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Book donation sheds light on Mystery of ship disaster in West Norfolk




The Mystery Disaster Funeral Procession. Picture: SUBMITTED.
The Mystery Disaster Funeral Procession. Picture: SUBMITTED.

The story of how a community in Lynn came together after four men died at sea 90 years ago has re-emerged thanks to a book donated to a museum in the town.

True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum, which focuses on Lynn’s fishing community and the Old North End, has been given a book which sheds light on the disaster of 1928.

No Caption ABCDE
No Caption ABCDE

The museum has been gifted the Mystery Disaster Fund book, which refers to the sinking of the Mystery fishing boat.

On January 6, 1928, brothers Matthew, Percy and James Smith and their friend the Earl Massingham borrowed the boat, owned by Alfred Cook of Cresswell Street.

The boat sank during a gale off the coast around Heacham and Snettisham and all four men lost their lives.

When the men failed to return, members of the North End community joined the search and three bodies were recovered, but the body of Matthew Smith was never found.

The Mystery Disaster Fund. Picture: SUBMITTED.
The Mystery Disaster Fund. Picture: SUBMITTED.

The entire North End closed and went into mourning on the day of the funerals of Earl Massingham and Percy and James Smith.

The funerals were held at St Nicholas Chapel and they were buried together at Hardwick Road Cemetery with a guard of honour consisting of over 200 men.

The event has lived in the memory of the North End community but the Mystery Disaster Fund book has revealed a new insight into the tragedy.

The black address book contains the details of the donations given to the fund in January 1928.

The Mystery Obituary. Picture: SUBMITTED.
The Mystery Obituary. Picture: SUBMITTED.

Subscriptions to the fund raised £1,085.2s.8d – about £65,000 in today’s money – which was shared between the dependents of the deceased.

The book also offers a snapshot of Lynn in the 1920s, with details of the businesses, churches and schools who raised money for the appeal.

The record of the disaster fund was donated to the museum by Kevin Elfleet, chairman of the West Norfolk Metal Detectors, who had been gifted the book by its previous owner, Mr A Gilding.

Recognising the importance of the book, Mr Elfleet contacted True’s Yard.

The Mystery Disaster Fund. Picture: SUBMITTED.
The Mystery Disaster Fund. Picture: SUBMITTED.

True’s Yard deputy manager Rebecca Rees said: “We were incredibly excited to receive this donation.

“The sinking of the Mystery was a major event in the history of the North End.

“The level of detail the book contains is wonderful and offers a glimpse at King’s Lynn in the late 1920s. It is inspiring to see how the community joined together to support the families.”

She added: “It is particularly poignant when you consider that this tight knit community was torn apart only a few years later with the beginning of the slum clearance, which destroyed the North End as they knew it.”

Phone 01553 770479 or email info@truesyard.co.uk for further information.



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