The Red Mount Chapel In King’s Lynn

The Red Mount Chapel in The Walks is one of King’s Lynn’s most iconic buildings. However, despite surviving over five and a quarter centuries it was only used as a religious building for just over fifty years. The Red Mount Chapel was built and used between 1485 and 1537.

Red Mount Chapel, King's Lynn 
Photo © James Rye 2022
Red Mount Chapel, King’s Lynn
Photo © James Rye 2022

The Red Mount Chapel: A Spiritual Service Station

Lynn had lots of visitors during the medieval period. At this time the shrine at Walsingham was the second most popular pilgrimage site in the England after the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury. The Walsingham Shrine was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and she took precedence over all the saints and martyrs. Walsingham was also associated with fertility which was a major concern during this period. And during the Crusades, access to the holy sites in Palestine (and particularly Jerusalem) was difficult or impossible.

The Port of Lynn was the nearest to Walsingham and therefore brought pilgrims from ships travelling south or north along the coast, as well as those from the Continent. And it also was a stopping point for those travelling overland from the north or west.

The Red Mount Chapel was built as a place where pilgrims could give thanks for a safe journey and pray as they embarked on their last few miles. Offerings at the chapel frequently exceeded those of other religious sites in the town. Pitcher argues that the Red Mount Chapel was also a pilgrim destination in its own right.

The Red Mount Chapel: Holy Land in Lynn

One theory about the building is that once the upper chapel had been completed in 1506 there was an attempt to replicate incidents in the life of Christ through a visit to the building. You would enter the building though the mound door at the bottom (not the middle door as today). This would represent the darkness of the crucifixion and the tomb. Then you would rise to the lighter middle layer – the empty tomb and the risen Christ. Finally you would rise to brightest roof chapel reflecting the ascension of Christ to glory.

Some have argued that the chapel was designed to be similar to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Pilgrims may not have been able to travel to Jerusalem itself, but a monastery en route to Walsingham could try to provide a similar experience (and obviously benefit from the many offerings made).

Others dispute this interpretation and argue that the middle layer was just a room for priests (a vestry) with a chapel below and a chapel above.

What is certain is that the medieval pilgrim would have appreciated the religious symbolism of moving from darkness to light, and from death to resurrection, as they progressed up the building.

The Red Mount Chapel: Multiple Uses

IN 1537 Henry VIII suppressed the monasteries. The Red Mount Chapel was owned by the Benedictine Monastery at St Margaret’s Church. Although the monastery closed, the chapel building survived. Several attempts were made over the years to “repurpose” some of its building materials and the chapel has been used in a variety of ways:

  • 1586 Converted into a study for Mr House, the vicar of St Margaret’s.
  • 1641 Used to store 18 barrels of gunpowder in the lead up to the English Civil War and the Siege of Lynn in 1643.
  • 1665 Possibly used as a charnel house after an outbreak of the plague.
  • 1780 Used as stables when the ground floor was partially filled in and a door cut into the south wall.
  • 1783 Repaired and used as an observatory for navigation students.
  • 1828 £250 was raised by public subscription to restore the upper windows of the outer octagon (including the installation of stained glass from St Nicholas Chapel). Pinnacles were added to buttresses, floors and stairs were re-instated.

Although a German bomb was dropped on the Walks during the Second World War the chapel survived. After the war the building was briefly used as a place of interdenominational worship but this ceased after 1988 when the local Roman Catholic Church no longer felt able to keep the lease.

The Red Mount Chapel: Key People

  • Robert Curraunt built the chapel for the Benedictine Prior of St Margaret’s Church.
  • William Spynke was the Benedictine Prior who commissioned the chapel.
  • John Wastell was the architect responsible for the top floor stone vaulting.
  • Reverend Edward Edwards and John Blencowe raised the public subscription for the restoration.

The Red Mount Chapel: The Building Itself

Stone Vaulting, Red Mount Upper Chapel, King's Lynn 
Photo © James Rye 2021
Stone Vaulting, Red Mount Upper Chapel, King’s Lynn
Photo © James Rye 2021

The outer octagon (in brick) was the bit built in 1485, and the cruciform stone part was inserted inside it later (1506), with its Perpendicular Gothic style fan vault almost certainly built by John Wastell (architect). Wastell also built the magnificent fan vault covering King’s College Chapel in Cambridge (the Lynn building’s fleur-de lys detail in the vaulting is identical to King’s).

The brick-built chapel is octagonal with buttresses at each corner for two storeys.

The building comprises of two concentric drums, rising over a barrel-vaulted cellar. This gives the building a really useful feature. Staircases run counter-wise to each other in the space created between the two brick drums. The large number of pilgrims visiting the building would be able to ascend and descend the building without bumping into each other.

There is a third door at the back. Pitcher argues that this was from the time when the chapel was used as a stable.

© James Rye 2022

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Pitcher, D. (2008) “The Red Mount Chapel King’s Lynn” in McNeill, J. (ed.) King’s Lynn and the Fens, The British Archaeological Association, Conference Transactions XXXI


  1. […] For those who chose to travel by boat, the East Coast ports with monasteries were the motorway service stations of the day. Lynn had church towers and five religious houses and was an important religious centre. Once disembarked in Lynn the seafaring pilgrims could give thanks for a safe journey at the Chapel on St Ann’s Quay or at the Lady Bridge Chapel (and later at the Red Mount Chapel). […]

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