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Watergate of St Ann's Fort and associated wall

A Grade II Listed Building in King's Lynn, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.7588 / 52°45'31"N

Longitude: 0.397 / 0°23'49"E

OS Eastings: 561845

OS Northings: 320609

OS Grid: TF618206

Mapcode National: GBR N3Q.55M

Mapcode Global: WHJP1.2X9C

Entry Name: Watergate of St Ann's Fort and associated wall

Listing Date: 1 December 1951

Last Amended: 31 August 2018

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1195420

English Heritage Legacy ID: 384258

Location: King's Lynn and West Norfolk, Norfolk, PE30

County: Norfolk

District: King's Lynn and West Norfolk

Electoral Ward/Division: St Margarets with St Nicholas

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: King's Lynn

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

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Watergate of St Ann’s fort and associated wall, built 1570-1571 with C17, C18 and C19 alterations. Some C20 infilling and repairs.


Watergate of St Ann’s fort and its associated wall built 1570-1571 with C17, C18, C19 and C20 alterations and repairs including some in-filling.

MATERIALS: built mainly of red brick with some stone repairs and infill.

PLAN: a linear structure representing the wall and gate to St Ann’s Fort.

EXTERIOR: towards the west end of the wall, on the south face, are two depressed arches and part of a third, each blocked with C19 brick. At the western end of these is the springer for a brick arch reaching south suggesting an inner vaulted chamber or carriageway. Extending to the east, beyond the arches, is a length of contemporary brick wall, much repaired and altered with, on the southern side of its eastern end, a plaque with G.B. & Co 1875. Just beyond the plaque the wall turns at right angles and runs south forming the east wall of an open courtyard. Again various blocked openings and scars indicate the positions of former buildings. The 1887 Ordnance Survey map shows a malthouse in this position.

The north side of the wall (at the western end) is built out and contains two barrel-vaulted passageways which would have emerged through the blocked arches on the south side. On the north side, the wall displays other brick arches and openings marked by wooden or concrete lintels, most have been infilled. Much of the early brickwork is interspersed with C18, C19 and C20 brick repairs or alterations illustrating the continuity and change in the use of the fort wall.


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.

Watergate represents part of Henry VIII’s C16 fortifications, built to defend the harbour. In 1539 Lynn was included in Thomas Cromwell’s Remembrance notes as a place to be fortified and in 1570-1571 the Chamberlains’ accounts record payment for the erection of St Ann’s Fort. The building is clearly shown on a manuscript map of 1589 as a gate flanked by two towers.

Built in the north-west corner of the town where the Fisher Fleet joined the Ouse, the battery originally consisted of an earthwork platform for cannons, some buildings and a section of wall and gate giving access to the Fisher Fleet. In 1625, privateer raids on Lynn led to the petitioning of the king for 12 guns for the battery, which were delivered. Even as late as 1778, when the ten guns in the fort were replaced by ten 18 pounders, the battery is understood to have had no protective parapet, and remained so until its decommissioning in 1839.

Reasons for Listing

Watergate of St Ann’s Fort and its associated wall, originally of C16 date, are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Historic interest:

* as a rare example of standing remains which represent part of Henry VIII’s C16 fortifications of the town, built to defend the harbour soon after the national defence policy emerged;

* although fragmentary, the preserved architectural detail and medieval origins are a key to understanding this period in King's Lynn’s history, marking the point of the confluence of the two water channels and their vulnerability at this time;

* as an opportunity to understand the phases of continuity and change in the evolution of the fort from the C16 to its decommissioning in 1839, and how the gate and wall have been utilised since.

Group value:

* for the strong association it holds with 2 a, b and c St Ann’s Street (Grade II*-listed), 7 St Ann’s Fort, and True’s Yard (both Grade II-listed).

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