King’s Lynn, Norfolk
by Ben Johnson
Visitors to King’s Lynn, the major town at the heart of West Norfolk, will discover a town rich in heritage and maritime history. The history of the town, coupled with the impressive Norfolk coastline, (much of it an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and the intrinsic charm of the surrounding countryside and pretty villages, makes it a great place to visit.
The town has recently celebrated a special milestone in its history with the 800th anniversary of the signing the King John Charter. It was this charter that granted Lynn its borough status, giving it self governing powers – which all reflected the town’s importance as a key trading centre.
King’s Lynn was one of England’s foremost ports as early as the 12th century, and was perhaps as important in the Middle Ages as Liverpool was to become during the Industrial Revolution. Aptly described as ‘The Warehouse on the Wash’ it maintained its prominence as a port until the railways robbed it of much of its traffic in the mid 19th century.
Originally known as `Linn’, the town is thought to have derived its name from the Celtic word for a lake or pool, and it is recorded that a large tidal lake originally covered this area. By the early 13th century with the granting of the charter, the town became Bishop’s Lynn.
Bishop’s Lynn grew rich on trade both with Britain and abroad. The Hanseatic League, a powerful German trading organisation made up of merchants from North Germany and neighbouring countries around the Baltic Sea contributed greatly to this prosperity. The legacy of this history is still very much in evidence today. Fine late medieval merchants houses stretch back to the river between cobbled lanes.
The Custom House overlooks the Purfleet, which was one of four fleets of Lynn and the medieval harbour of the town. The magnificent 12th century St Margaret’s Church overlooks some of the finest ancient architecture in England, including the Trinity Guildhall built in the 1420’s. The Tuesday Market Place, one of England’s grandest squares, houses the Corn Exchange, a 750-seater venue for concerts, comedy and flea markets.
One of Lynn’s most notable and unusual landmarks is Greyfriars Tower, this Medieval Franciscan Priory has for centuries helped guide traders and sailors navigating the difficult waters of The Wash.
The Lynn Museum sited close to the town centre is currently being refurbished and is scheduled to re-open in early 2006, amongst the new displays planned will be part of the 4,000 year-old Holme timber circle, popularly known as “Seahenge”.
The historic Saturday Market Place and magnificent Tuesday Market Place are hosts to traditional outdoor markets, which have been a feature of Lynn life for hundreds of years with stalls selling shellfish caught by Lynn fishing fleet, as well as locally grown farm produce from the fertile Fens.
So much of King’s Lynn’s heritage is linked to its maritime heritage and links as a trading centre. True’s Yard Fishing Heritage Museum, The Green Quay – Wash Discovery Centre, The Custom House Tourist Information Centre and Maritime Exhibition, Town House Museum all tell a part of this story. Visitors can follow the King’s Lynn Maritime trail, described and interpreted in a leaflet by the same name, which highlights a total of 25 locations each of which tell a part of the heritage story.
Other places to visit include Tales of the Old Gaol House where the stories of local witches, murderers and highwaymen are recreated in original 18th and 19th century cells. The visit includes the opportunity to enter the Regalia Rooms where historic town artefacts including the priceless ‘King John Cup’ are displayed. Nearby the Town House museum tells more of the story of Lynn. On the edge of town and easily accessible from the A47 is Caithness Crystal where visitors can watch the centuries old craft of glass making at close quarters.
To find out more about a visit to King’s Lynn visit www.visitwestnorfolk.com or contact the Tourist Information Centre on 01553 763044 for a copy of the West Norfolk Holiday Guide.
View our interactive map of Museums in Britain for details of local galleries and museums.
Kings Lynn is easily accessible by both road and rail, please try our UK Travel Guide for further information.
All photographs courtesy of Borough Council of Kings Lynn & West Norfolk