King’s Lynn, Norfolk – St Nicholas

St Nicholas’ Chapel is stunning. It is on the north side of the centre at TF 618204. The Friends of St Nicholas have a website. It’s in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, with website. I shall also remind you of Simon’s wonderful website. It has a facebook page – here. This took me to this website – a superb set of photos taken while conservation work was being done in 2015. He got right up close to the angels and his photos are stunning – I will stop my blogging now. I can also recommend this website – more time spent when I should be writing a blog.

St Nicholas is a chapel-of-ease, a chapel dependent on a church and serving part of the parish for the convenience of parishioners nearby (like my old church of Milbourne). St Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, and this church serves the fishing community, with a spire that was an important sea-mark for approaching ships. This part of the town dates to 1100, and the church is first mentioned in a document of William Turbus, third Bishop of Norwich between 1146 and 1174.

The tower dates to around 1225, the upper story about 50 years later. In the C14 the Black Death killed half the population of the town, storm surges damaged many buildings (including the church), and others near the chapel were empty. Merchants bought them up, raised the ground above flood level, and built a new, enlarged chapel. It was begun in the 1380s, and was mostly complete by 1411.

The porch may pre-date the major rebuilding of the chapel. You can imagine merchants – perhaps wearing a German-style hat purchased while on a European trip, shaking hands on deals under the watchful eye of God the Father, wearing a three-tiered Papal Crown.

It is a wow church, and there was a lovely buzz about the place. The Holy Water Stoup dates from about 1420, and lasted until the Reformation (they were banned in 1549). This one survived as a garden ornament. The font is a 1902 copy of the original of 1627 – it took that long before the Bishop of Norwich allowed a font to be installed here, before then you had to go to the Parish Church (and St Margaret’s fought to keep its rights). The elaborate wooden cover went too, but there is now a plan to bring it back – see the Friends website. The Lectern is one of only 45 surviving English pre-Reformation lecterns. There is also a Consistory Court – from the late C11 it met twice a year and dealt with cases of morality. The layout dates from 1617. Nowadays you can dress up and be the lawyer.


The organ is fascinating, as you can walk round it. It is the last organ  built by England’s foremost Victorian organ builder, Father Henry Willis (Father as a mark of respect, and as he’s the first of a dynasty of organ builders). It has not been altered. Two keyboards, 1000 pipes.

At the east end of the North Aisle there are some fascinating memorials. Top left, Anne and John Wilson, and six children (w a seventh is buried elsewhere, and an eighth perished at sea). She, “a virtuous woman” died in 1767, he died in 1781 – “in every stage of his life a just and worthy man”. Top right, Alice, died 1746, wife of Francis Kirby, daughter of John Kidd (twice Mayor), mother of Walter Kirby (Mayor in 1744). The bottom right (and bottom) is Thomas Snelling, son of John, who married Margaret in this church in 1611. They had a daughter and three sons, and the mural is possibly by Francis Grigs of London. He was a major overseas trader, trading with the Baltic ports. He died aged 39.

This marble urn on a square pedestal, designed by Robert Adam, paid for by public subscription in 1762. It carries a portrait of Sir Benjamin Keene with a harbour scene – I doubt Robert went down to the Quay to sketch it, but it would be lovely to think he did. Benjamin was the eldest son of Lynn merchant Charles Keene, mayor in 1714. Educated at the Free Grammar School in the town, and at Cambridge and Leyden in Holland, he was MP for Lynn from 1702 to 1742. He was British Consul at Madrid and Minister at the Spanish Court, followed by British ambassador in Lisbon (1746-50). He died there in 1757. Robert Walpole described him as “one of the best kind of agreeable men, quite fat and easy, and of universal knowledge.”

The original stained glass in the church was removed in the C17 – the Wardens started to take down “the superstitious and offensive painted glasse” in 1644. The East Window is Ward and Hughes 1860. The Reredos is on painted cloth – Hardman 1904. The Sedilia was hacked back at some point, something wooden built in front of it? – but a face survived.

There are more memorials on the south side. The memorial on the top and left shows (on the left hand side) Matthew Clarck (1564-1623) kneeling with his second wife Triphosa, with whom he had four sons. His first wife, Sarah, lies below – they had seven children. On the right is his father Richard (1535-1602) and wife Joan. Matthew was educated at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and served as Mayor and MP. The Greene monument (right and bottom) shows Thomas and his wife Suzannah, with four sons and five daughters. This memorial is possibly by Thomas Cartwright the elder (c1617-1702) one of Wren’s masons. Thomas was mayor three times, dying in office in 1675. I wonder what they are both thinking as they look at, and away, from each other for eternity.

The CCT displays are up to their normal high standard.

As we walked down the South Aisle I was looking up. I missed the bench ends. Julie is on the same level as the bench ends – she pointed the C15 ends out to me. Thank you Julie. Some benches and misericords are in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Look up – the Angel Roof dates to 1402. It is one of the earliest in the country. There are 24 of them – ten with musical instruments, some others holding instruments of the Passion or items associated with Mass.

One has to stop and just admire this church. Finally, Lucy and Mary in a window, and the lovely West Door.


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