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Barry made keeper of the South Gate and the muck heaps in King’s Lynn

PUBLISHED: 08:54 05 December 2017 | UPDATED: 08:54 05 December 2017

The ancient South gate in King's Lynn

The ancient South gate in King's Lynn

Archant © 2006

In days of old, when knights were bold he’d keep ne’erdowells and plague carriers out of town.

Barry Howard (centre) with from left Elizabeth Nockolds, Brian Long, Simon  Bower and Carol Bower. Picture: Alan Miller Barry Howard (centre) with from left Elizabeth Nockolds, Brian Long, Simon Bower and Carol Bower. Picture: Alan Miller

He’d also keep the gates of King’s Lynn locked at night and tend the muckheaps with explosive consequences.

The Custodian of the South Gate would collect tolls from travellers, close the doors of the gate at curfew, and control who could enter Lynn in times of plague. He would also collect saltpetre from the town’s night soil tips to make gunpowder.

Now the 16th Century role is being reprised to honour one of the borough’s top heritage supporters.

Barry Howard was appointed to the role of Custodian of the South Gate and Keeper of the Muckhill by West Norfolk Mayor Carol Bower. He has been a volunteer, showing visitors around the ancient gateway, since it was opened to the public 10 years ago.

The South Gate in days gone by. Picture: Archant library The South Gate in days gone by. Picture: Archant library

“I only live 400 yards from it,” he said. “When I was a child in the 1940s and 50s that was my play house. We’d muck around in there and in the park opposite. It has such fond memories for me.”
Retired joinery manager Mr Howard, 78, was “chuffed” to receive the title. But he does not plan on carrying out one aspect of the role.

“They used to have to clear the muck out from the town every night because there was no toilets,” he said. “They used to render it down to make salpetre and add charcoal to make gunpowder. It was a very interesting job.”

The honour was conferred at a civic reception to thank volunteers for their efforts in safeguarding the town’s historic buildings.

Mr Howard was presented with a copy of the oath his predcessors would have sworn in the 1500s.

The South Gate in King's Lynn. Pictrure: Archant library The South Gate in King's Lynn. Pictrure: Archant library

“Sire, ye shall well and trewlye kepe the South Gate,” they’d have pledged. “And lete the pepyll in and oute in lawful tyme, and buxome be to my master the Mayre and to his commandments, for the profitte and worship of this towne, so God you help at holy dome.”

Elizabeth Nockolds, the modern-day borough’s cabinet member for heritage, said: “Our heritage volunteers make it possible for thousands of people to visit our historic buildings, and we are incredibly grateful to them. So when the volunteers at the South Gate told us about this ancient title, we thought it would be only fitting to revive it, as a small sign of our appreciation.”

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