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Town Trails, King's Lynn Town Guides

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The King’s Lynn Town Guides cannot do their usual guided walks, but you can still enjoy walking through the medieval streets of Lynn and finding out about the amazing history of our town.

In the last of this short series, this walk follows a familiar route from Saturday Market Place. See if you can spot all of these details on the route.

Standing in the Saturday Market Place, this first image is easy to spot because of the distinctive ‘chequer board’ pattern.

Trinity Guildhall King's Lynn (35315383)
Trinity Guildhall King's Lynn (35315383)

This is the Trinity Guildhall, built by the wealthiest of all the guilds in Lynn, to replace the previous guildhall after it burnt down in 1421. The richly decorated pattern of flint and limestone is quite unusual in a secular building of this age and indicates just how wealthy the Trinity Guild was.

Lynn had three known guildhalls, two of which survive today – Trinity and St George’s on King Street – and over 50 guilds, more than any town except London. Lynn’s guilds were unique in that they were not primarily concerned with trade, craft or business, but were mainly religious in nature and provided a secure place to invest in your soul’s elevation to heaven.

Payment of subscriptions – or better still, an endowment – would ensure that prayers were said for you in the afterlife. Consequently, the guilds attracted huge wealth and provided many privileges, often involving access to copious amounts of alcohol and provision of entertainment such as guild plays and performances.

KL Town Guides logo (35315914)
KL Town Guides logo (35315914)

Walk past the front of the Minster and on to Nelson Street.

The picture shows a carved relief, possibly of pilgrims making their way to Walsingham.

This is on the Valiant Sailor, the yellow medieval building on the corner.

There has been a building on this site since around 1400 and much of the present building is believed to date from around the mid-1500s. Originally a private house, it was used as a pub from the 1600s and was licenced between 1735 and 1924.

Today, it is a private house again, and in the 1930s was home to Walter Dexter, one of Lynn’s best-known artists. Being located on Nelson Street, it would be easy to conclude that the building is named after Norfolk’s famous seafaring admiral.

However, the Valiant Sailor refers to Jack Crawford, a conscript from Sunderland who served with Admiral Rodney in the Battle of Camperdown in 1797.

After the ship came under fire and part of the mast was damaged, felling the Admiral’s flag and potentially signalling surrender, Crawford braved enemy fire and climbed up to ‘nail the colours to the mast’. Jack Crawford returned home to a hero’s welcome and pubs throughout the land were named after him.

Cross the street to see the next item, hung inside the open doorway of Hampton Court.

This is a cannonball from the English Civil War, discovered during restorations to Hampton Court.

In 1643, Lynn was one of the major ports in England and in a strategically important location on the east coast, with a good straight road to London.

Sir Hamon le Strange of Hunstanton and his men had declared Lynn ‘for the King’ and closed off the town as the Parliamentary forces approached, led by the Earl of Manchester and Oliver Cromwell. 18,000 troops laid siege to the town, many of them on the riverbank at West Lynn.

The town was bombarded, destroying buildings and houses, and even sending a cannonball through the window of St Margaret’s Church. The siege lasted for three weeks, before the Parliamentarians captured Lynn and immediately set about improving the town’s defences.

Turn down St Margaret’s Lane towards the river and look out for the manhole cover towards the end of the lane.

Savages manhole, King's Lynn (35315408)
Savages manhole, King's Lynn (35315408)

‘Savages Ltd’ was the company of Frederick Savage. He was already an ambitious and pioneering 23-year-old engineer when he arrived in Lynn from Norwich in 1851. Within 2 years he had founded his own business, twice having to move to bigger premises as the company grew.

While Savages produced all manner of ironware, from manhole covers to agricultural machinery, he is most closely associated with the fairground rides of the mart.

He designed and built many new inventions which were used by the showmen to entertain crowds each February in the Valentine’s fair in Lynn’s Tuesday Market Place, before being taken all around the country. Savage brought the Industrial Revolution to the fair and was affectionately known as the ‘King of the Roundabouts’.

Turn right along the quay and walk along to Marriott’s Warehouse.

When it was built in the 14 th century, Marriott’s was on the site of an island in the river, where boats could sail right into the building and unload directly into the lower floor. With gradual silting and changes in the river, it is now sitting some way from the water and the lower floor is a cellar.

The current building was constructed in the 1580’s and our close-up of the wall shows the variety of materials that were used. At the time, most warehouses in Lynn would have been built from red bricks, but we can see that large dressed stone was used in the lower section of the wall.

This would usually have been too expensive, so we can assume that these stones were reclaimed from the nearby friaries that had been recently dissolved and dismantled. The warehouse takes its name from the Marriott brothers who leased this and several other warehouses in the 19th century.

Turn right onto College Lane and then left on to Queen Street.

Thoresby College, King's Lynn (35315415)
Thoresby College, King's Lynn (35315415)

This is the entrance to Thoresby College, built in the early 1400’s to house 13 ‘chantry priests’ from the Trinity Guild.

The door is one of the few remaining original features of the building and it displays some wonderful ‘parchmentfold’ carving. There is a line of text above the smaller inset door. This is a Latin inscription which says, in translation, “Master Thomas Thoresby founded this place.”

There is a space to the left with some missing words, which originally said, in translation, “Pray for the soul of. . .”. This lettering was most likely removed by the Puritans who would have been offended by such a sentiment.

Continue a little way along Queen Street to Three Crowns Yard on the left.

This was the site of the Three Crowns pub, part of the Bagge’s business empire.

During the Napoleonic wars, the proximity of the pub to the quay meant that this was a favourite location for the notorious ‘press gangs’. Despite their crude methods of enforcing men to ‘volunteer’ for dangerous trips to sea, they were sanctioned by the government of the day.

Sometimes, returning conscripts would be pressed into service on the very same day that they returned to Lynn from their previous trip.

Next door is Clifton House The unusual ‘barley sugar’ columns topped with composite capitals in the doorway of Clifton House were part of the Georgian redesign that was commissioned by wealthy merchant and MP Samuel Taylor, and designed by Henry Bell around 1700.

The front of the house is unusual, with the door off-set to the left. Because of the fashion for symmetry by Georgian architects, it is believed that the original plans for the house were to be two storeys on either side of the central door, but these plans were never completed.

Continue over Purfleet Bridge and walk along King Street to number 32, on the right-hand (east) side of the street.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this part-timbered building is the oldest on the street, with its typical medieval appearance.

However, the rather plain looking building next door contains what is believed to be the oldest house in Lynn. It contains a 12th century stone house, only discovered during renovations in the late 20 th century. The house is situated opposite the end of Ferry Lane.

In the 12 th century, only the east side of King Street was developed, and the houses here were right next to the water’s edge. It is believed that this house was the ferryman’s residence. At the time, it would have been right at the edge of the Tuesday Market Place, which was much bigger than it is today.

Continue to the Tuesday Market Place and walk to the middle of the square.

Duke's Crest, Duke's Head (35315449)
Duke's Crest, Duke's Head (35315449)

The most prominent building here is the Dukes Head Hotel and this picture shows the coat-of-arms above the central window.

The Duke’s Head was commissioned by wealthy wine merchant and MP, John Turner, to accommodate people visiting his recently-built merchant exchange, which later became the Custom House. It was built as an imposing coaching inn, overlooking the most vibrant part of the town.

Although the building was altered in the 18th century, you can still see that there used to be an in-and-out carriage entrance, although the right hand door has now been turned into a window.

To the left on the north side of the square is the ‘witch’s heart’.

In the 16th and 17th centuries the punishment for ‘witchcraft’ was to be burned to death, and in Lynn this would happen in front of crowds gathered in the square. According to legend, one such witch was Margaret Read.

Google map (35316632)
Google map (35316632)

As the flames engulfed her body, she pointed to her accuser in the crowd and her heart burst out of her body and embedded itself into the wall of the house where he lived and where it is still visible today.

Our walk ends here, but look out for walks by the town guides when they hopefully resume later this year.

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