Record Details

NHER Number:5479
Type of record:Building
Name:Custom House


One of the most recognisable buildings in King's Lynn, the Custom House was built by Henry Bell in 1683 as a merchants' exchange. The building was used as a customs house from the 18th century until 1989. The building originally had an open arcade on the ground floor, supported by Doric columns, which is now filled in. The timber lantern is in the shape of a Greek cross and the building has numerous pilasters and pediments. Inside there are barrel vaulted cellars and 18th century wooden panelling. The Custom House was the first Classical building to be built in King's Lynn.


  • The Customs House, King's Lynn.  © Courtesy of Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service.


Grid Reference:TF 6162 2004
Map Sheet:TF62SW

Full description

1683, designed by Henry Bell, as merchants' exchange. Stone, four bays by five, two storeys with dormers with alternate triangular and rounded pediments on north and south. Flat pilasters, Doric on ground floor and Ionic on upper; but rounded pilasters each side of main door to north. Formerly open on ground floor. Statue of Charles II over door. Tall wooden lantern, cruciform dormers below octagonal top. (S1) notes a Tuscan column and good staircase inside. Good condition though rather battered at base.
E. Rose (NAU), 2 November 1977.

(S2) states this stood on the site of a 'religious house of the Trinity Guild'.
E. Rose (NAU).

October 1991. Site visit including inspection of interior.
Tuscan column mentioned is part of the ground floor arcading; these columns have been damaged by flaking from salt penetration after flooding. The ground floor was walled in in 1718. Staircase remains, but otherwise no internal original features of interest. Building vacant in 1991.
E. Rose (NLA), 4 October 1991.

There is evidence that the building originally had a spire rather than a cupola, and obelisks disguising chimneys at the corners. See letter (S3) in file discussing this.
Full survey drawings in file.
E. Rose (NLA), 22 January 1992.

Building under restoration in 1995. The hand of Charles II was found to be an inaccurate replacement and is being replaced again.
E. Rose (NLA), 18 September 1995.

Photo and press cuttings in file.

Listed Grade I.
The List Entry (S4) updated in 2018 notes that the Custom House was built as a merchants' exchange commissioned by Sir John Turner MP, a local wine merchant and three times mayor of King’s Lynn who employed a fellow councillor, Henry Bell, to design the exchange. Bell was influenced by the architectural trends in London and Holland: Edward Jerman’s Royal Exchange in London (1667-1671; destroyed by fire 1838) appears to have been a prototype for the Customs House, as does Pieter Post’s Stadhuis in Maastricht, Holland (approximately 1658-1664).
The first floor of the merchants’ exchange was let to the Collector of Customs and it became the official Customs House in 1703, being sold to the Crown in 1717 for £800. The ground floor arcades were originally open (except on the west side) as a meeting place for merchants, but these were blocked up in either 1718 or 1741/1742. Two of the four internal columns on the ground floor were removed and in their place masonry and timber partitions were inserted. The upper timber structure was damaged in the great gale of 1741 and was subsequently redesigned and lowered. The balustrade at the base of the roof was removed and the obelisk was replaced with an ogee cap. The large room along the west side of the first floor was originally divided by a partition with a connecting door which was removed in the 1950s. It is known as the Long Room, named after a room in the London Customs House, where ships’ masters came to make report of their vessels and importers to make entry of their goods. The northern section was the original Long Room, and the southern section was the Landing and Coast Office. In the late 18th century the attic was used for the storage of dry goods, Customs’ documents and stationery. In the 19the century it provided living accommodation for one of the junior officers and was used as such until 1936. The Customs House continued to be occupied by HM Customs and Excise until 1989 when it passed into private ownership. It is currently (2017) occupied by Tourist Information.
(S4) also notes that the limestone for the building was sourced from Ketton quarry.
See (S4) for further details.
A. Cattermole (King's Lynn UAD), 10 June 2019.

(S5) notes that the design of the exchange was very much more sophisticated than anything that had previously been built in King's Lynn, and was the first building in Lynn to use the grammar of classical architecture correctly.
A. Cattermole (King's Lynn UAD), 10 June 2019.

Monument Types

  • CELLAR (17th Century to 21st Century - 1683 AD to 2100 AD)
  • EXCHANGE (17th Century to Late 20th Century - 1683 AD to 1989 AD)
  • STATUE (17th Century to 21st Century - 1683 AD to 2100 AD)
  • CUSTOM HOUSE (18th Century to Late 20th Century - 1703 AD to 1989 AD)

Associated Finds - none

Protected Status

  • Listed Building

Sources and further reading

---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1988-1989. [Articles and a letter to the editor on the sale of the Custom House].
---Aerial Photograph: TF6119 Z,ABL; TF6120 A-D,H,N,P.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1992-1993. [Articles on the proposed sale of the Custom House].
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1993-1994. [Articles on a proposed new lease of the Custom House].
---Newspaper Article: Lynn News. 1989-1992. [Articles on the purchase and plans on the Custom House].
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1976. Lynn Custom House crack worry. 30 April.
---Newspaper Article: Lynn News. 1993-1994. [Articles on proposed holiday home at the Custom House].
---Designation: [unknown]. Ancient Monuments Form. SAM Record. DNF4263.
---Illustration: Various. Various. Architectural plans.
---Record Card: Ordnance Survey Staff. 1933-1979?. Ordnance Survey Record Cards. TF 62 SW 18.
---Record Card: NAU Staff. 1974-1988. Norfolk Archaeological Index Primary Record Card.
---Newspaper Article: Lynn News. 1993. [Articles on the Custom House as a proposed headquarters for Eastern Sea Fisheries].
---Newspaper Article: Lynn News. 1995-1999. [Articles on the repurpose of the Custom House into a tourist information point].
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1995-1998. [Articles on the restoration and repurposing of the Custom House into the tourist Information].
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2000. Spotlight on Sculpture. 29 September.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1993. 'No need for any anxiety'. 30 June.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1995. Custom House 'in the pink'. 19 December.
---Photograph: Hodder, J.. 1983. [unknown].
---Newspaper Article: Lynn News. 1993. [Articles of the proposed sale of the Custom House].
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1993. [Articles on the Custom House becoming the headquarters for Eastern Sea Fisheries].
---Newspaper Article: Lynn News. 1993. Plan for Custom House holiday lets. 1 October.
---Newspaper Article: Lynn News. 1994. Yes, But is it Art?. 4 November.
---Monograph: Pevsner, N and Wilson, W. 1999. Norfolk 2: North-West and South. The Buildings of England. 2nd Edition. p 477; Pl 76, Pl 77.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2010. King's Lynn: Where famous seafarers sailed to foreign lands. 1 September.
---Sale Particulars: Cruso Wilkin. 1989. The Custom House, King's Lynn, Norfolk..
---Secondary File: Secondary File.
---Record Card: Clarke, R. R. and NCM Staff. 1933-1973. Norwich Castle Museum Record Card - Post-Medieval. King's Lynn.
---Newspaper Article: The Journal. 1950. "Swan's Nest" from the Danish Camp. 10 February.
<S1>Monograph: Pevsner, N. 1962. North-West and South Norfolk. The Buildings of England. 1st Edition. p 231; Pl 55a, Pl 55b.
<S2>Monograph: Crowmwell, T. and Cotman, J. S. 1818. Excursions through Norfolk.
<S3>Publication: James, E.M.. 1992. Letter from E.M. James to E. Rose. 20 January.
<S4>Designation: Historic England. National Heritage List for England. List Entry 1195414.
<S5>Monograph: Parker, V.. 1971. The Making of King's Lynn: secular buildings from the 11th to the 17th century.. pp 152-154.

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