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King's Lynn

King's Lynn lies at the mouth of the River Great Ouse just south of its confluence with The Wash. Historically, King's Lynn was one of England's most important ports - trading with countries through out the world. As well as literary figures, it was also the home of George Vancouver who claimed British Columbia in the name of the English Crown.

Tuesday Market Place

Tuesday Market Place

The town is undoubtedly one of Norfolk's best-kept secrets and streets such as the Purfleet and King Street offer a wealth of historic buildings and period charm - a fact which has not been overlooked by the film and TV production companies. (See Norfolk Film Locations for more information.)

Margery Kempe (c.1373- c.1439)

Margery Kempe was born in King's Lynn and was the daughter of John Brunham who was once the Lord Mayor. During her lifetime she went on many pilgrimages - both in the UK and on the continent - and even visited Rome, Santiago de Compostela and Jerusalem. The Book of Margery Kempe is a record of her spiritual journey and was dictated some time during the 1420s - as she could neither read nor write.  The manuscript of the book was discovered in 1934 at Pleasington Hall in Lancashire. It is now regarded as the first ever autobiography written by a woman.

In it she records a fire in15th-century King's Lynn which threatened to engulf St. Margaret's Church. (Bishop's Lynn was the original name of the town.):

'On a time, there happened to be a great fire in Lynne Bishop, which fire burnt up the Guild Hall of the Trinity, and in the same town, a hideous and grievous, full likely to have burnt the parish church dedicated in honour of Saint Margaret, a stately place and richly honoured, and all the town as well, had there been no grace or miracle.'

Margery was originally married to John Kempe and gave birth to 14 children. However, she gave up married life - took a vow of chastity and dedicated her life to God. She was frequently overcome by weeping during her prayers inside St. Margaret's - which disturbed other worshippers.

St. Margaret's is one of the largest churches in the country. It was founded in 1101 and partially rebuilt in 1741 after the spire collapsed onto the knave during a storm.

St Margaret's Church

Margery also visited Julian of Norwich (the 'Recluse atte Norwyche') and recorded the meeting in her book. She remained in Norwich for a number of days and Dame Julian counselled her to: 'Set all your trust in God and fear not the language of the world. Patience is necessary for you, for in that shall ye keep your soul.'

Like Julian, Margery was a mystic but the two women were very different in their spiritual approach - one travelling widely - the other remaining in her cell by the River Wensum.

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731)

In his A Tour Through the Whole Island of  Great Britain Daniel Defoe was hugely impressed by King's Lynn preferring it, in many ways, to both Norwich and Yarmouth.

Daniel Defoe

Here is the passage:

'It stands on more ground than the town of Yarmouth, and has I think parishes, yet I cannot allow that it has more people than Yarmouth, if so many. It is a beautiful well built, and well situated town, at the mouth of the River Ouse, and has this particular attending it, which gives it a vast advantage in trade; namely, that there is the greatest extent of inland navigation here, of any port in England, London excepted. The reason whereof is this, that there are more navigable rivers empty themselves here into the sea, including the Washes which are branches of the same port, than at any other mouth of waters in England, except the Thames and the Humber.'

There are also a number of 'Robinson Crusos' (without the 'e') buried in St. Nicholas' Chapel in King's Lynn. However they all post date Robinson Crusoe which was published in 1719. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to ponder whether Defoe may have been familiar with the family and used the name when he was writing his famous novel. Defoe certainly visited the town in 1724 - and he was well aware of King's Lynn's rich maritime history.

St. Nicholas' is England's largest surviving Parochial Chapel and its 15th century wooden roof features a magnificent series of carved angels.

See also Great Yarmouth and Winterton.

Fanny Burney (1752-1840)

The novelist and diarist was born in King's Lynn - possibly at 84, High Street - but when she was young her family moved to London where she grew up amongst the capital's literary set - mixing with the likes of Dr Johnson, Joshua Reynolds and Edmund Burke. At the age of 25 she wrote a successful novel entitled Evelina. This was followed by Cecilia (1782) and Camilla (1796). In 1793, she married General d'Arblay - a French refugee in England.

Fanny Burney

Here is a passage from her diary where she recalls her own confirmation - which she wrote at a time when she was preparing her son Alex for his confirmation:

'I remember well that, when I was preparing....I had such an idea I should undergo an examination and I was fearful of some wry question that might discountenance me, that I learnt nearly the whole common prayer book by heart! - Besides reading the Bible quite through three times! I was so indefatigable, I rose to nothing else; and never went to rest while I could procure light for my labours. Alex would not be much led to imitate me, if I knew that, after all this hard work - the fat clumsy stumpy worthy Bishop of Norwich clapt his hand upon my head, and off it, as fast as he possibly could, and never made a single interrogatory, nor uttered a single doubt or demur upon my fitness or unfitness for his blessing.'

St. Nicholas' Chapel

Cruso family grave

Cruso family gravestone


Thomas Hood (1799-1845)

Wrote a poem called The Dream of Eugene Aram - about a master at the Grammar School in King's Lynn who was arrested for murder in 1758. The last verse of the poem goes as follows:

That very night, while gentle sleep
  The urchin eyelids kissed,
Two stern-faced men set out from Lynn,
  Through the cold and heavy mist:
And Eugene Aram walked between,
  With gyves upon his wrist.

Read more

R.N. Currey (1907-2001)

This East Anglian based poet (who was born in Africa) wrote a memorable poem about Lynn - referring to it as 'This town that history could have made a city'.

Just opposite the elegant Custom House
So feasibly attributed to Wren
We watched the racketting pile-driver
Man-shouldered into place
By greasy caps and coats with pennant linings
Fluttering heraldic in the north-east wind.

Beside it on the quay a square-hewn stake
Extracted from the past - a broken tooth
Stained at the root - the crude support
Of civic splendour in the years of grace. 

Explore now, as a freak tide might explore
This town that history could have made a city,
Swirl round the leaning pillars of this church
That could be a cathedral, then move on,
Inquisitive as water,
Over the docks, across the squares,
Into courtyards, under entrances.

Leave tides below, and climb
The winding centuries of a merchantís watchtower
To scan the wide way to the wider sea
For pennants fluttering in the north-east wind.

Step down to what the tides have left behind:
In the marsh-sunken chapel-of-ease
Two Dutch-scrubbed likenesses,
A merchant and his wife, as shrewd
And thrifty as the north-east wind,
Embedded in the local mud - essential
Supporters of armorial elegance.

King's Lynn has also been immortalised by the works of the painter William Dexter (1878-1958). He was trained at Birmingham School of Art and lived for a time in a converted fishing boat on the River Nar. He was killed by a motorcycle while crossing the Saturday Market Place.

More photos of King's Lynn





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