The Conservancy Board and Pilots' Office


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Common Staithe Quay, King's Lynn, Norfolk, PE30 1LJ


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Statutory Address:
Common Staithe Quay, King's Lynn, Norfolk, PE30 1LJ

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 King's Lynn Conservancy Board and Pilots' Office on Common Staithe Quay are an amalgam of the town's Public Baths, opened in 1856, and the port's Pilots' Office, with its striking observation tower, added to the north end of the baths complex in 1864.

Reasons for Designation

The Conservancy Board and Pilots' Office on Common Staithe Quay in King's Lynn is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: Historic interest: * as a symbol of King's Lynn's long history as a port, which by the C14, was ranked as the third most important port in England after London and Southampton, and which remained the most important East Anglian port until the mid-C19. Architectural interest: * as a specialist building type with its prominently sited observation tower, representing a key port management function, but also incorporating a range of related workshops and an explosives store, as well as the remaining elements of the town's C19 public baths.


King’s Lynn, first called Bishop’s Lynn, was founded in 1095 by Bishop Herbert de Losinga, who in the previous year had transferred the see from Thetford to Norwich. There was already an existing settlement which appears to have been based around a salt-water lagoon, or series of inlets, with its centre round the present All Saints Church. Losinga’s town developed to the north of this, between All Saints Church and Saturday Market Place where St Margaret’s Church and Priory were established from Norwich around 1100. Rapid expansion from the C12 onwards required an extension of the town, and Bishop William Turbe laid out a new settlement north of the Purfleet from around 1145, with its market at Tuesday Market Place and the Chapel of St Nicholas as a chapel of ease to St Margaret’s. Both settlements were united under a royal charter in 1204, the united town being named Bishop’s Lynn. Until the early C13, the Great Ouse emptied via the Wellstream at Wisbech, however following floods in the C13, the river was redirected to join the Wash at Bishop’s Lynn. The town became one of England’s busiest ports, serving the Ouse and its tributaries, exporting wool and cloth, and importing wine, timber and luxury goods, being adopted as a member of the original medieval Hanseatic League. This extremely influential trading association linked a group of towns around the Baltic and the North Seas, and played an important role in the prosperity and development of Bishop’s Lynn as a national port, which by the C14, was ranked as the third port of England (after London and Southampton). Losinga’s town round the Saturday Market was protected from the river immediately to its west by the ‘great bank’, an earthwork which ran along the present line of Nelson Street, St Margaret’s Place and Queen Street. By about 1500 the river had moved approximately 50m west and was consolidated another 45m by the new South Quay in 1855. The period of development of the area between the Millfleet and Purfleet can therefore be identified, as well as building types and plans. The generous-sized plots are reflected in the surviving buildings dating from the C14 to the C17, which surround open courtyards. To the north, on Bishop Turbe’s ‘newe lande’, much the same pattern emerges: originally the west side of Tuesday Market Place was washed by the river, with King Street forming the line of the bank. The west side of King Street was built upon in the C13, with narrow plots, elongating in stages until river movement ceased in the C17. As land became available, warehouses were built straight onto the river front. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1536-1537, the town and manor became royal property, and Bishop’s Lynn was renamed King’s Lynn or Lynn Regis. Lynn’s prosperity as a national port was based entirely on trade, and the merchant class dominated the social and economic life of the town until the C19. When the Fens began to be drained in the mid-C17 and land turned to agricultural use, King’s Lynn grew prosperous from the export of corn: cereal export dominated from the C16, and especially in the C18. Coal and wine continued to be imported for distribution inland, and until the railway age, Lynn was the chief East Anglian port for both. Prosperity continued until continental trade was disturbed by the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), followed by a brief revival. The economy and population dwindled following the relatively late arrival of railway services to King’s Lynn in 1847, compounded by the irrevocable decline of coastal trading. The Kings Lynn Conservancy Board Offices on Common Staithe Quay are an amalgam of the town's Public Baths, opened in 1856, and the port's Pilots' Office, with its striking observation tower, added to the north end of the baths complex in 1864. The baths gradually fell into disuse, and in 1987 the front section of the baths complex was converted for use as the Conservancy Boards offices. A long range of single-storey outbuildings attached to the rear of the Pilots' Office which possibly predate the establishment of the baths and Pilots' Office was adapted and extended to provide storage and workshop facilities, and included a small vaulted section used as a magazine room, presumably for the storage of explosive flares. The baths complex remained partially in use until recently as a sports gymnasium, the swimming bath having been floored over. Some other areas of the baths complex are now roofless, but the former boiler room and chimney survive, together with an entrance lobby, meeting room and kitchen facilities.


Former public baths of 1856 to which the Pilots' Office and associated stores and workshops were added in 1864. The buildings were combined and adapted to form the Conservancy Board's premises and Pilots' Office in 1987. MATERIALS: The complex is built of red brick with painted stucco dressings, Gault brick detailing to the openings and slate and felt roof coverings. PLAN: The offices and workshops are L-shaped on plan, the Conservancy Board offices and Pilots' Office facing the quay to the west, with the attached workshop range workshop range facing north. The remaining sections of the former baths are located to the rear (east) of the office range. EXTERIOR: The Conservancy Board offices and Pilots' Office are aligned north-south, with the observation tower forming the north-west corner of the complex. The west front, with the exception of the tower, is single-storied, with a three-bay semi-circular arched narthex arcade which originally formed the entrance to the baths set between pedimented and pilastered end bays, each with a single window formed of paired narrow semi-circular arch-headed lights, now with uPVC frames. The pediments are surmounted by ball finials. Set back to the rear of the arcade area, behind a shallow brick parapet is a three-bay, two-storied section of the building. This has a hipped roof and three sash windows with moulded surrounds, set within recessed panels. Further north beyond the arcade is a single-storey bay linking the former baths complex with the corner tower. This has a blocked doorway and a single, four over four-pane sash window, both openings with semi-circular Gault brick gauged arches. The three-stage corner tower rises from a square base, with painted quoins and paired sashes with Gault brick arched heads to the east and north faces. Above, broaches lead to the octagonal upper stages, with occuli to alternate faces of the second stage and paired multi-pane window to each facet of the upper stage, their sills linked by a dentilled string course. The shallow pitched roof supports a weathervane linked to a compass in the tower roof. Running the full length of the west frontage at first floor level is a frieze set below a moulded cornice. The frieze carries raised lettering on the tower section which reads PILOTS' OFFICE and MOORING DUES on the section further to the right. The north elevation beyond the corner tower has a narrow advanced entrance bay beneath a hipped roof. There is a semi-circular arch-headed doorway with a panelled door and semi-circular overlight and above, an occulus matching those in the tower. Further to the left, a single set-back bay with stacked paired glazing bar sash windows. Attached to the east is a long, single-storey brick range with a hipped east end, with workshops and storage facilities. The exterior brickwork suggests at least three phases of development, and the building possibly pre-dates the construction of the Pilots' Office and public baths. There are two wide double doorways beneath shallow segmental arches, one at each end of the range, and three high level window openings, one now blocked, together with three added narrow windows at the west end. Near the centre, a single doorway gives access to a small room with a vaulted ceiling, referred to as the Magazine Room, presumed to be for the storage of explosive flares. At the east end of the range is an attached five-bay single-storey C20 workshop. To the rear of the west frontage range are the remains of the public baths facilities, including the swimming pool and the boiler room with the remains of its stepped square chimney. INTERIOR: Much of the interior of the Conservancy Board premises and Pilots' Office have been refurbished in recent years, with the building now housing an entrance lobby, port operations room, pilots' office, harbour master's office, an accounts office and other service areas. Most areas have modern fixtures and fittings, and a number of panelled doors, cupboard doors and stick baluster stairs within the tower and beyond the entrance lobby are the main C19 survivals. In the former public baths, the pool with its stepped north end survives beneath an inserted floor. Above, the building retains its curved east end wall and, above again, a complex shallow pitched roof structure with scissor-braced principal rafters supporting slender purlins and short king posts.


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

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Books and journals
Pevsner, N, Wilson, B, The Buildings of England: Norfolk 2: North-West and South, (2002), pp 459 - 507


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 13 May 2001
Reference: IOE01/03149/31
Rights: Copyright IoE Graham Brown. Source Historic England Archive
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