Medieval Stage discovered in King’s Lynn

The only working theatre that can claim Shakespeare performed there is celebrating the discovery of a medieval stage on which the famous Bard is believed to have trod.

Oak floorboards, nearly 600 years old, have been uncovered at St George’s Guildhall in King’s Lynn, located in eastern England. The find has been hailed by archaeological building expert Dr Jonathan Clark as “the largest expanse of timber medieval flooring in the country.”


St George’s was originally a religious Guild meeting house, confirmed by a Royal Charter in 1406, but it went on to become a theatrical venue with the first recorded performance in 1445. It is the only working theatre in the world that can claim Shakespeare himself performed there.

Street-facing east range of Grade 1 listed St George’s Guildhall showing the great arched window that opens onto the auditorium of Britain’s oldest working theatre. Photo by Matthew Usher / Wikimedia Commons

The theatre in King’s Lynn was used extensively at the time for touring companies – Queen Elizabeth’s Men, a troupe of actors formed at the command of the Tudor Queen in 1583, performed there ten times in the late 1500s. In 1592-3 London’s theatres were closed because of another outbreak of plague and William Shakespeare and his company of actors were on tour in King’s Lynn in Norfolk. A note in the corporation of King’s Lynn’s account book shows Shakespeare’s company were paid by the corporation to perform there.


The Grade I Listed building was derelict and in danger of demolition by 1945 before it was bought by a local landowner and turned into an arts centre.
But the site, which also has an art gallery and lecture space, has been under-used in recent years and its future looked uncertain again in 2016.

Archaeological work was taking place last year, which revealed the original floor, hidden underneath a 1960s and 1950s floors, as well as flooring believed to be from the 18th and 19th century. Some of these floor beams have been tested and dated to between 1417 and 1430, when the building was created. The large oak boards are almost twelve inches thick, held together with pegs rather than nails. It is believed the floor would have been laid by shipwrights and taken about a year to create.

“As archaeological finds go this is extraordinarily rare especially on this scale,” added Dr. Clark. “This is the largest timber 15th-century floor in the country, and that’s before you add the Shakespeare connection. Scientific analysis and the study of the structure confirms that it is a complete 15th-century floor so this floor would have been in situ when Shakespeare performed here in 1592-3. It’s a really fortuitous survival.

“The main reason it’s still there is because it’s totally integral to the building, it would have been really difficult to dismantle it without destroying the structure so they either had to patch it up or put another floor on top of it, which is why it’s still intact.”

Photo courtesy Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk

Councillor Simon Ring of the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk commented, “It is fantastic news indeed that such an eminent archaeologist as Dr Jonathan Clark is so confident that these beams at St George’s Guildhall are the original flooring from the early 1400s. It confirms the guildhall as a heritage asset of national importance. It provides a further opportunity for us to promote its importance historically and to invite more funding so that we can complete the restoration to a standard that will not only stand the test of time, but also create an attraction that will catapult King’s Lynn and West Norfolk’s heritage into the world of ‘must visit’ British destinations.”