King's Lynn

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King's Lynn
Anchors in Kings Lynn.JPG
King's Lynn
Grid reference: TF615205
Location: 52°45’15"N, 0°23’51"E
Population: 42,800  (2007 est.)
Post town: King's Lynn
Postcode: PE30
Dialling code: 01553
Local Government
Council: King's Lynn and West Norfolk
North West Norfolk

King's Lynn is a delightful and historic sea port and market town in northern Norfolk, found near the county's north-westernmost corner on the Wash and 44 miles west of Norwich.

The heart of the town is mediæval in structure, and though there is a modern high street running up through it, all about the town centre, history of the town is told in its buildings. It has two Guildhalls, several churches and merchant's houses from many ages.

The parish church of St Margaret is unique in bearing on its towers not only a clock but a tide clock, an indication of the prime importance of the tide to the townsmen. The docks just a step away are at the heart of the town's past and present. Primarily the docks appear as the home of the town's substantial fishing fleet, but commercial imports come through here too, as they have since the town's earliest foundation, and all around the docks are some of the most historically interesting parts of the town.

Name of the town

St Margaret's Church

The name Lynn may be from an Old English word, implying a tenure in fee or farm. Others suggest that it is derived from the River Great Ouse, which once formed a broad mere here as it prepared to enter the Wash, suggesting the Welsh word Llyn, meaning lake.

In the Domesday Book, the manor is recorded as Lun, and Lenn; and is described as the property of the Bishop of Elmham, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. For a time, the town was known as Len Episcopi ("Bishop's Lynn") while it was owned by the Bishop of Norwich; but at the Reformation it was surrendered to King Henry VIII, and then assumed the name of Lenne Regis, or King's Lynn.

The town is and has been for generations generally known by its inhabitants and local people simply as Lynn.


Middle Ages

Hanseatic warehouse

Lynn originated as a settlement on a constricted site to the south of the mouth of the River Great Ouse. Development began in the early 10th century, but was not recorded until the early 11th century. In 1101, Bishop Herbert de Losinga of Thetford began the first mediæval town between two rivers, the Purfleet to the north and Mill Fleet to the south, by commissioning St Margaret's Church and authorising a market.[1] In the same year, the Bishop granted the people of Lynn the right to hold a market on Saturday.[2]

Trade built up along the waterways that stretched inland from Lynn, and the town expanded between these two rivers.

Early modern days

The Guildhall

During the 14th century, King's Lynn ranked as the third most important port in England, behind Southampton and London. It was considered as important to England during the Middle Ages as Liverpool was during the Industrial Revolution. Sea trade with Europe was dominated by the Hanseatic League of ports; the transatlantic trade and the rise of England's western ports would not begin until the 17th century. The Trinity Guildhall was rebuilt in 1421 after a fire. It is debated whether the Guildhall of St George is the largest and oldest in England. In order to defend the town, walls and gatehouses were established, including the erection of the South Gate and East Gate.[3]

In the first decade of the 16th century, Thoresby College was built by Thomas Thoresby to house priests of the Guild of The Holy Trinity in King's Lynn. The guild was incorporated in 1453 on the petition of its alderman, chaplain, four brethren and four sisters. The guildsmen were then licensed to found a chantry of chaplains to celebrate at the altar of Holy Trinity in Wisbech church and to grant to the chaplains lands in mortmain.[4] In 1524 King's Lynn was given a mayor and corporation. In 1537 the king took control of the town from the bishop. From then on it was called King's Lynn. However, in the 16th century the town's two annual fairs were reduced to one. In 1534 a grammar school was founded. But in 1538 Henry VIII closed the Benedictine priory and the three friaries.

During the 16th century a piped water supply was created, although many could not afford to be connected: elm pipes carried water under the streets. Like all towns at that time King's Lynn suffered from outbreaks of plague: there were severe outbreaks in 1516, 1587, 1597, 1636 and 1665. But the 1665 outbreak proved to be the last. Fire was another hazard and in 1572 thatched roofs were banned to reduce the risk of fire. In 1642 came civil war between king and parliament. At first King's Lynn supported parliament, but in August 1643, after a change in government, the town changed sides. Parliament lost no time in sending an army to capture the town. King's Lynn was besieged for three weeks before it surrendered.

The Customs House

In 1683, the architect Henry Bell, who was once mayor of King's Lynn, built the Custom House. Bell also built the Duke's Head Inn, the North Runcton Church, and Stanhoe Hall. Bell's artistic inspiration was the result of travelling Europe as a young man.[5]

The town retains two former warehouses of the Hanseatic League, in use between the 15th and 17th centuries. They are the only remaining buildings of the Hanseatic League in England.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the town's main export was grain. The town was no longer a major international port, although some iron and timber were still imported. Like other East Coast ports, King's Lynn suffered from the discovery of the Americas, which benefited ports on the West Coast of England. It was also affected by the growth of London which attracted the town's trade.

In the late 17th century, imports of wine from Spain, Portugal and France into King's Lynn boomed, and there was still an important coastal trade: at that time it was much cheaper to transport goods by water than by road, and thus many goods were shipped around the coast from one port to another. Large quantities of coal arrived in King's Lynn from North East England.

In the mid 17th century the fens were drained and turned into farmland. Vast amounts of farm produce were sent from King's Lynn to the growing market in London. King's Lynn was also still an important fishing port. Greenland Fishery House in Bridge Street was built in 1605. By the late 17th century shipbuilding had become an important industry in King's Lynn. A glass making industry also began in the late 17th century.

In the early 18th century Daniel Defoe said King's Lynn was: 'Beautiful, well built and well situated'. In the 18th century shipbuilding continued to thrive. So did associated industries such as sail making and rope making. Glass making continued to prosper. Brewing was another important industry. The first bank in King's Lynn opened in 1784.

On 28 September 1708, a seven-year-old boy, Michael Hammond and his 11-year-old sister Ann Hammond were convicted of theft of a loaf of bread in King's Lynn. They were sentenced to death by hanging, a sentence which was carried out publicly near the South Gates of the town to make an example of them. At the time of the hangings, Sir Robert Walpole, generally regarded as the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was Member of Parliament for King's Lynn.[6]


King's Lynn railway station

By the late 17th century, the town had begun to decline, and it was only rescued by the late arrival of railway services in 1847. Early trains ran from King's Lynn to Hunstanton, Dereham and Cambridge.

The town's amenities continued to improve into the 20th century. A museum opened in 1904, and a public library in 1905. The first cinema in King's Lynn, the Majestic Cinema, was built in 1910, and the town council began regeneration of the town in the 1930s.

During First World War, Lynn was one of the first towns in Great Britain to be bombed from the air. In 1915, the Savage's Iron Works, an aeroplane parts factory, was bombed by a Zeppelin. When Second World War began, it was assumed that King's Lynn would be safe from bombing, and many evacuees were sent there from London. However King's Lynn was not completely safe and suffered several air raids.

In 1962 King's Lynn became an overflow town for London, and the town's population increased. New estates were built at the Woottons and Gaywood. In the 1960s the town centre was redeveloped and many old buildings were destroyed. Lynnsport, a sports centre, opened in 1982. The Corn Exchange was converted to a theatre in 1996.

The brewing industry had died out by the 1950s but new industries came to King's Lynn: food canning in the 1930s and soup making in the 1950s. In the 1960s the council tried to attract new industries by building a new industrial estate at Hardwick. The new industries included light engineering, clothes and chemicals. Fishing remains an important industry.

In 1987, the town became the first in Britain to install town centre CCTV. The single crime most frequently prosecuted as a result of this comprehensive system is men urinating in public on their way home at night from pubs.


The Great Ouse
The mouth of Gaywood River

King's Lynn is the northernmost place on the River Great Ouse. The town lies about 5 miles south of the Wash, the great bite of the coastline between Lincolnshire and Norfolk. The Great use is canalised here with high banks to protect the town and land from endless floods and down this vast cut sail the boats of the town's fishing fleet, out into the hazardous waters of the Wash; an place subject to dangerous tides and shifting sandbanks.

The Great Ouse at King's Lynn is about 200 yards wide and is the outfall for much of the drainage system of the Fens. The much smaller Gaywood River also flows through the town, joining the Great Ouse at the southern end of South Quay close to the town centre.

On the other side of the Ouse is a small village, West Lynn, linked to the town by one of the oldest ferries in the country.


The town has several public parks, the largest one being The Walks, a historic 17 hectare urban park in the centre of King's Lynn. The Walks is the only surviving town walk in Norfolk from the 18th century. The Heritage Lottery Fund donated £4.3 million towards restoration on the park, including the addition of modern amenities. The Walks is also the location of The Red Mount, a Grade II-listed 15th century chapel. In 1998, the Walks was designated by English Heritage as a Grade II National historic park. The Walks as a whole had a different and earlier origin, in that it was at first conceived not as a municipal park, as one understands the term today, but as a single promenade for the citizens away from the smell, grime and bustle of the town centre. Harding's Pits is another public park and lies to the south of the town. It is an attractive informal area of open space with large public sculptures erected to reflect the history of the town. Harding's Pits is managed by local volunteers under a Management Company and has so far successfully fought off the council's attempts to turn it into an attenuation drain.[7]


King's Lynn has always been a centre for the fishing and seafood industry (especially inshore prawns, shrimps and cockles). There have also been glass-making and small-scale engineering works (many fairground and steam engines were built here), and today it is still the location for much agricultural-related industry including food processing. There are a number of chemical factories and the town retains a role as an import centre. It is a regional centre for what is still a sparsely populated part of England.

King's Lynn was the fastest growing port in Great Britain in 2008. The figures from the Department for Transport show that trade in the King's Lynn increased by 33%.[8]

The Port of King's Lynn has facilities for dry bulk cargo such as cereals and liquid bulk products such as petroleum products for Pace Petroleum. It also handles timber imported from Scandinavia and the Baltic, and has large handling sheds for steel imports.[9]


King's Lynn has one main local newspaper; the Lynn News.[10]

The local college runs a web-based TV station from the media department's students, entitled and runs a little awards ceremony at the end of every academic year. This year it won an award for most outstanding media department within the entire country of the United Kingdom.

King's Lynn has one locally broadcast radio broadcasting|radio station, KL.FM 96.7, a commercial radio station with local programmes.[11]

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about King's Lynn)


  1. "History and Heritage of King's Lynn". Borough Council of King's Lynn & West Norfolk. Retrieved 2010-05-25. 
  2. Lambert, Tim. "A history of King's Lynn". Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  3. "King's Lynn". Poppyland Publishing. Retrieved 2010-06-08. 
  4. Pugh, R.B. (2002). "Guild of the Holy Trinity". A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4: City of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds. pp. 255–256. 
  5. "Custom House, King's Lynn". Eastern Daily Press. Retrieved 2010-06-08. 
  6. "Death penalty abolished". 2007-04-01. Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  7. "The Walks". King's Lynn Online. Retrieved 2010-06-06. 
  8. "King's Lynn is fastest growing port in Britain". Business Weekly. 2009-11-04. Retrieved 2010-06-17. 
  9. "Port of Kings Lynn: Comodities". Associated British Ports. Retrieved 2010-05-25. 
  10. "Lynn News". Lynn News. Retrieved 2010-05-27. 
  11. "West Norfolk's KL.FM 96.7". KL.FM 96.7. Retrieved 2010-05-25.