By Haydn Brown.
Legend has it that a tunnel once ran between Greyfriars Priory and the curious and somewhat mysterious Red Mount Chapel in Kings Lynn. Another tunnel, now bricked-up, was also thought to have connected the Priory to the White Hart pub, both in St. James Street. The pub itself is supposed to be haunted by a monk. While the Red Mount Chapel is a unique structure, about which opinion has always been divided; nothing is left of the 13th century Franciscan Priory except the lofty Greyfriars Lantern Tower.
Now, for some reason, the ramblings of the Yorkshire soothsayer Mother Shipton (c.1488-1561) used to be very popular with the country folk of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. And somehow, the old Fenmen reckoned that she was responsible for the prophecy and belief that, when royalty visited the Theatre Royal in St. James’ Street, the Greyfriars Lantern Tower mentioned above would collapse on to it. Since the Theatre wasn’t even opened until 1815, one has to wonder how Mother Shipton’s name ever got attached to this myth. The slight lean that the tower had for years was corrected in 2006, while the Theatre Royal, which burned down in 1936 and was then rebuilt, is now a bingo hall. While the Queen has visited King’s Lynn many times, it seems unlikely that she will ever pop in for a game of bingo.
The structure of the Red Mount Chapel is, unsurprisingly, of red brick; it is octagonal and buttressed, with an inner rectangular core that projects above the roof. It consists not of one chapel, but two – one possibly of 13th century vintage, the other being the ‘Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount’, built by Robert Corraunce upon the steep-sided artificial mound in about 1485. This second chapel was probably put there to house a holy relic of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and tradition tells of pilgrims halting at this place on their way to Walsingham. Despite the beginnings of the Red Mount Chapel being set around the 1300’s, there is reason to believe that an earlier edifice also stood here; this thought is even more probable because the mound itself was once known as Guanock Hill – ‘guanock’ or ‘gannock’ being an old local word meaning a beacon.
A tunnel is said to lead from the Red Mount to a door in the gatehouse at Castle Rising, some four miles to the north-east. This castle was built in the 12th century by William de Albini, and a considerable amount of the structure still remains today. In 1331 Isabella, the widow of King Edward II, was brought to the castle by her son and ‘allegedly’ imprisoned for her part in Mortimer’s rebellion. However, she wasn’t even under house arrest because she travelled quite freely in this country and abroad. It has been said that she was jailed there until her death in 1358, then buried in Rising church. Thus, Edward III was believed to have used the tunnel on many occasions to secretly visit his mother. However, she actually died at Hertford Castle and was almost certainly buried at Greyfriars in London.
The historian of Lynn, Mr. E. M. Beloe, dug at the Red Mount and found that the supposed tunnel came to a halt after only a few feet, at an outer door which had long been buried beneath the soil of the mound. The door in the castle was likewise no more than one of two entrances to an inner stairway. As in other subterranean tales, a drunken fiddler and his dog are said to have tried to explore the tunnel, and were never seen again!
Another tunnel supposedly comes to Lynn from the site of the former medieval bishop’s palace where Gaywood Hall now stands, in an eastern suburb of the town. A brick arch uncovered in a trench along Blackfriars Road was claimed by one old man to be evidence of this, while another is said to have dug up a tunnel on the same line during the last century, but veering towards the Red Mount. A sewer and a covered-up reservoir may have been the basis for this tale.
The so-called ‘Exorcist’s House’ stands in Chapel Lane, next to St. Nicholas’ church and is of 17th century vintage; possibly it once was a medieval Bishop’s House in which an exorcist, who was employed by the church clergy, once lived. Some believe that a subterranean passage – allegedly used by the Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins – runs from there to the 17th century St. Anne’s House – now demolished.
In St. James Street is the White Hart pub, radically rebuilt in the mid-19th century, but dating from at least 200 years earlier. A shadowy, hooded figure that haunts the pub is said to be a ghostly monk, who has passed through a legendary tunnel from St. Margaret’s church in the Saturday Market Place.
Today, the medieval St. George’s Guildhall in King Street is the home to an arts centre, coffee shop, and other businesses, but beneath it is an actual tunnel (now stopped-up and dry), through which merchants brought goods from their boats on the nearby Great Ouse river. Vaulted under crofts exist here and beneath former medieval warehouses along King Street as far as the Tuesday Market Place, but it seems to be rumoured only because other tunnels honeycomb the area.
Walter Rye: ‘Norfolk Songs, Stories & Sayings’ (Goose & Son, 1897), pp.85-6.
‘The East Anglian Magazine’, Vol.2, p.461.
Ann Weaver: ‘The Ghosts of King’s Lynn’ in KL Magazine, Issue 1, Oct. 2010, p.51.
Source: Arthur Randell (ed. Enid Porter: ‘Sixty Years a Fenman’ (R & K P, 1966). P.102-3.
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