The Former South Gate and Southgates Bridge


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
South Gate, London Road, King's Lynn, Norfolk, PE30 5EU


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Statutory Address:
South Gate, London Road, King's Lynn, Norfolk, PE30 5EU

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

King's Lynn and West Norfolk (District Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


The remains of a gate tower forming part of the medieval defences of King’s Lynn. It was constructed in the C14, and now forms the foundations of the current C15 building. In front of the gate is a bridge comprising a late medieval core preserved within a wider late-C19 structure.

Reasons for Designation

The former South Gate and Southgates Bridge, King’s Lynn, are scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Survival: the remains of the C14 gate and late medieval bridge are preserved encapsulated within later structures, and have been well protected;

* Potential: the minimal disturbance and limited excavation highlight the potential for a good record of the earlier gate structure. There is good potential for the whole of the bridge and its abutments to survive preserved within the C19 bridge;

* Period: the gate and bridge formed the main entrance into the historic town of King’s Lynn;

* Group value: with the Grade I-listed South Gate.


The defences of English towns, where they exist, are very varied. They range from defensive ditches evolving from jurisdictional boundary markers to substantial masonry circuits punctuated by the architectural statements of elaborate gateways. However, an overview of town defences shows a marked lack of correlation between the size, location, wealth and date of the towns and the character of their defences. As with interpretations of castles, modern treatments of urban defences have tempered considerations of practical defensibility with ones based on the expression of civic pride, identity and aspiration. That is best seen in the surprising number of towns which invested in masonry gates, while their defences remained a ditch and palisaded bank.

The defences of King’s Lynn were constructed in the C13, and linked the Fishers Fleet in the north with the river Nar to the south. Initially the gates to the town were guarded by wooden towers, or ‘bretasks’. The southern tower and accompanying bridge was certainly in place by 1325, as the Leet Rolls for that year record the area around the town responsible for its upkeep. The tower was repaired in 1359, and the whole structure (including the bridge) was replaced between 1359 and 1377 by a stone built structure. The gate was repaired in 1416 using waste stone from the repair of St Nicholas’ Chapel, and either fell down or was demolished 20 years later.

The current gate was built in 1437 by Robert Hertanger, a mason from Kent, and used the base of the walls of the earlier gate as footings, with the bridge rebuilt at the same time. Hertanger went bankrupt during the building of the gate, and it was finished by another (unnamed) mason some time after 1439. Further works were carried out to the gate in 1520 by two masons named Nicholas and Thomas Harmer. Both are described as freemasons, but the extent of the work carried out and its relationship to the structure built by Hertanger is not clear.

At the advent of the Civil War, the mayor ordered that the bridge to the south of the South Gate be converted to a drawbridge. There is no physical evidence that these works were undertaken. On 13 August 1643, Sir Hamon L’Estrange established a Royalist stronghold in the town. The Earl of Manchester laid siege to the town on 28 August 1643 and bombarded it until it surrendered on 16 September 1643. The new governor, Captain Valentine Wauden, rebuilt the defences of the town. The South Gate was not damaged in the siege, but after the surrender of the town it was fortified by the construction of a bastion to the south of the bridge.

London Road, immediately to the north of the South Gate, was laid out and constructed between 1800 and 1804, providing a direct route from the South Gate into the centre of King’s Lynn. In 1817, a passageway was knocked through the east chamber of the gate, with a second passage being installed in the west chamber in 1841 (resulting in the removal of the western staircase). Two buttress walls which had flanked the central carriageway as it emerged from the south portal were removed and a footbridge to the west chamber was added at the same time. Internally, the chambers were plastered over, concealing the internal features.

Southgates Bridge formed the highest point that shipping could access up Friars Fleet, and marked the point where the Middleton Stop Drain (formerly the Cockle Beck) drained into Friars Fleet. The Middleton Stop Drain and Friars Fleet were separated by a sluice built into the bricked up arch of Southgates Bridge. A drawing by John Sell Cotman in 1815 illustrates the northern half of the arch as completely bricked in, with the brickwork covered by the partially infilled Middleton Stop Drain, while the southern half of the arch is illustrated as blocked under the arch soffit, with a square sluice. Cotman’s drawing shows a complete arch in brick, with a masonry arch and archivolt under the southern half of the arch only.

In 1899 the road was widened, installing a second carriageway passing to the east of the gate. The bridge was widened at the same time. As this left the east chamber isolated in the centre of the road, it was closed off.

In the C20, the gatehouse was largely left untouched. Public conveniences were installed in the south-east side of the bridge between 1929 and 1967. The Friars Fleet, immediately to the south, was blocked in 1967, and filled in between 1983 and 1988, and the Middleton Stop Drain diverted in 1987. The gate was renovated between 1982 and 1985. The renovation works included a small archaeological excavation within the west chamber.


PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS: the remains of a brick-built gate tower, forming part of the medieval defences of King’s Lynn. It was constructed in the C14, and now forms the foundations of the current C15 building. In front of the gate is a bridge comprising a late medieval core preserved within a wider late-C19 structure.

DESCRIPTION: excavations within the western chamber in 1984 and 1985 revealed that the C15 gate was probably built using the walls of a previous C14 gate as footings. The foundation deposits were overlain by occupation deposits dating to the late C15 to early C16 and mid-C17.

The earliest surviving part of the bridge is the southern half of the masonry arch, underneath a brick relieving arch, encapsulated within the 1899 structure. The arch comprises at least 10 chamfered voussoirs covering an arc of 35 degrees (one half of the former arch of the bridge), within a chamfered masonry archivolt. No imposts are visible. Above the masonry arch is a segmental brick relieving arch. The visible remainder of the bridge exterior is constructed of red brick in English bond, with stone dressings and a crenelated parapet.

EXCLUSIONS: the upstanding fabric of the Grade I-listed South Gate is excluded from the Schedule.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
NF 174 B
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Clarke, H, Carter, A, Excavations in King's Lynn 1963-1970438
Harrod, H, Report on the Deeds and Records of the Borough of King’s Lynn, (1870), 55
Higgens, D, The Antiquities of King’s Lynn from the sketchbooks of the Rev Edward Edwards, (2001)
Hillen, H, History of the Borough of King's Lynn Volume II, (1907), 760-761
Kent, P, Fortifications of East Anglia, (1988), 223, 232
Pevsner, N, Wilson, B, The Buildings of England: Norfolk 2: North-West and South, (2002), 475
James, EA, 'Fresh Study of the South Gate at King’s Lynn, in the Light of Recent Restoration Work' in Norfolk Archaeology, , Vol. XL, (1987), 55-72
Smith, TP, 'The Medieval Town Defences of King's Lynn' in Journal of the British Archaeological Association, , Vol. 33:1, (1970), 57-88
Smith, TP, 'The Date of the King’s Lynn South Gate' in Norfolk Archaeology, , Vol. XXXVI, (1976), 224-232
Carmichael, K, Kewley, J and Newsome S ‘Southgates, King’s Lynn, Norfolk: Historic Area Assessment’ Historic England Research Report Series no. 009-2018
Humphries, S ‘South Gate Conservation Management Plan’ Unpublished Purcell Report 2017
'Ye South Gate, Lynn' by John Sell Cotman (1782-1842), etching on paper, 1815 NMS Accession number NWHCM : 1951.235.621.B52


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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