King's Lynn's maritime history

King's Lynn's Maritime History on film...

From as early as the 13th century, King's Lynn was one of England’s most important ports, beginning with trade around a 'lin', or estuarine lake, and quickly establishing links with cities in northern Europe through the Hanseatic League, a group of German cities whose ships travelled in convoys to deter pirates. They traded in fish, furs, timber, wax and pitch and took away wool, cloth and salt. King’s Lynn has long prospered and depended on its maritime links for trade and business; a journey that can be discovered today in the cobbled lanes, quays and merchants' homes by the Great Ouse that leads to The Wash and North Sea. Here's our ten things to see in the town to appreciate King’s Lynn's maritime history…

1 Built in 1683, The Custom House in the heart of historic Lynn has a display on the Hanseatic League, including a model of a Hansekogge, 14th century ships than linked Lynn with Hamburg, Bremen, Lubeck, Rostock and Danzig. Above the door is a statue of Charles II and nearby is the iconic statue of explorer Captain George Vancouver.

2 The Georgian Hanse House is one of England's most significant historic buildings, spanning the 15th to 18th centuries. This complex around a courtyard is the only remaining Kontor or trading post of the Hanseatic League in England. German traders had their lodgings here, as well as warehouses, offices, stalls and shops. The street front was probably a timber framed structure in the late 15th century with its entrance adorned with the double-headed eagle of the Hanseatic League. The property came into the possession of the Hanseatic League in 1475 after the Treaty of Utrecht which restarted Anglo-Hanseatic trade after several years of sea warfare. There were other Kontors at Ipswich, Hull, London and Boston, but this is the last remaining. The street range was remodelled in the form of a fine Georgian mansion in the 1750s.

3 The Greenland Fishery, close to Millfleet, is an early 17th century merchant's house, built by a local rope merchant. In the 18th century, as the Greenland Fishery, it was an inn used by the town's whaling community.

4True's Yard Fisherfolk Museum is dedicated to the heritage and lives of the people who lived in the old fishing quarter 'The North End'. The museum features the town's last Victorian smokehouse, a fully restored and rigged 1904 Lynn fishing smack and two beautifully restored Victorian fishermen's cottages.

5 King Street was known as 'Stockfish Row' or 'Le Chequer' in the 14th century and the main street of the Newland laid out by the Norwich Bishops in the 1140s. By the 15th century the thoroughfare was the favoured home of the merchants who built homes and warehouses running down to the river. St George's Guildhall on King Street is the last remaining medieval complex to have survived in this part of town.

6 An archaeological dig in 1968-69 at Purfleet revealed a quay with timber supports proving that there was a safe harbour here in the 14th century three times its current width. The Purfleet was the disembarkation point for pilgrims en route to the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham and was the town’s principal anchorage from medieval times.

7 The magnificent Clifton House, with its 1708 barley sugar porch columns, has an exceptional 14th century tiled floor of the Westminster type and a similarly-aged brick undercroft. The house was almost certainly the first to be built on the west side of Queen Street after the Great Ouse was diverted from Wisbech to Lynn in the 1260s.

8 Thoresby College is entered through a fine 1510 wooden door on Queen Street. In the courtyard a slate plaque marks the line of the late 13th century quayside. In 1964 a timber wharf was excavated on the site to demonstrate how the river has moved west.

9 The medieval Saturday Market Place accommodated a charnel chapel and cemetery in the 14th century so the weekly market and annual summer fair must have hugged the buildings and extended into King Street. Lynn Fair was one of the most important in the eastern counties and a major attraction for German and other European traders seeking wool and cloth. Dominating Saturday Market Place is King's Lynn Minster, formerly St Margaret's Church and founded in 1101. Look out for the flood level markings by the west door.

10 Rebuilt in the 1420s, the impressive Holy Trinity Guildhall was the home of Lynn's Great Guild of merchants whose membership embraced German citizens in the town. Lynn merchants were men of considerable wealth, generated through overseas trade with Prussia, Scania (southern Sweden), Bergen and Iceland.

Read more about King's Lynn and West Norfolk

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