Henry Bell: The man who built King’s Lynn

Custom House, King's Lynn

King's Lynn Custom House
Photo: Grezmel via King's Lynn Forums

The life of a man who has literally shaped King’s Lynn’s landscape is the subject of a new exhibition opening this week.

The Henry Bell exhibition, appropriately housed within the King’s Lynn born architect’s most iconic building, the King’s Lynn Custom House, uses pictures, models, plans and other documents to trace Bell’s life and to explore the impact he had upon King’s Lynn.

Hired by the influential merchants, who ruled King’s Lynn during the post-Restoration period, Bell was tasked with creating statement buildings that would convey the town’s sophistication and draw Europeans to spend their money in the town. The result: the Custom House – an elegant merchants’ exchange, and the Duke’s Head Hotel – a place for foreign guests to stay and be entertained by the town’s elite.

The exhibition also contains drawings of the elaborate market cross designed by Bell which used to grace the Tuesday Market Place. The octagonal cross, created in 1710, was demolished in 1831.

Colouring activities are available for young architects of the future.

Entry costs £1 for adults and 50p for children. The exhibition is open Monday – Saturday 10.30am- 3.30pm and Sunday 12 noon – 3.30pm.

The exhibition runs until April 2012.

More about Henry Bell:

Henry Bell (born 1647, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, UK; died, 1711, UK) was an architect from the 17th century, a contemporary of Christopher Wren. The son of a wealthy merchant family, he designed many buildings in West Norfolk including the Custom House in King’s Lynn and All Saints Church in North Runcton.

He served twice as Mayor of King’s Lynn, he was well educated and travelled through Europe. In 1676 he met Robert Hooke, who shared with him his experiences of rebuilding London following the Great Fire. This knowledge had a bearing on his future work, as the design of North Runcton Church shows similarities with those employed by Wren, for example St Mary-at-Hill.

He died in 1711, two years before All Saints Church was completed.


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