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Duke's Head Hotel

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

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Latitude: 52.7561 / 52°45'22"N

Longitude: 0.3953 / 0°23'43"E

OS Eastings: 561743

OS Northings: 320303

OS Grid: TF617203

Mapcode National: GBR N3Q.BR1

Mapcode Global: WHJP1.1ZJG

Plus Code: 9F42Q94W+F4

Entry Name: Duke's Head Hotel

Listing Date: 1 December 1951

Last Amended: 11 June 2018

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1212229

English Heritage Legacy ID: 384336

ID on this website: 101212229

Location: North End, 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

Tagged with: Hotel

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Former coaching inn built in 1683-1689 possibly to the designs of Henry Bell.


Former coaching inn built in 1683-1689 possibly to the designs of Henry Bell.

MATERIALS: red brick laid in indeterminate bond on the north return wall facing Market Lane, and rendered and colourwashed on the façade with stone dressings, also painted. Slate roof coverings.

PLAN: the principal range of the inn faces west onto Tuesday Market Place and has a long rear north wing along Market Lane. A smaller range running parallel to the rear of the principal range and an east wing, both probably dating to the C19 remodelling, enclose a small courtyard which has been infilled in the C20.

The large rear extension, built in 1973, is excluded from the listing.

EXTERIOR: the principal range is of three storeys and an attic under a hipped roof with a cut down ridge stack and an acanthus modillion eaves cornice. It has a symmetrical façade of nine bays, the three central bays breaking forward under a broken segmental pediment, also with an acanthus modillion eaves cornice, out of which rises a large pedimented dormer window, lit by an oval attic light. There are rusticated quoins to the corners and also to the central projecting bays. The outer bays of the central projecting section are defined on the ground floor by wide segmental arches on pilaster strips, the left one containing the C20 door. The three bays to the left are lit by two-light cross casements, and the five bays to the right by two-over-two-pane horned sashes in moulded frames. The first floor is lit by two-light cross casements with floral scrolled plaster lintels. The central window is more elaborate with a pilaster surround and broken segmental pediment with a laurel wreath and coat-of-arms. The second-floor windows are two-light mullioned casements, the central one embellished with side volutes. There are two gabled dormer windows wholly in the roof space, either side of the central pedimented dormer.

The north return wall is subsidiary and the brickwork shows evidence of some replacement and repair. The fenestration is irregularly placed and consists mostly of sash windows of C20 date, set flush in the wall, some under gauged brick arches. The east bay presents a gable end to the street and adjoins a large C20 extension which is excluded from the listing. The other elevations are not visible from the street.

INTERIOR: the building has been much altered over the years. All of the ground floor and most of the upper floors have been remodelled and only fragments of the original plan form and fittings survive. The principal areas of interest are the staircase and principal first-floor room. The fine closed-string staircase to the left of the reception in the north-west corner is of 1683-1684 and rises through three floors. It has turned bulbous balusters with a wide unmoulded handrail and square panelled newel posts, and large-frame dado panelling. The principal first-floor room to the west has original large-frame bolection-moulded panelling with long middle panels and horizontal upper panels, a dado rail and heavy moulded cornice. It was formerly two rooms as there are two pine bolection-moulded fireplaces: one has Delft tiles and the other has an C18 reeded inset with corner blocks.

On the first floor, in what was the south wall of the north gallery, are embedded three round timber columns with round moulded capitals, resting on high square bases. These are all that remain of the C17 accommodation galleries. On the first floor of the east range the large room used for over two hundred years as a Masonic Temple has an entrance canopy supported by four fluted Ionic columns, each one surmounted by a section of entablature with a dentilled cornice. The room also contains two classical style doorcases with panelled Corinthian pilasters and entablature. The joinery has been grained to resemble oak with some of the detail picked out in gilt.


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 Duke’s Head was built as a coaching inn between 1683 and 1689 by Sir John Turner MP, a local wine merchant and three times mayor of King’s Lynn, to accommodate people visiting his Merchants’ Exchange which later became known as the Custom House (1683, Grade I-listed). The architect may have been Henry Bell (1647-1711), a fellow councillor who had been commissioned by Turner to design the Custom House. The son of a prosperous Lynn merchant, Bell attended the local Grammar School and then took a degree at Caius College, Cambridge, after which he embarked on a tour of Europe. On his father’s death in 1686 he inherited property in Lynn and continued his business as a merchant, taking on architectural commissions for his own personal interest. Bell was jointly in charge of the rebuilding of Northampton after the fire of 1675 but all his other documented works are in King’s Lynn. These include the Market Cross (1707-1710, demolished 1831), and the altarpieces of St Margaret’s Church and St Nicholas’s Church, set up in 1684 and 1704 respectively, but both since removed. In 1690 he became an alderman, and in 1692 and 1703 he served as mayor.

The Duke’s Head was originally constructed around a central courtyard with timber framed galleries providing access to the rooms. It has been greatly rebuilt and altered since, some of the detail being from a C19 restoration, and only one gallery is recognisable, its three round columns embedded in later partitioning on the first floor. An inventory taken in 1773 mentions eleven chambers and a ‘Great Dining Room’, ‘Great Parlour’, ‘Barr’, kitchen, a room ‘with deal furniture for cock fighting’, and stabling for twenty-five horses. The inn continued in the ownership of the Turner family until it was mortgaged to Elizabeth Shaw for £700 in 1719, and it then changed hands several times until 1773 when it was bought by Samuel Browne, an immensely wealthy merchant, who let it to Samuel Horncastle of Fleet Street for a yearly rent of £60. The inn was the important political headquarters of the Whig party candidates, notably Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745) of Houghton Hall, the country’s first Prime Minister. Since the second half of the C18 it was also the meeting place for a number of Norfolk’s masonic lodges. When Edward, Prince of Wales, made his home at Sandringham he joined the lodge in 1870, becoming the lodge patron when he was crowned Edward VII in 1901. The Philanthropic Lodge, founded in 1810, was the last of the three lodges to move out of the Duke’s Head in 2016.

In 1808 alterations were made to the southern half of the inn to accommodate a bank called Massey & Co, founded by Benjamin and Mary Massey. A bank operated within the Duke’s Head under independent ownership until at least 1930. An oil painting of Tuesday Market Place dating from around 1805 shows the building before the alterations were made. It was of exposed red brick and had a central entrance flanked by windows. The window on the left was later knocked through to create a door within a segmental arch recess, and the window on the right was also contained within a recess to provide symmetry. After the bank closed, the central door was blocked up and a window reinstated. In 1973 a new six-storey block was built behind the old inn to provide more bedrooms, a ballroom and two restaurants. This is excluded from the listing. The inn was refurbished in 2009.

Reasons for Listing

The Duke’s Head, a former coaching inn built in 1683-1689 possibly to the designs of Henry Bell, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* for its distinctive façade in the classical style which has a well-proportioned composition enlivened by decorative detailing and a Baroque sense of movement, created by the projection of the central bay under a deep, broken segmental pediment;

* the possible attribution to the gentleman-architect Henry Bell adds to its special interest as Bell was responsible for introducing the classical style to King’s Lynn with his Grade I-listed Customs House (1683);

* internally, it retains the fine C17 staircase which rises through three storeys and the bolection moulded panelling in the principal room on the first floor.

Historic interest:

* it was commissioned by Sir John Turner MP to accommodate people visiting the Customs House, and it is therefore an important representative of the trade that made King's Lynn a prosperous national port in the C17 and C18;

* its use as the Whig Party headquarters and as a meeting place for a number of Norfolk’s masonic lodges further enhances its already considerable historic interest;

* it is the most prominent building in Tuesday Market Place, described in Pevsner as ‘one of the most splendid open spaces in provincial England’, and it makes a significant contribution to its rich architectural character.

Group value:

* most of the buildings on Tuesday Market Place are listed so it has strong group value with its surrounding buildings.

External Links

External links are from the relevant listing authority and, where applicable, Wikidata. Wikidata IDs may be related buildings as well as this specific building. If you want to add or update a link, you will need to do so by editing the Wikidata entry.

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