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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk

St James, Kings Lynn

St James: shoehorned

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    St James, Kings Lynn
St James in the early 17th century, most of its nave already gone   Lynn is a town with lots of its medieval past still on show, but some survivals are more fragmentary. Shoehorned tightly between the massive bulk of the Norfolk County Court building and the rather more elegant London Road Methodist church is a little stump of older work, forming the backdrop to a children's play area. It consists of a large stone buttressed pier and the remains of another a little to the east. The space in between is filled with late 16th century brickwork, punctuated by a window. This is all that remains of the Mendicant chapel of St James, a large mid-12th century church that served the east side of the early medieval town.

The most westerly part of the structure is actually the base of a massive crossing pier, and the arcade between this and the next pier was filled in with brick in the 17th century and punctuated by a window. The nave of the church had been demolished at the reformation, and this crossing and the chancel formed the new building when the redundant church was converted into the workhouse in 1580. A 1680s rebuilding in the ruin left us the brickwork here.

This church was the venue for an amusing event in the otherwise somewhat irritating life of Margery Kempe, the early 15th century diarist. One of the travelling Friars of Norfolk was an excellent preacher, and whenever he preached here at St James, Margery Kempe would be so overcome with ecstacies at what he was saying that she would roll on the floor sobbing and yelping. In the end, the townspeople had to put her out and ban her from the church.

At the time of the Workhouses Reform Act in the 1830s, the structure here proved inadequate for the reinforcement of the new, grim, punishment routines, and was abandoned. London Road Methodist church was built on part of the site in the 1850s, and the rest was demoished, apart from this bay, in 1910. Easily overlooked in a town with so many medieval survivals, but worth a stop if you are wanting to understand the ecclesiastical structure of medieval Lynn, or its early modern welfare service.

Simon Knott, November 2005


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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk