Wednesday, 3 August 2011

King's Lynn - Saint Margaret's

Saint Margaret's Church
Re-sited monuments
This is a truly magnificent building and if it were anywhere else other than Kings Lane it would be much visited, publicised and developed.  As it is, the cemetery and Church is situated in the ancient quarter of the town and is slightly overlooked by visitors in favour of the High Street. 

The church itself  is like a cathedral in miniature and amazing in its size and location so close to the harbour.  It is quite clearly the centre of the old town of King's Lynn and the cemetery (at one point) would have been very much a desirable place to be buried.  Regrettably, the church authorities have done what many Church of England parishes have done and since the 1960s they have cleared the site.  Whilst not totally cleansing the cemetery of headstones,  the Church authorities have redeveloped the monuments in such a way that a mechanised mower can cut the grass and keep the place tidy.  In effect, this means that the upright headstones from the 18th and 19th centuries have been placed on the edge of the cemetery and this effectively destroyed the dialogue between the monument, church and the town.  I am sure that many people were congratulated on the cost saving involved but the effect is quite unpleasing and became 'municipal' in character.  At St Margarets the headstones have been lined up around the edge and now form a sort of triple wall which separates the church and cemetery from the surrounding buildings.  What we can see is a form of institutional vandalism and it is to be hoped that some recording of the headstones in situ took place before they were removed.  At St Margarets the headstones form a barrier between the cemetery and the ruins of St Margarets Priory which has been formed from the rather beautiful domestic dwellings.  In this sense the people of Kings Lane still live in close proximity to their ancestors who rest on the other side of the wall.

The majority of the monuments at St Margarets are upright and have been replaced in this form although there are two or more chest tombs which remain and which are  interesting.  Unusually, St Margarets has removed some monuments in favour of providing vehicular access to the properties formed from the ruins of St Margarets Priory and this is fairly atypical.  I have not come across another cemetery where vehicular access has been formed in such a way and one may only imagine that the parish needed a faculty from the diocesan authorities to create this novelty.

Saint Margaret's
Priory arch
The Episcopalian authorities are truly blessed with monuments and remains in that some of the monuments they do have are cast aside and thrown.We can see that a 13th century stone sarcophagus has been thrown out of the building here at some point in a previous restoration of cleansing of the building.  The broken segments lie on the boundary line between the church and the street outside.  It seems that it may have been better to collect up these pieces and place them inside the building where the originated and in this manner continue the dialogue between the artefact and building.  The discarding of a stone sarcophagus seems in some way part of the church's wider discarding its own history and antiquity.

Saint Margarets is an interest in church.   If you are visiting Kings Lane to have a look at St Margarets but also have a look at the cemetery itself.  On a sunny day you will find people wandering around quite happily and it has none of the doom and gloom seen in other town centre cemeteries in other cities in the United Kingdom.  There is no  graffiti or dereliction etc.  Whilst the church authorities have cleared away some of the monuments they also clear away the refuse that tends to surrounded many buildings in municipal areas.

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