be. Nikolaus Pevsner in his guides to British architecture describes it as one of the strangest Gothic churches in England. Usually known as The Red Mount Chapel, it was built in 1485 just outside the town walls and was a wayside chapel for pilgrims making their way to the shrine at Walsingham. According to my learned friend it was placed outside the walls for the benefit of those arriving after nightfall when the town gates would be locked. Gates like this....

Another building which was pointed out to me was the huge church of St Margaret. It was founded originally as part of a Priory which amassed great wealth during medieval times when King's Lynn was a major port.

It's so huge that many visitors call it "the cathedral" though in fact it's just a parish church, albeit a very big one! I'd had a look inside earlier....

I know we're supposed to be talking about towers and steeples, but there's some nice stained glass to be seen....

....and some rather fine wood carving....

But you can't see any towers and steeples from inside the church. Well, you could have done if you'd been here at mid-day on the 8th of September 1741, for a storm brought the steeple crashing through the roof and into the nave. Wisely, perhaps, it was decided not to replace the spire. But just down the road.....

....the same storm brought down the spire of St Nicholas's but fortunately it fell into the churchyard. This one was replaced which may sound foolhardy in the light of what had happened at St Margaret's. But there was a good reason for it as we shall soon see.

This odd-looking structure is all that remains of Greyfriars Priory, the rest of the building having been destroyed after the dissolution of the monasteries. It seems a strange oversight on the part of the demolition squad - but again there is a good reason. In fact it's the same reason as for the rebuilding of the spire. Both were 'landmarks' in the original meaning of the word, which is that sight of them enabled sailors to work out their exact position at sea, in this case to navigate the channel into King's Lynn harbour.

My informant also mentioned All Saints' Church, which he was very enthusiastic about though he didn't say why. I set out to search for it but even though I knew roughly where it was I failed miserably to locate it. All I could find was some very unattractive housing, but eventually after much perseverance....

As you can see it has no tower and is surrounded by a 1970s housing development. I stepped inside and was met by the vicar who was busy lighting candles, not for me of course but for some noisy six-year-olds who were about to descend on this oasis of tranquillity. "Suffer the little children...." I reminded him. "'Suffer' is the word I'm afraid," he replied, "but there's just time for you to view our most notable feature."

He led me to the beautiful chancel and pointed to the door that you can see in the picture. It leads to a small room which once served as an Anchorhold. Nothing to do with ships this time but the residence of an anchoress or anchorite, a woman or man who withdrew from society for a life of abstinence, contemplation and prayer.

There is a small window through which the recluse could see the church service...

Apparently you can observe a service from the anchorhold if you want to. I understand they let you out afterwards!

As children's voices approached I spotted this screen....

The vicar confirmed that it was very old, probably dating from the fifteenth century, but had been boarded up from view for centuries which had preserved the colour. What gave the clue to its age were the scratched out faces, defaced (quite literally) during the Reformation.

The children entered and, if not quite little angels, were every bit as friendly and helpful as the older residents of the town.

Take care.


  1. Excellent piece, John. I always appreciate how you dig into the history of the sites you visit. It makes the tour so much more enjoyable. Thank you.

  2. I cannot pass by, John, without saying thank you for the wonderful bits of history and the beautiful photos. Most interesting about the tall structures being used as guides to harbours, - I have noticed the same thing watching the 'Coastal' series.

  3. How beautiful! I definitely love stained glass, and the interior of that church is captivating. Thank you so much for sharing this lovely tour.

  4. What a wonderful look around this architectural and historical gem. I know only of Walsingham and have never been here, it looks beautiful I was especially enchanted by those fine wood carvings.

  5. Very interesting shots of those church interiors.

  6. I really enjoy reading the history you provide. I probably enjoy it as much as I do for I know there is no quiz to follow.

  7. The Red Mount Chapel is certainly unusual, but since it was outside the walls of the town, I imagine that its fortress-like design would have made the travelers feel they were safe inside it. The village gates are really special.

  8. Another marvelous post John. Loved the photos of these churches and the interiors. The stained glass windows are magnificent. Very interesting history too. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  9. I have enjoyed your post today John. I'm always happy pottering around churches and it's nice to have the histories too.I too can never resist stained glass- lovely.

  10. Another interesting post, lovely photos.

  11. You take us to view the most spectacular architecture. So old and beautiful. --- barbara

  12. These photos are lovely, I love churches, abbeys and cathedrals - they always have such stunning architecture.

  13. What strange ideas some builders had. But fascinating. I never heard of an anchorhold before. A new word for my mind to mull over!

  14. I'm reminded time and again about the many large and magnificent churches you have, even in the tiniest of villages. That "cathedral" was impressive.


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