Campaign to restore Britain's oldest working theatre carries on despite funding blow

Ivor Rowlands outside the Guildhall. Picture: Chris Bishop

Ivor Rowlands outside the Guildhall of St George in King's Lynn - Credit: Chris Bishop

Campaigners have vowed to press on with their vision of breathing new life into Britain's oldest working theatre despite its latest funding setback.

West Norfolk council included the restoration of the Guildhall of St George in a £21m bid for a share of the government's Future High Streets Fund to regenerate King's Lynn.

But its proposals, which included diverting London Road around the South Gate and 150 affordable homes in the town centre were turned down.

It comes after two applications for lottery funding to restore the 15th Century building, the last surviving theatre where Shakespeare performed, were also turned down. 

Ivor Rowlands, founder and chair of the Shakespeare's Guildhall Trust (SGT), said: "It's really very sad that King's Lynn has missed out on this opportunity, and it's tragic that the borough council has once again failed to secure funding for St George's Guildhall.

"SGT remains committed to promoting its vision for the restoration and development of St George’s Guildhall to create a sustainable mixed-use performance, arts and cultural centre, a heritage attraction of national significance and a great economic, education and cultural asset for the town.

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"By integrating the management of all aspects of the site - from road to river, from performance to catering - a culturally vibrant and sustainable business can be created.

"This vision is true to the spirit and generosity of those who rescued the Guildhall from destruction in the 1940s, re-established it as an arts venue, and subsequently gave it to the National Trust – Alexander Penrose and Ruth, Lady Fermoy."

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Mr Rowlands said the trust would continue seeking private sector funding to renovate the building, which stretches from King Street to the River Ouse.

He added it was still hoping for talks with the council, North West Norfolk MP James Wild and National Trust which owns the building, which is leased to the council.

Until 2016, the guildhall housed the King's Lynn Arts Centre. After its closure, it became a "hall for hire". Applications for lottery funding to restore the building were turned down in 2017 and 2019.

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