King's Lynn, Norfolk, England, UK

Old houses in Nelson’s Lane, a historic part of King’s Lynn

While we were in Norfolk, we spent a day in King’s Lynn. As you can see from my photos, it was an overcast rainy day, but this city has a fascinating history, dating back more than nine hundred years, so, despite the rain, we were happy to explore.  From as early as the 12th century, King’s Lynn was one of England’s most important ports.

This building was opened in 1685 as a Merchants’ Exchange,
before becoming Lynn’s new Custom House in 1717

This bronze statue in front of the old Customs House is of the explorer
Captain George Vancouver, 1757 – 1798

Canada's Vancouver Island, and the city of Vancouver are named after Captain George Vancouver, as are Vancouver, Washington, Mount Vancouver on the Yukon/Alaska border, and New Zealand's sixth highest mountain. 

Devil’s Alley, King’s Lynn

Where you have a large port, like the one in King’s Lynn, it is often difficult to track the people arriving from all parts of the world – and beyond! Legend has it that one day a ship docked at Lynn carrying the devil. He came ashore, but a priest spotted him in this alleyway, and drove him back to the ship with prayers and holy water. The devil is said to have stamped his foot on the ground in anger, and left his footprint on the cobblestones. Although nothing can be seen today, it is thought the legend may have arisen from a large foot-shaped cobble which was once visible in the paving.

Entrance to Hampton Court, King’s Lynn

Given its history, it is not surprising that King’s Lynn has managed to preserve much of its original architecture. This is the entrance to Hampton Court, with a late 15th century building, constructed for a very wealthy Merchant, in the front. Going through the arch you come to a fully enclosed courtyard, and each century seems to have added a wing.  The south wing is 14th century, west wing 15th century, and the north wing completed the courtyard about a hundred years later.

The Valiant Sailor

This was once a Public House, named after Jack Crawford, a sailor who fought in the Battle of Camperdown, 1797. Later, the house became the home of the artist Walter Dexter.

Historic houses along King’s Staith Lane, leading to South Quay,
with an intrepid explorer in the front.

Trinity Guildhall with its distinctive flint, chequer-board patterned, front

This magnificent building dates back to the 1420s, and is the centrepiece of the Town Hall complex. It also comprises the Old Gaol House built in 1784.

King’s Lynn Minster

Originally named St Margaret’s Church, when it was founded by the first Bishop of Norwich in 1101, it was designated a Minster Church in 2011 by the present Bishop of Norwich. This is a title dating from Anglo-Saxon times, when it was given to churches if they were a missionary teaching church, or a church attached to a monastery. The second tower, the Greyfriars tower, was erected about 1400 to enhance the Church, and acted as an important landmark for ships sailing into the Wash until the 19th century.

As a port town on the east coast of England, King’s Lynn was vulnerable to severe storms. In 1741, a storm brought down the medieval spires of both St Margaret’s and nearby St Nicholas’ church, and both had to be replaced. There was also a severe flood in 1953, when much of the town was under water. The marker next to the door in the image below is a reminder of the flood level at that time.

A marker next to a door in King’s Lynn,
showing the level the water rose to in 1953

King’s Lynn was also Great Britain’s first member of Die Hanse (The Hanse). This was an active network of towns and cities across Europe, which historically belonged to the association of merchant towns known as the Hanseatic League. The original mediaeval Hanseatic League, which comprised a group of towns around the Baltic and the North Sea, was an extremely influential trading association and very much a part of King’s Lynn’s development and historic past. The league dominated commercial activity in northern Europe from the 13th to the 15th century.

Thanks to the preservation of so many historical sites, King’s Lynn is a history buff’s dream. Nine hundred years of maritime trading history are preserved in its historic core of fine houses, medieval churches and guildhalls, secret courtyards, and hidden alleys. I would definitely like to explore further, but preferably on a warmer, sunnier day!

Elizabeth Coughlan

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