Revealing the Past of the Common Staithe

For centuries King's Lynn was one of the most important ports in England. Until now, two historic sites have represented that part of our history - the Custom House on the Purfleet and the Hanseatic warehouse on the South Quay. Now at last, thanks to Historic England's research, a third and equally important site can join the party.

That site is the Common Staithe, which lies between the Tuesday Market Place and the river. If you've ever wondered what a staithe is, it's a Norfolk word for a quay.

The Pilot Office tower
The Pilot Office tower from Trinity Quay © Historic England

Coming soon - free talk by architectural historian Jonathan Kewley

Bustling quay on the River Ouse

Today it's a quiet spot. Four hundred years ago it would have been full of merchants and sailors, paying customs, loading and unloading goods, and heading towards an inn after days at sea.

It was built in a U-shape which you can still see. The bottom of the U is the Tuesday Market Place with an inn and customs house, two sides of warehouses, and the fourth side open to the river. Parts of the old quay and warehouses still survive.

Brick wall being supported by scaffolding
Part of the wall of the 16th century Common Staithe quay, seen from the side of the Crown and Mitre © Historic England
The Georgian warehouses on the Common Staithe
The Georgian warehouses on the Common Staithe © Historic England DP219084

Victorian swimming baths

The Common Staithe is also the site of King's Lynn's long-closed Victorian swimming baths, one of the earliest surviving examples in the country.

The interior of the swimming baths
The interior of the swimming baths, dating from 1856 © Historic England DP217319
Overgrown yard leading up to the settling tank
Another part of the baths complex, this time the settling tank © Historic England

King's Lynn port and harbour authority

It's not just an historic site, though. The main building on the Common Staithe, the Pilot Office, remains the premises of a unique institution, the King's Lynn Conservancy Board, which keeps the river safely open to shipping - their buoys can often be seen on the quay.

Looking downstream from the Pilot Office tower as a ship enters the docks
Looking downstream from the Pilot Office tower as a ship enters the docks © Historic England

More to the story

There's lots more to the story - including a good example of Georgian recycling, some medieval arches which aren't where they should be, a listed building which would fit in the back of a car, and a very unusual place for a wedding.

Remains of stone arches
The arches © Historic England

How can I find out more?

You can download the full Research Report from our website.

You can also come along to a talk at King's Lynn Town Hall on Tuesday 22 May at 7pm on the Common Staithe by Jonathan Kewley, one of Historic England's architectural historians who's been working on the project. It's a chance to find out about this forgotten part of King's Lynn, and get the background on how a subject like this is researched.

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

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