A walk for lockdown from King's Lynn Town Guides
A new series for the lockdown: A short walk to South Lynn, by Ivor Rowlands (King's Lynn Town Guides)
The walk starts and ends in Saturday Market Place.
Founded in 1101 by a charter given by Herbert de Losinga, the first Bishop of Norwich, Lynn’s Saturday Market Place is one of the oldest markets in the country.
You can still see evidence of power in the town – St Margaret’s Church representing the Bishop; the Trinity Guildhall signifying the power of the medieval guilds; and the market fuelling the immense wealth that was created by the merchant adventurers who lived in the large houses nearby.
Walk to the east side of SMP and turn right opposite the White Hart pub.
The White Hart is believed to be the very first licenced public house in Lynn and legend has it that there is a tunnel linking the pub’s cellar to the church, allowing a quick and secret escape for the priest.
Turn right and walk down Priory Lane.
The row of restored cottages on the right-hand side is all that remains of the Benedictine priory that was founded by the monks who were sent by Herbert de Losinga to build his church in the early 12th century.
The doors that used to open to the street were bricked up in the 1970s and new entrances were made at the back of the cottages to allow access to a secret courtyard garden overlooking the churchyard.
Turn left and walk down Nelson Street.
Note how the architecture changes from the timber-framed jettied medieval buildings at the start of the street to the more imposing large-windowed and flat-fronted Georgian style further along.
If you look behind the Georgian facades, you can still see signs of the medieval buildings – this is really clear on the second house on the right, where a brick wall was built down from the overhanging first floor to the street.
This was a fashionable home improvement that was favoured by wealthy merchants wanting to modernise their houses.
At the end of Nelson Street turn right and cross over the road to Bridge Street.
The large timbered building on the corner is the Greenland Fishery, so named because it was once the centre of Lynn’s Whaling industry. It was built as a home by wealthy merchant and mayor of Lynn, John Atkin in 1605 and was renamed ‘The Greenland Fishery Inn’ after the family sold it.
The whaling boats would set out to sea around March time, arriving in the northern Atlantic as the sea ice was melting. Fishing would continue for many months before the boats returned to Lynn with their catch in September.
The sailors would head to the Greenland Fishery for some well-deserved hospitality and the crew would be paid for their work.
Meanwhile the people of Lynn were busy for many weeks processing the whales, mainly for their oil which was burned in domestic lamps and also whalebone for corsets and blubber for use in cosmetics. The industry brought great wealth to Lynn in the 18 th century but only lasted for a relatively short time as cleaner gas lamps were developed.
Continue along Bridge Street, and after the left-hand bend at All Saints Street take a left-hand diversion to see All Saints Church.
This is known as “the hidden pearl” as it is so tucked away behind Hillington Square. Its origins go back to Saxon times, when there was a church on the site of which nothing remains.
The church was rebuilt around 1095, six years earlier than the foundation of St Margaret’s, making All Saints the oldest church in today’s King’s Lynn. Traces of this building can still be seen in the exterior of the south wall of the chancel.
Walk through the iron gates on the right-hand side of the church and along the cobbled Church Lane before turning left down South Lynn Plain and Valingers Road and continuing to turn right along London Road.
The Catholic Church on the right-hand side is easy to miss but has many interesting features inside. The original church was built by the celebrated architect Augustus Pugin but the foundations were unstable and it quickly became in need of repair.
The Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, entertained many Catholic guests from royal families all over Europe at his nearby Sandringham estate, and he grew weary of hearing complaints from his Royal guests who had visited the church and sat under a leaky roof or by a draughty window.
Eventually Prince Edward helped support the rebuilding project with a cash donation for a new Catholic church to be built. An unusually generous gesture for a future head of the Church of England!
A little further along London Road, on the left-hand side is the imposing statue of Frederick Savage. Best known for his associations with the showmen and the fairground rides of Lynn’s Mart, Savage arrived in Lynn as a young apprentice before quickly establishing his own factory and ironworks. Savage was Mayor of Lynn in 1889 and the statue was erected in 1892 as “The People’s Testimonial to F Savage Esquire” and, in the words of Lord Henry Bentick, served as a reminder that people, “must walk uprightly, and be kind and generous”. Amazingly, the statue was unveiled in Savage’s own lifetime, perhaps illustrating what was a real showman he was.
Continue along London Road until you reach the South Gates.
There are few towns in England with more impressive mediaeval gates, and even fewer where you still actually go through them to enter the town.
Visitors to Lynn have been entering through these gates for nearly 600 years. In the English Civil War the gates kept out the Parliamentarian armies during the Siege of Lynn.
The original gate only had one large central arch and the two side passages for pedestrians were knocked through in the 19 th century.
The building is faced with brick on the ‘inside’ and with much more impressive looking stone on the ‘outside’ making a very grand statement of wealth to anyone entering the town.
Nowadays, over 1,000 vehicles a day pass through the South Gates and along London Road as the main route into town. Before London Road was built in the 19 th century the main route for traffic would have been along Southgate Street, Friars Street, Bridge Street and Lathe Street (now Nelson Street).
Turn right alongside the South Gates onto a grassed path that goes towards the river and continue with the riverbank on your left.
This is the River Nar. Today it is a sleepy backwater, but in Lynn’s mediaeval heyday it was the start of a busy and lucrative waterway carrying goods along the River Nar providing a trade route connecting many of the towns in Norfolk to Lynn, the rest of England and the North and Baltic Seas.
The nearby aptly named Blubberhouse Creek was the main site of the whaling industry. This is where the industrial processing was done to turn the whales into fuel, cosmetics and fashion items.
The area was notorious for the foul stench that was created but was tolerated for the work and money that it brought to the area.
After the demise of the whaling industry, this was the site of the boatyard of Walter Worfolk, builder of the Baden Powell, which has recently been restored as the only double-ended cockling boat still in existence.
At the bridge, turn left at Hardings Way and take a circular walk around Harding’s Pits Doorstep Green.
Harding’s Pits covers five and a half acres and is one of the largest doorstep greens in the country. The land was originally part of the land of the Carmelites from the nearby Whitefriars Friary and sits next to the area that is still called The Friars today.
Before being restored in the early 2000s, it was the site of the town’s rubbish dump.
The wooden statue of the Great Whale and other sculptures on the green were made by a Suffolk chainsaw artist, Ben Platts-Mills.
Head back over the River Nar along Harding’s Way towards Lynn.
The small brick archway on the right is the only remaining part of the Whitefriars Friary. Religion was central to life in medieval times and Lynn was home to all 4 orders of Friars – Carmelite, Franciscan, Augustinian and Dominican as well as the Benedictine Monks at St Margaret’s Priory.
In their heyday, the friaries competed to offer the finest hospitality to pilgrims and travellers. A wealthy traveller or royal visitor might bring quite an entourage with them providing lucrative business for the friars. Until they were dissolved in the Reformation, the friaries were the only places in Lynn where you could drink fresh water.
They were supplied by a network of pipes from freshwater springs outside town, while the rest of the town had to drink beer as the only safe, clean drink!
Follow Harding’s Way to the end and turn left to the River Ouse and along South Quay.
Here you can get a good view along the River Ouse towards the Wash. But it wasn’t until around the 12 th century that the Ouse flowed through Lynn.
Before then the Ouse reached the Wash at Wisbech. It was only though man-made intervention – continuous dredging and straightening to keep the waterways navigable – that the river was diverted through Lynn.
Looking towards the Wash today you can see the straight line of the river as evidence of the last man-made interventions that took place in the middle of the 19 th century. These were the Eau Brink Cut and the Estuary Cut and have given us the view along the river that we can see today.
Turn right at St Margaret’s Lane, alongside Hanse House.
Hanse House was built in 1475 by German merchants of the Hanseatic League. The land had to be given to the Hanse as part of the Treaty of Utrecht, negotiated at the end of a six-year trade war between England and the European Hanse.
Turn left on to St Margaret’s Place and note the fine Georgian mansion. This was built by Edward Everard in the 18th century.
Continue ahead and you reach Saturday Market Place and the end of the walk.
This walk is intended for those in Lynn town centre able to incorporate it into their daily exercise. Otherwise you can use this for when the lockdown ends.