A stunning transformation

SUE SKINNER A stunning transformation of a famous Norfolk landmark has been celebrated with a unique open-air performance. The £1.3m renovation of Greyfriars Tower at King's Lynn is the culmination of a lengthy campaign by owners West Norfolk Council to safeguard the future of one of the town's most important historical treasures.

SUE SKINNER

A stunning transformation of a famous Norfolk landmark was celebrated with a unique open-air performance yesterday.

The £1.3m renovation of Greyfriars Tower at King's Lynn is the culmination of a lengthy campaign by owners West Norfolk Council to safeguard the future of one of the town's most important historical treasures.

Yesterday the project's completion was marked with an interpretation of the role and impact of the site with visual arts, drama and music, which involved more than 180 children from nearby Greyfriars Primary School and young actors from the Kult Theatre Company at Lynn Arts Centre.

Borough mayor Ann Clery-Fox unveiled a commemorative stone.

Lynn's “leaning tower”, which dates back to the 1230s, is all that remains above ground of a mediaeval Franciscan friary.

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Although the rest of the complex was pulled down after surrendering to Henry VIII's troops in 1538, the tower, which is 28.5m (93ft) high, was allowed to remain standing because it was used as a seamark by sailors navigating the difficult waters of the Wash.

The tower was one of the regional winners in the BBC's Restoration programme in 2003 but finished fifth in the national final, missing out on a £3.3m prize.

But the Heritage Lottery Fund later came up trumps with a £849,000 grant, with English Heritage contributing £185,000 and the council paying the remaining £278,500.The scheme was also supported by the Wolfson Foundation.

Over the last 15 months, specialists have painstakingly restored the tower to its former glory and revealed the extent of the friary through archaeological excavations.

The surrounding gardens have been remodelled, using hard landscaping to show the location and extent of the nave, north aisle, chancel, cloister walks and chapter house.

Access beneath the tower, which has been closed to the public for safety reasons since 1998, has been improved and information is being provided for visitors with interpretation boards and a three-dimensional bronze model.

Nick Daubney, the council's cabinet member for regeneration, said: “Restoring a building of this nature is a slow process but the effort, dedication, commitment and enthusiasm of everyone involved has really paid off.

“The tower looks magnificent and is something the whole town can be proud of. Our sincere thanks go to everyone who has supported our efforts.”

Greg Luton, East of England regional director for English Heritage, said: “We are thrilled to see one of King's Lynn's most iconic buildings brought back into new use.

“West Norfolk Council has not only carried out an impressive repairs scheme but has also improved the landscape around Greyfriars Tower to encourage everyone to use the newly-opened, high-quality public space, which is accessible to all.”

Greyfriars' appearance on Restoration prompted a wave of public support and donations from a variety of individuals and organisations, which have been used to commission the bronze model.

The tower has also joined the elite selection of buildings immortalised in miniature in the Lilliput Lane range of models.