Photo gallery: New lease of life for historic King’s Lynn building Prince Charles intervened to save
© Archant Norfolk 2014
When the historic Hanse House was put up for sale, there was widespread concern Britain’s last surviving Hanseatic building would fall into disrepair and be lost forever.
Now, more than two years on, the businessman who bought the 650-year-old site has pledged it will once again become a thriving attraction for the West Norfolk community after spending a seven-figure sum restoring it to its former glory.
James Lee responded to a call from Prince Charles to save the Grade I listed building on the King’s Lynn waterfront after the prince learned of the situation over its future.
The Prince of Wales said it should not be allowed to fall further into disrepair and should be available for use by the community. As a result the Prince’s Regeneration Trust – of which he is president – became involved in deciding its future.
Since then, Mr Lee’s mission has been to ensure that Hanse House, which was once home to Lynn’s registry office, is kept open and accessible to the community.
Much of the building has been renovated to create a host of public attractions, as well as three new rental flats overlooking the picturesque South Quay.
The building will once again become a high-class wedding venue, with a redecorated wedding room and outdoor reception area created by knocking down a series of old offices previously used by council workers.
One of Mr Lee’s big ideas has been to set up a bustling indoor market, giving traders in the town a new lease of life, with visitors able to enjoy a meal or a snack and a drink at the new Rathskeller Wine Bar and Bistro.
It will also become a key conference venue in King’s Lynn, with people able to book its studio for meetings and events as well as use the ballroom – which contains a stunning chandelier – for social functions.
The Hanse House is situated in King’s Lynn between the Great Ouse and St Margaret’s Church.
Built around a narrow court, these large warehouses were owned by Hanseatic League merchants in 1475. It was constructed as a result of the Treaty of Utrecht allowing Hanseatic merchants to establish a trading depot in Lynn for the first time.
Medieval merchants engaged in long distance commerce needed a place to stay and store their goods. In the Hanse House German merchants had their lodgings, warehouses, offices and stalls until the 1560s when it was let out to Lynn merchants, who remained until 1751.
By this time the river had receded and the building was sold in its entirety to Lynn merchant Edward Everard. He added the Georgian town house at
the East side of the building.
In 1971 it was renovated as part of a preservation project and converted into offices by the Norfolk County Council. Named St Margaret’s House, the complex included Lynn registry office.
The Hanse House in King’s Lynn is the only surviving Hanseatic League building in England.
In 2005 Lynn became the only English member of the New Hanseatic League, whose 177 members include Hamburg and Lubeck, with the aim of developing business links and promoting culture, heritage and tourism between member towns and cities.
A replica Hanseatic ship sailed up the Ouse and moored at the quayside close to the Hanse House.
An art gallery will be used to exhibit works from the West Norfolk areas.
Mr Lee’s wife, Christina, said: “James’ vision is for it to be buzzing with people. We just want it to be busy and we don’t want it to be shut off from the public with no-one able to see it.”
Mr Lee added: “The building has been dead for a number of years and needs to regenerate itself.”
He has already had a lot of positive feedback from people delighted the building once under threat has been preserved for the future for the benefit of the public.
“It is a huge and historic site and if we get a summer anything like last year, we expect it to be bustling with lots of tourists,” he said.
“Hanse House has been here since the 15th century. It is surrounded by Grade I listed buildings and should be a tourist attraction.
“It seems the right and proper thing to open it up to people so they can see it.”
More details about the facilities at the Hanse House are available by visiting the website – www.hansehouse.co.uk
How do you think Norfolk can preserve its heritage? Write, giving your full contact details, to: The Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk