History of the Walks

An historic urban park in the heart of King’s Lynn. The Walks is the only surviving 18th century town walk in Norfolk.

A £4.3 million Heritage Lottery Funded restoration has returned this 17 hectare park to its former glory and added modern amenities making it the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing stroll and explore the history of the area.

Boasting a unique 15th century chapel, The Red Mount, a Grade II-listed church as well beautiful landscaping, a children’s play area, toilets and a café.

The History

The Walks are an important area in the national context, rather than merely a local one, and in 1998 were designated by English Heritage as a grade II historic park. Parks laid out as formal pleasure and recreation grounds only became common in the middle of the 19th Century and generally these are well-defined areas surrounded by residential streets. St James’ Park in King’s Lynn is very much in this context, laid out in 1902-03, and lying to the west of The Walks in the junction formed by St James’ Road and Blackfriars Road. However, the greater area covered by The Walks as a whole had a different and earlier origin, in that it was at first conceived not as a municipal park, as one understands the term today, but as a single promenade for the citizens away from the smell, grime and bustle of the town centre.

The model, if there was one, came from the parks surrounding 18th Century country houses. Only through the course of the 18th, 19th and into the 20th Century did The Walks evolve into its present extensive open space.

In 1840 it was even larger than now. The simple existence of a large cultivated area to the east of the growing town (but within the town defences), as late as the 18th Century, is itself an unusual circumstance, and the topography that allowed it is itself unusual. Like many of the characteristics of King’s Lynn, it seems to have depended on the course of the River Great Ouse.

Henry Bell’s groundplate of c.1686 indicates the area of The Walks as essentially open fields divided into three areas by the built-up Norfolk Street (then Damgate) to the north and the Purfleet and Millfleet in the centre and south. There are only a few buildings: St James’ church (workhouse) to the west, two corn mills and Red Mount Chapel, and the dominating town walls built after the town fell to the Parliamentarians in 1643. The 17th Century walls were never used in action, and the King’s Lynn Paving Acts of 1803 and 1806 authorised their demolition leaving only fragments in the north of the town, parts of St Ann’s Gate, and the untouched South Gates. Gannock Gate seems to have been taken down also, but rebuilt as a picturesque ruin in 1816.

Cultivation of the open land was sporadic — Lynn was concerned with imports and exports, not local agriculture. The originator of the idea of providing a single promenade, New Walk or Mall, from the precinct of the Greyfriars in the west to Gannock Gate is not known, but the Mayoral Chronicles of 1714 record that the walk was a ‘handsome lime-planted walk put in the year before’. By 1753, if not before, the walk was raised up for drainage and gravelled, and bounded on both sides by a hawthorn hedge with trees at intervals. A description of 1773 tells us that ‘The new walk or mall, from the bars of the workhouse to Gannock-gates, is about 340 yards long and 11 yards wide between quick hedges; at convenient distances on each side of the walk a recess is left in the hedge in a semicircular form, where benches are fixed, on which twenty people may fit together. Upon a gentle ascent on the right is a plantation and a shrubbery’. The plantation on the right was Seven Sisters, seven trees planted in a circle in 1760, 130 metres (142 yards) south of Gannock Gate. In the same year the area round Red Mount was planted ‘in pleasing taste’.

The picture in the middle of the 18th Century is of a tree-lined walk with semicircular seating areas leading over undeveloped land to the Gannock Gate, and extending, though not yet formally, to Red Mount chapel a short way to the north. Its purpose was purely recreational, and seems to have been funded by private citizens. The 17th Century walls were still standing, terminating the promenade as a powerful visual stop. Daniel Defoe, in his Tour Through the Eastern Counties, 1722 (edition of 1888), records that the walls ‘appear very fair to this day, nor would it be a hard matter to restore the bastions with the ravelins and the counterscarp upon any sudden emergency to a good state of defence, and that in a little time’. East of Gannock Gate ran a track across even more marshy ground in Gaywood parish, destined to become the Extension Walk, and it must have been with the passing of the Paving Acts that the resolution to continue development of The Walks as a civic-controlled and planned exercise was formalised.

1803-06 was the period of demolition of the town walls, in Lynn as elsewhere, and by 1805 gates were erected at the east and west ends of the track east of Gannock Gate. These gates were only removed in the Second World War. On the site of the walls, already conveniently elevated, Town Wall Walk was pushed north, reaching the walls at Wyatt Street by 1827. The section between St John’s Walk and Broad Walk was planted in 1805 with elm (died of Dutch elm disease in 1973), and the section south to Windsor Terrace (which was not yet built) was laid out in 1804 and planted in the 1820s. By 1830 a continuous tree-lined avenue extended from Thomas Street in the south to Wyatt Street in the north, a distance of 1,060 metres (1,159 yards).

In 1803 incursion was taking place to the west, with the allotments on the site of St James’ Park developed as a new burial ground for St Nicholas’s parish. In 1813 the Corporation bought the common land east of the walls and in 1816 Gannock Gate was re-erected as a landscape feature, having been demolished in 1803. By the 1820s the U-shaped residential development at St James’ End was begun, and the banks round Red Mount were redesigned as an ornamental feature, and given pleasure ground status.

By 1830 the new burial ground on the east side of St James’ Road had a circular chapel, and just over half of St James’ End had been built up. Progress with promenades continued. The Broad Walk Extension running east from Gannock Gate to Tennyson Road was proposed in the late 1790s, and again in the 1830s, but not finally made until 1843, when Charles Goodwin, who was developing the area of south-east Lynn contributed funds. Raised and gravelled like the other Walks, it was planted on both sides with alternating lime and horse chestnut trees. 1841 saw yet another re-planting of the important Red Mount area, ‘in a very ornamental manner’, and in 1844-6 St John’s Church was built, contemporary with the railway station to its north-east. The railway was particularly intrusive, for the tracks bisected the Walks, isolating the northern half, which was at first maintained, with a bridge over the tracks. These developments must have spurred the creation of St John’s Walk, just south of an existing track, in 1851, but it had to wait for its trees. The hospital was enlarged in 1847-52, Framingham’s Almshouses built in 1849, and a large part of the Purfleet culverted in the 1830s and 40s. A depression south of St John’s church indicates its course.

In 1849 the land south of The Broad Walk Extension was opened to the public, followed by the land north of it in 1864. Meanwhile, in 1857, the workhouse at St James’ was closed in favour of the purpose-built establishment to the east of the town, and the new burial ground re-planted and again improved, incorporating the burial ground of the workhouse, whose ruins mark the south end of the site as a landmark.

During the 1850s and 60s the hedges lining Broad Walk were removed and replaced with benches, but St John’s Walk was completed and planted in 1868. In 1871 the railway bought land for expansion (the new station is of 1877), removed the bridge connecting the north and south areas of The Walks, and left the northern half to fairly speedy encroachment and obliteration. The iron fence running parallel to the north of St John’s Walk was erected.

1871 saw the allocation of land for the football ground south-east of Gannock Gate, but a pitch was not formally laid until the 1920s, and the stadium not even then. In 1875 a new path was cut south from Blackfriars Road, passed the west front of the church to St James’ End. There was a final expansion to The Walks in 1885 that could be seen as act of compensation; by this time it was obviously impossible to incorporate Hospital Walk to the south and the northern section of the scheme had also been lost.

The Corporation bought all the land between the walls and Tennyson Road north of Broad Walk and south of St John’s Walk. It was intended specifically for sport and other physical recreation, rather than more passive promenading, a concern affecting most local authorities towards the end of the 19th Century. In 1887 Tennyson Road received a line of trees on its west side and between 1887 and 1929 St John’s Walk was extended to Tennyson Road, planted in 1906 with lime trees, later lime and plane trees.

Finally, in 1902-3 St James’ Park was laid out, on land occupied by the churchyard and the new burial ground. At the same there was continual intermittent new building, such as the completion of the St James’ End circuit of two roads, and the construction of a new hospital block to the south. In 1906 a proposal to create a new ornamental garden, Vancouver Island, to replace that at the Red Mount was mooted. The proposal was undertaken in the 1920s, complete with an octagonal bandstand, but not yet with a spur of water taken from the rivulet to turn it into an island. The Red Mount area reverted to a Walk only. In the same years the garden to the east of Framingham’s Almshouses was requisitioned for incorporation into The Walks. Apart from minor works since, The Walks reached their mature and final state in about 1930.

The Principal Features of The Walks

The Avenues

The avenues form the essential framework of the designed landscape and provide the dominant planting. The site takes its name from these features. The survival and proliferation of the avenue aesthetic, through periods in which other civic authorities considered them unfashionable (and many were removed) is one of the most unusual features of this site. No other historic public landscape has yet been identified which contains avenues spanning the date range of those in The Walks.

The Red Mount

Visually, a dominant element of that area of the registered landscape which lies north-west through west to south of the structure; adding visual interest/focal points to three of the main walks as well as to intervening open landscape. The Red Mount is the highest point of The Walks: offering elevated view points of the landscape from the structure itself and from the mound which partially surrounds it.

The structure is unique and its importance is reflected in its status as a Scheduled Ancient monument/Grade 1 listed building.

The Gannock Arch and Bridges

The structure was originally a minor entrance to the walled town and was a focal point of the New Walk from c.1800 and of the Extension Walk from its inception in 1845. The structure is also an important visual element of the Red Mount and Seven Sisters Walks and forms a natural focus at the meeting of the above four Walks.

St. John’s Church

St. John’s Church gives its name to the St. John’s Walks. It forms an attractive focus in views from the Red Mount Walk, the New Walk and St. James Park and dominates the short St. John’s Walk and the cycle path which runs just outside the north boundary of the churchyard. The Churchyard formerly extended to the west in an area now occupied by part of St. James Park. View of the west front of the church is an important element in the north-west entrance to the park.

Archaeology

The central historic spine earthworks have been collectively identified, by Norfolk Landscape Archaeology, as ‘part of one of the most complete systems of earthwork town defences in eastern England’. The earthwork mounds, banks and watercourses give an otherwise essentially flat site a varied land form. This central ‘spine’ offers focal points and views from a wide area of the Registered site and has been the basis for a series of ornamental gardens in recent centuries.

Water Courses

The watercourses are a significant element of the former town defences and important in the context of drainage of lands immediately around and as part of the region’s flood defence system. Flow of water through the site creates varied visual experiences both from banks and from the various bridges. Aesthetically, the water is particularly important in certain areas e.g. The Red Mount bastion and Vancouver Garden. Differing flows and depths of water offer different habitats in various parts of the site and fish and waterfowl are dependent on this element. Water serves a direct (illicit) recreational use for swimming, indirectly in attracting wildfowl (feeding the ducks) and, until recent times, for fishing.

Seven Sisters’ Mound

This is one of the earliest known features of the designed landscape and gives its name to one of the main promenades, to a bridge over the Gaywood River and to a former public house adjacent to the south entrance to the Seven Sisters Walk. As a raised platform it is an important visual element of the Seven Sisters Walk and helps to restrict views of residential development to the south from the north section of the Walk.

St. James Park

Extensively used for quiet enjoyment. Used to access public facilities such as St. James surgery to the south-east and the nursery school to the south. Also used to access the main area of The Walks landscape. Offers good views of St. John’s church. Used for displays of bedding plants and offers opportunity for sponsored displays of planting. Historically important as the former (ornamented) burial ground of St. Margaret’s church and, in part, as the former burial ground to St. James workhouse. Only area of The Walks landscape where there is a clear view of the fragmentary remains of the workhouse building.

Fountain

Focal point of St. James Park forming a feature at the junction between the four main cross paths. Extensively enjoyed by visitors using seats around the path, which circuits it. Historically important as presented personally by the then mayor, Mr. Carpenter, on the opening of the Park in 1903.

Bandstand

This simple but attractive structure is a typical example of its period (early 20th century). It forms an important and attractive focal point for Vancouver Garden and for the wider landscape around; featuring in views from four of the promenades, the Red Mount field and the Red Mount bastion. It is one of he few ornamental structures visible from the Recreation Ground. The bandstand is the centre point of open-air concerts.

Recreation Ground

Used as a cross route between the two Extension Walks, for informal recreation and, occasionally, for events. It tends to feel isolated from the remainder of the historic landscape.

The Walks as an historic urban park is formally significant at the following levels:

  • Nationally: This Grade II registered landscape includes a Scheduled Ancient Monument/Grade 1 listed building and Grade II* and II listed structures — all designations identifying national significance.
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  • Regionally: Norfolk Landscape Archaeology have identified elements of the site as ‘part of one of the most complete systems of earthwork town defences in eastern England’.
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  • Locally: There are no known similar historic landscapes within the county and no other historic public landscapes in the town of King’s Lynn. It is a much loved and valued site. The entire parkland lies within the King’s Lynn Conservation Area.

The Walks is also of significance in the following ways:

  • As a semi-designed landscape it offers potential for quiet enjoyment and appreciation of aesthetic quality.
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  • As a planted public open space embedded in development, The Walks offers a green ‘lung’ to surrounding areas and as a free facility with level, continuously surfaced promenades, it is available to all sectors of the community — providing a valuable public recreational resource.
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  • As a historic landscape developed over two and a half centuries, The Walks is an important part of the cultural and social history of both the town and the region (there are no known similar sites within the county). Potential for enjoyment and appreciation of cultural history is further extended by a range of additional elements which relate to earlier periods (archaeology, listed structures, etc.)
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  • The Walks’ unusual development history covers a range of fashions in design of public open space over two and half centuries, and it is important therefore as a survivor and exhibition of such ideas.
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  • The Walks is important as a pedestrian access route between various Areas of built development and links in to extend the environmentally-friendly cycle network of the region (St. John’s Walk is part of Sustrans Cycle Route 1).
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  • The Walks offers opportunity for active sport and recreation through the children’s playground, the large, open Recreation Ground and the open area of the Red Mount Field. the last two areas offer opportunity for informal sport and recreation and the Red Mount Field (with its formal sports courts) is also used for more formal recreation and as a sports ground by local schools.
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  • The Walks is used for educational purposes by local schools (King’s Lynn Nursery School and Greyfriar’s County Primary School are both adjacent to the Walks and Eastgate Community Primary School is a near neighbour which also takes advantage of the open space).
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  • The Walks has traditionally been the site for major events and exhibitions and continues to host small musical concerts in the area of the bandstand. This adds to its cultural significance.
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  • The land of the Walks is important in flood control. Management of the flow of water through the Gaywood River sluices allows a first-line flood defence. The Recreation Ground is also seen as a potential reservoir in times of flood alert (approximately once/twice per 100 years): the bund constructed around the eastern edge of The Recreation ground is part of the town’s flood defence system.
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  • Some areas of The Walks, not accessible to the public, provide ecological diversity and wildlife.
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