Revealing the Past of Chapel Street Car Park

Despite its appearance today, the car park opposite the council offices on Chapel Street in King's Lynn was once a busy part of the medieval town, located between the Tuesday Market Place and the Chapel of St Nicholas. Historic England has been revealing its past as part of the Heritage Action Zone project so that this information can be used to plan its future.

Timber framed building
Grade II* Listed Lattice House, built around 1480, survives at the south-eastern corner of the car park © Historic England DP217395

Coming soon - free talk by archaeologist Sarah Newsome

A busy place in medieval times

Historic documents show that the area was part of the medieval town from at least the 13th century. It was densely occupied in the medieval period. By the 15th and 16th centuries both Chapel Street and St Nicholas Street (located to the north of the car park) were almost certainly lined with timber-framed buildings. Some of these had ground-floor shops as well as living accommodation.

The entrance to Bennett’s Yard
The entrance to Bennett’s Yard off St Nicholas Street (shown in here in 1907) is all that remains of two adjacent medieval timber-framed buildings, both which had shops on their ground floors © Historic England HEA BB46/01526

Prime location

The Chapel Street Car Park lay on an important route between the main trading areas. These were the Tuesday Market Place, the quay at Common Staithe and St Nicholas Chapel which was an important religious and social focus in the town. As such the area was probably a desirable place to live and trade. Some researchers think the area was home to important buildings, such as the Wool Hall.

Aerial view of King's Lynn town centre
The Chapel Street car park is located between Tuesday Market Place (bottom left) and St Nicholas Chapel (centre top), key parts of the medieval town © Historic England 33198/005

Centuries of gradual change

Historic photographs and maps show that the area retained its medieval character until the 1970s, when most buildings on the site were demolished. Until then the area was defined by typical medieval patterns of land-holding. Properties had a narrow street-frontage and a long rear yard which was accessed via a passage from the street.

Over the centuries outbuildings and cottages slowly filled these rear yards. For most of its history, the buildings in the area were small, two-storey structures, many with attic dormers. Early buildings were timber-framed, and probably thatched. From the 15th century onwards, some buildings were redeveloped with red, and later brown, brick and tile. Tiles were flat at first and later curved into s-shaped pantiles as fashions and the availability of building materials changed.

The densely packed character of the Chapel Street car park area is shown on this 1928 photograph
The densely packed character of the Chapel Street car park area is shown on this 1928 photograph © Historic England Archive (Aerofilms Collection) AFL60482/EPW021474

Buried evidence

A few timber-framed buildings on the site survived into the 20th century and their plots were never redeveloped. This is important because well-preserved buried evidence of medieval occupation may survive on these parts of the site.

Elsewhere on the site 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century buildings were built where timber-framed buildings undoubtedly once stood. Here medieval archaeological deposits are likely to survive despite the impact of later foundations.

Previous archaeological excavations in the town have shown that any deposits are likely to be complex and waterlogged. Such ground has the potential to preserve organic material which is not routinely found on archaeological sites, such as wooden objects, bone, leather, textiles and animal, plant and insect remains. Any archaeological deposits buried beneath the Chapel Street Car Park have the potential to provide new and better understanding of life in this medieval international trading port.

How can I find out more?

You can download the full Research Report from our website.

You can also come along to a talk on the Chapel Street Car Park research at 7pm on Tuesday 5 June at King's Lynn Town Hall by Sarah Newsome, one of Historic England's archaeologists who has been working on the project.

It's free but you need to book by emailing Laura Wiffen at [email protected].

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