King’s Lynn’s rich heritage of overseas trade to be celebrated at festival

King's Lynn Hanseatic Festival Feature in the Archive Room at the Tales of Old Lynn complex within the Town Hall.'LtoR, Cllr Nick Daubney, Luke Shackell, Cllr Elizabeth Nockolds,  with some of the documents from the archive.
King's Lynn Hanseatic Festival Feature in the Archive Room at the Tales of Old Lynn complex within the Town Hall.'LtoR, Cllr Nick Daubney, Luke Shackell, Cllr Elizabeth Nockolds, with some of the documents from the archive.

King’s Lynn’s rich heritage of overseas trade – stretching back seven centuries – is again to be celebrated next month when the popular Hanse Festival is staged along the town’s historic waterfront area.

The increasingly popular, mostly free, programme on May 20 and 21, sees the quayside come alive with music, dancing and a Saturday night al fresco party featuring live music performed by local musicians and bands from overseas.

As final preparations are put in place for the Hanse Festival, rare original documents relating to the Hanseatic League and its historic links with Lynn, have been taken out of secure storage in the Town Hall archives to be viewed by leading figures involved in the event.

These documents, with their texts written in medieval Latin, on animal skins, are considered by experts to be so precious they are stored in temperature-controlled cabinets in the archives.

While the documents will not, unfortunately, be on public display during the Hanse Festival, they can be viewed by arranging an appointment with the Norfolk Records Office.

In one document, a drawing of a Lynn ship has been placed in the letter H of letters patent granted by Henry VI to the Borough of Lynn in 1441.

The word Lenn (Lynn) appears on the ship’s sail while the legend Domine salutari fac regem (May the Lord save the King) appears on the ship’s pennant.

A further document confirms Henry IV’s grant made in 1404 conferring powers of self-government to English merchants in Prussia, Denmark, Norway, the Hanse regions and Sweden, 1428. Henry VI’s great seal is appended to the document by a purple and white cord.

Another equally fascinating document, is a copy of a letter sent to Bremen in Germany, complaining that seven Lynn merchants had been unjustly imprisoned in 1462 and calling for their release.

The Mayor and Burgesses of Lynn were, they wrote, “exceedingly astonished at this injustice since we and all merchants of our town of Lenn have always shown all good and continuing friendships with your citizens, natives and inhabitants”.

By the 13th century King’s Lynn was one of this country’s leading ports.

The town attracted traders from the Hanseatic League, a group of German cities whose ships travelled together in convoys for safety, especially against pirates.

Their cargoes included fish, furs, timber, wax and salt. They took away shipments of English wool, cloth and salt.

Today, hundreds of years later, Lynn has the only surviving Hanseatic warehouse in England standing proudly opposite The Minster.

The building, its four wings constructed around a central oblong courtyard, is now in private ownership and contains a restaurant and bar and private flats. It is also now home of the town’s Citizens’ Advice branch (CAB).

This complex, just off the Saturday Market Place, also known as a Kontor or trading post, provided lodgings and storage for goods for medieval merchants involved in long distance commercial trade.

It was here that German merchants had their lodgings , warehouses, offices and shops and stalls.

The front wing ,facing the street, was originally probably a timber-framed structure in the late 15th century. Its entrance would have been adorned with the double-headed eagle of the Hanseatic League.

In 2005, Lynn became the first English member of the New Hanseatic League.

Its 185 members includes Hamburg, and Lubeck with the aim of developing business links and promoting cultural, heritage and tourism between members towns and cities.

It is these very ‘Hanse across the sea’ links that will be celebrated during the special weekend Festival.

In 2017, these links across the North Sea continue to be important for Lynn.

Former Borough Council leader and English Commissioner for the Hanseatic League, Nick Daubney said: “Since we began holding a Hanseatic Festival in Lynn it has drawn attention to Lynn’s rich Hanseatic heritage and celebrated our links with the modern League”

Mr Daubney said that historically the river and waterfront and the Hanse Festival attracts residents and visitors into that area, encouraging them to reflect on its past and think about its future.

Past Borough Mayor, honorary Alderman and local historian, Dr Paul Richards, said of the event: “The Hanseatic Festival celebrates Lynn’s maritime heritage and how it is alive today in 2017 inspiring us to make the most of our exceptional port town for the future.”

This year’s two days of exciting events and activities have been organised to celebrate international Hanse Day and the 12th anniversary of Lynn’s membership of the New Hanse.

With a busy programme, the waterfront area will come alive with music and dancing, demonstrations of ancient crafts, lectures.

In the evening it will be a case of ‘let the party commence’ when the focus switches to King Staithe Square where there will be live music performed by local and overseas bands in a free evening of al fresco entertainment.

During the weekend there will be a rare opportunity to see inside the fascinating Elizabethan watch tower at Clifton House in Queen Street.

The owners of the historic merchants house are opening the five-storey tower - the top of which offers visitors a breath-taking view over Lynn’s historic waterfront area. Admission is by payment of a small fee.

Two hour-long Hanse walks on the Saturday, (at 11am and 2pm) will be led by Lynn Town Guides. The walks are free, but places are limited and must be pre-booked through the town’s Tourist Information Office.

For those who wish to have more detailed information about Lynn’s rich Hanseatic heritage, a History and Archaeological Symposium has been organised for Saturday, 20 May.

This programme is being presented at Marriotts Warehouse on the Sotuh Quay and comprises two lectures.

The first lecture, at 2pm, is being given by Robert Kenny on “The Newport Medieval Ship: Why she came to Newport and never left.” The remains of this 15th century vessel were excavated from the river Usk in Newport in 2002.

This fascinating story about medieval ships and trade is being told by Robert Kenny whose Friends group are dedicated to finding a permanent museum for the ship which is to be re-assembled in its original form.

At 3.30pm, also at Marriotts Warehouse, a new book, entitrled, Six Essays in Hanseatic History is to be launched. Published by Poppyfield, the book comprises six essays based on talks given by historians for HAS in 2015 and 2016.

From 6pm on Saturday, 20th May, there will be a programme of live music from the public performance area facing King Staithe Square.A line-up of international acts will perform until 9.30pm. They include the Georgia Shackleton Trio, Victor Menace and Trad Attack.

On Sunday, May 22, a programme of events will continue, including activities for children at the Town Hall. From noon until 4pm there will be live music in King’s Staithe Square.

Local band the Fried Pirates will be first up followed by the Remi Harris Trio, Ruth Theodore Quintet and Flats and Sharps.

So, then, a lively and interesting weekend of events to go along and enjoy celebrating Lynn’s rich maritime past.

For more information on all of the Hanse Festival events, visit: or call in at the town’s Tourist Information Office at the Custom House on King Street.