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St Nicholas’ Chapel, King's Lynn

King’s Lynn is a town in the county of Norfolk in the east of England, which was founded as a medieval town beside what at the time was a tidal lake, the Lynn, in about 1100 by Herbert de Losinga, the first bishop of Norwich. The town grew rapidly and some 50 years later, bishop William Turbus erected a chapel dedicated to St Nicholas in the New Land and this was centred near the Tuesday Market Place. The new chapel had a modest nave to which a tower was added to the western side of the building around the year 1225. Photographs on this webpage were taken in February, 2019.


Above: Views of St Nicholas’ Chapel, left to right, as seen from positions to the southwest and southeast respectively. The churchyard is surrounded by iron railings with gates (1749).

From about 1380, a larger church was built in a uniform, but idiosyncratic, Perpendicular style in the form of a hall church, as the nearby friars’ churches were. This particular style of building focused upon preaching and made it the largest chapel-of-ease in England. The open plan was enhanced by the positioning of two single-storey vestries at the east end, unobtrusively below the level of the windows. However, in the late Middle Ages, the chapel’s aisles would have had six or more gild chapels separated off by screens and a great rood-screen defined the chancel. After the Reformation, the side altars and screens were removed, although these areas were well maintained and gradually filled with seating and galleries which now focused on the pulpit. In 1851, 200 seats were free and 500 would have produced an income for the church. During restoration work in 1852-53, the galleries were removed and the present seating was installed. The chapel’s spire had been blown down by heavy winds in 1741 and a replacement had proved unsuitable. The new lead-covered spire was designed by the famous architect George Gilbert Scott in 1869. Since 1992, the chapel has been under the care of The Churches Conservation Trust, with support from Friends of St Nicholas’ Chapel. The building is still used for the odd service, as well as concerts. Below are featured some photographs, accompanied by brief text, showing some of the chapel’s main highlights.


Upon entering the chapel via the south porch, the full length of the open hall of the chapel as seen from the west end can be appreciated. The 15th-century timber roof (above) is of particular note and is decorated with 22 carved angels, mostly holding musical instruments. Unlike many of the roof angels in East Anglia, they are not positioned on hammer beams on the main roof trusses, rather set on projecting beams directly above the clerestory windows, making them more visible from the ground.

Shown above and on the north-western corner of the chapel is the Consistory Court (1617), which contains some earlier benches and a communion table (1577). This area was where the archdeacon’s court was held two times a year from 1560 onwards to determine cases of moral failings and unauthorised additions to the fabric. The Vestry (a precursor to parish councils) later met here.


The font bowl (1627) records that the right to conduct baptisms here was granted by Bishop Harsnett of Norwich. Prior to this, all baptisms of people here in the north end of Lynn had to be conducted in the parish church of St Margaret (now King's Lynn Minster and dealt with on a separate webpage Here). Close to the font are a few floor-slabs with the name Robinson Cruso or to members of the Cruso family. A common local surname, there is no evidence to suggest that there is any connection with Robinson Crusoe, in Daniel Defoe’s infamous book from 1719.

About halfway down the name on the southern side upon a pillar is an ornate sword rest (shown above), dated 1743 and 1760. It was made to hold the ‘King John Sword’, which was carried before the mayor at official services.

Towards the end of the nave on the northern side is the lectern. It comprises a bible stand in the form of an eagle and was made in brass, sometime before 1530. Only 45 of pre-Reformation date survive in England, mainly in the eastern counties and they may have been made either in Norwich, or in Lynn. The open beak of the eagle received donations of silver coins and the base rests upon four crouching lions.

To the north of the chancel stands a white marble urn. It is part of the memorial to Sir Benjamin Keene, KB. Keene was a local man who became Ambassador to Spain and dies in Madrid in 1757. The urn’s features include a portrait medallion of him and a Lisbon quayside scene. A wine cooler of the same design was made for Harewood House in West Yorkshire.


Above the chapel’s High Altar, instead of roof angels, there are two figures either side, one of a man and one of a woman. These are presumed to be benefactors of the work which took place from 1380 to 1420. On the southern wall of the sanctuary are carved angels from the priests’ seating and a similar defaced angel is on the northern side. Nearby are two stalls or desks with fine carvings dating from the 1400’s. The impressive east window (1860) contains Victorian glass and depicts the life of Christ.


At the eastern ends of both aisles are wall monuments which provide information about occupations, costumes and religious beliefs. Some of these would have been erected by local merchant families. On the southern wall, a tablet to the Browne family, dating from 1784, has an elegant, albeit angular, weeping willow.


The two photos above show the south porch. This can be viewed from the outside through metal gates. It contains an ornate lierne vault (or stellar vault). In Gothic rib vaulting architecture, a lierne is a tertiary rib connecting to a springer, or to the central boss (the term comes from the French lier - “to bind”). The example seen her in the south porch depicts God wearing a papal crown, surrounded by angels, princes, demons and dragons. The highly decorated 15th-century doors and the realistic stone heads are also of note. The south façade has two shields. These represent the Trinity and Christ’s Passion, below a range of decorated niches at the upper storey level, fronting the priest’s chamber.


The west doors of St Nicholas’ are shown above as seen from the inside and the outside of the chapel. They date from around 1400 and are intricately carved; although not visible in the photos taken here, their decoration is based on traces of red and green paint from the original colour scheme. Above the doors are carvings of devils and the spectacular west window of eleven lights constructed in the plain Perpendicular style.
Some more photographs of St Nicholas’ Chapel are shown below and include the Willis organ of 1900:


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