Record Details

NHER Number:5486
Type of record:Monument
Name:King's Lynn Town Defences


The town defences are based on a series of earthwork banks that were formed in the saltmarsh that once surrounded the town, and the line of the defences to the east follows the line of an old sea bank. Stone walls were constructed in the late 13th and early 14th centuries and access to the town controlled via town gates and bastions. The walls were strengthened in the 16th century. The defences were replanned during the Civil War but construction was interrupted by a siege laid by Parliamentary troops and the earthworks were left unfinished until 1645. The line of the defences can be followed in modern streets and property boundaries, and the Civil War defences were closely based on the line of the medieval defences. In the 18th and 19th centuries several sections of the walls were demolished, but some stretches of wall are still standing.

Images - none


Grid Reference:TF 6216 2004
Map Sheet:TF62SW

Full description

Town defences, walls and gates, etc. Mostly 17th century on medieval sites, but including medieval work.
Not all scheduled, see description.
See full details in file.
E. Rose (NAU), 11 March 1981.

Ordnance Survey description from (S1):
The earliest defence at King's Lynn consisted of a sea defence enclosing an area south of the Purfleet. This was built up into a defensive bank and ditch, with four wooden towers opr bretasks to control entry points, having a tentative date of 1250-1337.
The town extended north in the 12th century and a masonry wall with inner rampart and outer ditch was built to defend the extension. A date from 12th-14th century is suggested for the wall by (S2) but (S3) includes a schematic map of Lynn around 1250 which shows the wall. It stood to its full height in the 18th century and still remains in part.
There were two main gateways in the defences, the South Gate still standing (NHER 64061) and four posterns, of which only North Guanock Gate (NHER 64059) still stands. There were also two towers, the site of the White Tower only (NHER 64058) being known.
The defences were extended in 1587 against the threat of the Armada and again 1642-3 during the Civil War. Apart from the extensions the Civil War earthwork tends to follow the medieval line of defence.
The earth rampart and ditch forming the Town defence between South Gate and the Purfleet originated as a pre-Norman sea bank which was reinforced as a town boundary (S3), but was never more than an earthwork except for short stretches of wall at the two postern gates. The bank used to be called 'Clay Wlls' and the ditch 'Cockle Dyke'. In Guanock Terrace the bank has been destroyed and built over and the ditch outside it obliterated, except perhaps for a small portion of the Middleton Stop Drain which runs parallel to the bank. North of Guanock Terrace and up to the Purfleet the Bank is to some extent preserved and the ditch intermittent. As a town defence the work probably dates to the 13th century, when it no doubt had a wooden palisade.
Information from (S1) dated 1979, added by R.J. Rickett (NAU), 26 March 1990, amended A. Cattermole (King's Lynn UAD), 13 March 2020.

1996. Restoration of the extant walls.
See specifications (S3) and (S4) in file.
E. Rose (NLA).

February 2001. Trial Trenching adjacent to King's Lynn railway station.
This work sought to examine the 13th century and Civil war defences and any surviving evidence for medieval occupation.
Trenches to the west of the site revealed a massive ditch 3.4m wide which was interpreted as a moat containing the diverted River Gaywood. However, dating evidence from this feature was minimal. Further to the east deep deposits containing 18th century material were thought to be infilled Civil War defences.
See NHER 64064 and report (S6) for further details. The results of this work are also summarised in (S7).
The archive associated with this work has been deposited with the King's Lynn Museum (KILLM : 2003.43).
D. Gurney (NLA), 12 December 2001. Amended A. Cattermole (King's Lynn UAD), 13 March 2020.

29 September 2005.
Scheduled monument consent granted concerning the planting of semi-mature trees, repairs to masonry and advance excavation on a number of tree planting pits for investigative purposes.
See (S8) and (S9) for further information
H. White (NLA), 6 March 2009

13 May 2008.
Scheduled monument consent granted concerning the removal of organic growth and consolidation of any loose material on top of the wall.
See (S9) for further information.
H. White (NLA) 9 January 2009

October-November 2010. Watching Brief between Boal Quay and Wisbech Road.
Monitoring of groundworks associated with construction of new Public Transport Route.
This work was focused on the two locations where the new transport route would intersect with the postulated line of the town’s Civil War defences (TF 6181 1929 and TF 6191 1915). In the event no evidence for these earthworks was identified at either location. This negative result was however probably at least in part due to the relatively shallow formation level of the development.
See report (S10) and NHER 37297 for further details.
P. Watkins (HES), 9 April 2018.

February-April 2012. Watching Brief at 17 Littleport Street.
Monitoring and recording confirmed the line of a section of the medieval town wall and identified deposits relating to its demolition.
See report (S11) and NHER 64068 for further details.
E. Bales (HES), 27 August 2012. Amended by P. Watkins (HES), 16 May 2019 and A. Cattermole (King's Lynn UAD), 13 March 2020.

May 2015. Excavation at St John's Walk, Blackfriars Road.
This work revealed a substantial north-to-south aligned linear feature believed to have been a robber trench associated with the medieval town wall - a now demolished section of which is known to have passed through this site. This probable trench was cut through a raised clay silt deposit that was interpreted as the remains of the earthen bank that served as the town's defences prior to the construction of the wall between the 13th and 15th centuries.
See report (S12) and NHER 62653 for further details.
P. Watkins (HES), 13 April 2018.

J. Alban (NRO) believes that before the Civil War defences were made, the Town Wall from the South Gates westward ran along the north bank of the Friars' Fleet. At the time of the 1386 Commission in the face of the French invasion, the terms of reference were "All of Lynn and that part of South Lynn lying within the walls", suggesting that parts of South Lynn did not. Guns were mouted on the Common Quay and a springall on the North Tower. In 1388 when the threat was over they were returned to the Guildhall.
Information from (S13).
E. Rose (NLA).

The individual components of the wall are recorded in numerous separate 'child' records which provide more detail about the town defences at specific locations.
A. Cattermole (King's Lynn UAD), 13 March 2020.

Monument Types

  • SEA DEFENCES (Late Saxon - 851 AD to 1065 AD)
  • BANK (EARTHWORK) (Medieval to 16th Century - 1200 AD to 1539 AD)
  • BASTION (Medieval to 16th Century - 1200 AD to 1539 AD)
  • CANAL (Medieval to 16th Century - 1200 AD to 1539 AD)
  • DITCH (Medieval to 16th Century - 1200 AD to 1539 AD)
  • MOAT (Medieval to 16th Century - 1200 AD? to 1539 AD)
  • PALISADE (Medieval - 1200 AD to 1299 AD)
  • TOWER (Medieval to 16th Century - 1200 AD? to 1539 AD)
  • TOWN DEFENCES (Medieval to 21st Century - 1200 AD to 2050 AD)
  • TOWN GATE (Medieval to 21st Century - 1200 AD? to 2050 AD)
  • TOWN WALL (Medieval to 16th Century - 1200 AD to 1539 AD)
  • DITCH (17th Century - 1642 AD to 1651 AD)
  • SIEGEWORK (17th Century - 1642 AD to 1651 AD)

Associated Finds

  • HERALDIC DEVICE (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • VESSEL (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)

Protected Status

  • Scheduled Monument
  • Scheduled Monument

Sources and further reading

---Article in Serial: Stevenson, C. R.. 1986. The ancient walls of King's Lynn and their geology. Newsletter of the Geological Society of Norfolk. pp 3-4.
---Unpublished Report: Flinthan, D.. 2021. King's Lynn Under Siege. The North-Eastern Bastion (KL004). Investigation Proposal.. King's Lynn Under Siege Project Report. Version 1.0.
---Unpublished Contractor Report: Hickling, S. 2011. The King's Lynn Boal Quay to Wisbech Road Public Transport Route. Excavation and Watching Briefs 2010. ENF125290. Brief Assessment. NPS Archaeology.
---Newspaper Article: Lynn News. 1998. Lynn gates - from seiges to sightseers. 14 July.
---Designation: [unknown]. Ancient Monuments Form. SAM Record. DNF70, DNF223, DNF282, DNF328.
---Publication: Higgins, D.. 2000. The Antiquities of King's Lynn from the Sketchbooks of Rev. Edward Edwards.
---Record Card: NAU Staff. 1974-1988. Norfolk Archaeological Index Primary Record Card.
---Recording Form: [various]. Norfolk Defensive Structures Survey Recording Form. Norfolk Defensive Structures Survey.
---Unpublished Document: Schedule Report.
---Monograph: Hillen, H. J. 1907. History of the Borough of King's Lynn.
---Unpublished Document: Talbot, E.. 1968. King's Lynn: The Civil War. Draft notes for talk.
---Unpublished Document: James, E.M.. 1985. Investigations at the South Gates, King's Lynn, December 1984 to April 1985.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1980-1997. [Articles, photographs and an illustration of King's Lynn's South Gate].
---Article in Serial: James, E. M. 1987. A Fresh Study of the South Gate at King's Lynn, in the light of recent restoration work. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol XL Pt I pp 55-72.
---Newspaper Article: Lynn News. 1995. Homes plan could reveal secrets of Lynn's past. 23 May.
---Publication: Kent, P. 1988. Fortifications of East Anglia. p 223-237.
---Monograph: Pevsner, N and Wilson, W. 1999. Norfolk 2: North-West and South. The Buildings of England. 2nd Edition. pp 474-475; Pl 55.
---Record Card: Clarke, R. R. and NCM Staff. 1933-1973. Norwich Castle Museum Record Card - Medieval. King's Lynn.
---Secondary File: Secondary File.
---Collection: Norfolk Historic Environment Record Staff. 1975-[2000]. HER Record Notes. Norfolk Historic Environment Service.
<S1>Record Card: Ordnance Survey Staff. 1933-1979?. Ordnance Survey Record Cards. TF 61 NW 2 [2]; TF 61 NW 55; TF 62 SW 11 [2]; TF 62 SW 16; TF 62 SW 52.
<S2>Article in Serial: Smith, T. P. 1970. The medieval town defences of King's Lynn. Journal of the British Archaeological Association. Third Series Vol XXX pp 57-58.
<S3>Monograph: Parker, V.. 1971. The Making of King's Lynn: secular buildings from the 11th to the 17th century.. fig 5.
<S4>Unpublished Document: Januarys Consultant Surveyors. 1996. Specification for Repair/Remedial Works to Town Walls, Littleport Terrace/Wyatt Street, King's Lynn. April.
<S5>Unpublished Document: Januarys Consultant Surveyors. 1996. Specification for Repair/Remedial Works at Southgates Arch, London Road, King's Lynn.
<S6>Unpublished Contractor Report: Garner, D. 2001. WM Morrison Superstore - King's Lynn. Results of Archaeological Investigation Works. Gifford. B2583A.02.
<S7>Article in Serial: Gurney, D. and Penn, K. (eds). 2002. Excavations and Surveys in Norfolk, 2001. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol XLIV Pt I pp 162-177. p 168.
<S8>Designation: DCMS. [?]-2016. Scheduled Monument Consent. SAM Consent. DNF282.
<S9>Designation: DCMS. [?]-2016. Scheduled Monument Consent. SAM Consent. DNF328.
<S10>Unpublished Contractor Report: Hickling, S. 2012. Archaeological Excavation and Watching Brief at Boal Quay to Wisbech Road (Public Transport Route), King’s Lynn, Norfolk. NPS Archaeology. 2552.
<S11>Unpublished Contractor Report: Cope-Faulkner, P. 2012. Archaeological Monitoring and Recording at 17 Littleport Street, King's Lynn, Norfolk. Archaeological Project Services. 35/12.
<S12>Unpublished Contractor Report: Barlow, G. 2015. The Globe Bowls Club, St John’s Walk, Blackfriars Road, King’s Lynn, Norfolk PE30 1NP. Archaeological Excavation: Research Archive Report. Archaeological Solutions. 4866.
<S13>*Verbal Communication: Alban, J.. 2007. Lecture by John Alban at UEA. UEA. 15 March.

Related records

64068Parent of: Buried remains of Town Wall, 17 Littleport Street (Monument)
64070Parent of: Cannon at Guanock Terrace (poorly located) (Find Spot)
64071Parent of: Cannon from River Nar at South Gates (Find Spot)
44112Parent of: Excavation and test pitting at The Walks (Monument)
62653Parent of: Features and deposits probably associated with King's Lynn's medieval town defences (Monument)
64059Parent of: North Guanock Gate (Monument)
64064Parent of: Remains of medieval town ditch and possible Civil War defences, Morrison's superstore (Monument)
64052Parent of: Remains of St Ann's Fort and watergate (Monument)
64055Parent of: Remains of water defences known as The Loke, North End (Monument)
64066Parent of: Section of Town Wall in Kettlewell Lane (Monument)
64065Parent of: Section of Town Wall, Wyatt Street (Monument)
64062Parent of: Seven Sisters, post-medieval mill mound (Monument)
64053Parent of: Site of Blockhouse north of St Ann's Fort (Monument)
64054Parent of: Site of Doucehill Gate (Monument)
64056Parent of: Site of East Gate (Monument)
64057Parent of: Site of North or Kettle Mills Tower (Monument)
64067Parent of: Site of outwork to the south of South Gate, Town Defences (Monument)
64060Parent of: Site of South Guanock Gate (Monument)
64063Parent of: Site of St Ann's or St Agnes's Gate (precise location unknown) (Monument)
64058Parent of: Site of White Tower (Monument)
64061Parent of: South Gate, Town Defences (Building)
MNO2221Related to: Watergate of St Ann's Fort St Ann's Fort KING'S LYNN (Revoked)

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