- See the place where William Shakespeare performed hundreds of years ago.
- Catch a play in this Grade I listed National Trust building.
- Head into King's Lynn for a taste of local history.
- Walk in the steps of the Guild of St George down King Street.
Originally built for the Guild of St George at the turn of the 15th century, St George's Guildhall has since become a staple of British culture, and is a Grade I listed building. Now, it is used as a theatre and event hall and has made the local town of King's Lynn in Norfolk a popular spot for theatre and history lovers alike. Whether you want to catch a play with the family or delve into the history of this fascinating landmark, a trip to St George's Guildhall isn't one you'll be forgetting in a hurry.
With a history dating back over 600 years, St George's Guildhall is thought to have been built between the years of 1410 and 1420. At a time when the Black Death had caused Britain to lose up to 45% of its population, communities were trying to rebuild. On King Street in King's Lynn, where the Guildhall still stands to this day, a medieval Guild known as the Guild of St George acquired the land near the River Ouse in 1406. The Guild met four times a year, dressing in fine robes and putting on processions in the town. On their land, they built the Hall, for their meetings and as a central location for the Guild.
10 years after Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, which caused lots of religious buildings in the UK to be destroyed and abandoned, in 1547 Edward VI dissolved the Guilds too. After this, St George's Guildhall came into the possession of Lynn Corporation and remained there for almost 300 years. During this time it had many uses, including a gunpowder store, courthouse, school and armoury. After being sold to William Lee Warner in 1814, the medieval Guildhall was passed between various owners through the years, almost falling into disrepair in the 1940s, until it was bought by Alexander Penrose who vowed to make it into an Arts Centre. St George's Art Trust and The National Trust took over ownership following Penrose's death, and in 1951 the centre was opened to the public. Since then, galleries were added to the buildings next door, and the centre took on a life of its own, making it the St George's Guildhall we know today.
One of the most significant parts of the Guildhall's history, however, was its use as a theatre for many years. All the way back in 1445, a nativity play is recorded as having taken place, featuring local people before a Guild feast took place. Until the dissolution of the Guilds, many theatrical performances took place here, and following the Dissolution of the Guilds, it was used by theatre companies such as the Queen's Players, who performed here in the late 16th century. There has been a longstanding legend in King's Lynn that William Shakespeare himself performed at the Guildhall in 1593, as a part of the Earl of Pembroke's men. This story has actually been supported by modern academic research, making St George's Guildhall the only place in the world that Shakespeare is confirmed to have performed at.
Theatre had become so popular at the Guildhall, that a playhouse was built inside in 1766, and the town was buzzing with performers, comedians and people waiting to see them live. To this day you can still see plays performed here, run by the King's Lynn Festival, King's Lynn Corn Exchange and the Shakespeare's Guildhall Trust, among others. As you look around you can still see the signs of St George around the Hall, as well as the old timber roof and beams that were common at the time the Guildhall was built.
While it is easy to get lost in the history of the Guildhall, there are also plenty of great things to do as a family with kids when you visit. There are often films playing at the cinema and family-friendly theatre performances available to watch at the playhouse. The town of King's Lynn is also a great place to explore as a family. As you walk out of St George's Guildhall along the famous and historic King Street, imagine where William Shakespeare would have wandered in his time there. There are lots of nature trails nearby to discover, and the River Ouse nearby promises beautiful views and wildlife.
Once you head into King's Lynn, there are plenty of things to see. In particular, you can take the King's Lynn heritage walk, which is just an hour-long and will take you around all the top spots in this West Norfolk town. From the South Quay to Red Mount Chapel, this circular walk is the perfect way to take in the local surroundings. For something to eat or drink on your visit, there are plenty of great restaurants and cafes in King's Lynn, from tasty Caribbean food at Soul Café and Restaurant on Tower Street, to Fox and Hounds for hearty pub food with a great kids menu.
If you enjoyed your day out at this historical landmark and are looking for more fantastic family-friendly things to do in Norfolk, why not check out the roar-some Dinosaur Adventure Park in Lenwade? Or, for a taste of adventure, head to Bewilderwood, in Horning.
What to know before you go
- St George's Guildhall opening times are from 10am-1:30pm from Monday-Saturday. Private visits can also be arranged. Contact details can be found on the National Trust website.
- Due to the historical nature of the building, it may not be suitable for buggies and wheelchairs.
- Toilets, baby changing facilities and accessible toilets can be found in King's Lynn.
- St George's Guildhall is easy to get to by car, by driving to King's Lynn. You can find the Guildhall near Tuesday Market Place, on the west side of King Street.
- There are multiple pay and display and multi-storey car parks available in King's Lynn, including King's Lynn Car Parks on Albert Street and St James Multi-Storey on Clough Lane.
- The nearest station is King's Lynn Station, just a short walk from St George's Guildhall.
- You can also cycle to the Guildhall as a part of the National Cycle Network.