Grade I-listed St George’s Guildhall in King’s Lynn staged first performance in 1445

Guildhall exterior

St George’s Guildhall was built in 1376

Haworth Tompkins has landed a job to transform Britain’s oldest working theatre into a nationally important cultural heritage destination.

The practice has been selected as preferred bidder to develop the detailed design for St George’s Guildhall in King’s Lynn, the only surviving theatre in the country where Shakespeare is believed to have performed.

Built in 1376, it is the largest surviving medieval guildhall in the country. The first performance was recorded in 1445 and the Bard is said to have played there with the Earl of Pembroke’s Men in 1593 when London theatres were closed by plague.

The grade I-listed building was saved from demolition in 1951 and sold to the National Trust, and is today leased to King’s Lynn and West Norfolk council on a full repairing lease.

The project, which is being supported by around £8m from the government’s Town’s Fund, aims to transform the Guildhall and surrounding buildings into a welcoming, flexible and accessible cultural heritage site.

The council said the invitation to tender for the design job received the most expressions of interest it had ever seen.

Haworth Tompkins has worked on a string of theatre restoration projects, including the grade II*-listed Battersea Arts Centre, the grade I-listed Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the Grade I-listed Bristol Old Vic and the Malmö Stadsteater in Sweden, which has the equivalent of a grade II*-rating.

The Stirling Prize-winning firm was also appointed in 2021 to design a £100m theatre in Kensington as part of the redevelopment of the Oympia exhibition centre.

The practice will work with Richard Griffiths Architects on the conservation of the guildhall and surrounding buildings along with a team of specialists including theatre consultants Charcoal Blue, structural engineers Momentum, building services engineers Max Fordham, access consultants HADA and fire engineer The Fire Surgery. 

The project is scheduled to complete in 2026.