Reasons you need to visit King’s Lynn
- Credit: Matthew Usher
Whether you love history and heritage, the fun of the fair, tradition and archaeology or arts and literature - March is the perfect month to explore King’s Lynn
Stroll around King’s Lynn’s historic quay, and its ancient buildings on the edge of the atmospheric River Ouse are very much a living, breathing reminder of the town’s rich maritime past.
Yet this is a place of contrasts, where traditions are not just limited to seafaring heroism and tales of exotic trading.
At this time of year, flashing neon and screams of delight echo around the Tuesday Market Place and while it might feel centuries apart, it is as significant to its history as its most famed landmarks.
And the annual Mart – ever present in the town for some 800 years – is not the only sign that King’s Lynn’s fascinating past is very much part of its future.
By day heritage walks lead you meandering through the old streets, past grand houses, medieval churches and guildhalls, and the Lynn museum brings to life the stories of the people, ordinary and extraordinary, who have helped to form the town’s narrative over the centuries.
Then at dusk, magical lights dance across its most iconic buildings with a stunning show of animated illuminations.
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Whether you love history and heritage, the fun of the fair, tradition and achaeology or arts and literature – March is the perfect month to explore King’s Lynn.
As dusk falls, an extraordinary spectacle transforms King’s Lynn’s most famous landmarks with swirling lights, a rainbow of colours and eye catching, breathtaking animations.
Shimmering water fills up a historic tower, a dragon emerges from uneven ancient stonework and the faces of seafaring heroes look out across the quay.
The astonishing Lynn Lumière is an art installation like no other, using clever light projections to tell the stories of the town’s past with some of its most famous buildings as its canvas.
Such is its popularity, what started as a two year scheme, is now a permanent fixture in the town.
Councillor Elizabeth Nockold, cabinet member for culture, heritage and health for King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council, says the innovative project has been a huge boost for the town.
“The response to the Lumière since it opened in March 2015 has been absolutely fantastic. We have had so many compliments from people who come to see it and there is not a night that goes by when you don’t see a crowd of people standing watching the show. The impact on the town has been incredible. In the evenings, you go out to dinner and then you can take a walk around the town afterwards and really enjoy the light show. You never tire of it, it is beautiful and creates a really special atmosphere in the town.”
She says the project has been so successful that the council felt it was essential to keep the installation beyond the end of the project.
“One of our corporate priorities as a council is to promote King’s Lynn as a tourism area, not just an employment area. But of course, if we can attract visitors to the town, it has an enormous benefit on the whole economy and the community. If people are coming to see the Lumière they will often visit other attractions, go shopping or eat or drink here.”
The project came out of a chance discovery in a horticultural magazine, in which officials from Amiens in Northern France were looking for English garden designers to take part in a twinning exchange programme to promote art, architecture, landscape gardening, tourism and training
“It sounded really interesting so we got in touch and it seemed like a fantastic opportunity,” says Elizabeth. “We went to Amiens and were wowed by the light projections on the cathedral and we just thought it could be something that would really work in King’s Lynn. Eventually, working together we secured European Union funding for a joint arts project.”
A team of garden designers went to France to create horticultural displays on a number of small islands dotted around the lake in Amiens and in return, a number of French artists created the designs for the Lumière in King’s Lynn.
“It was an incredible collaboration. We gave the artists some historical background about the buildings and the story of the town and the results were amazing, brining together centuries of history and fascinating tales.”
There are five Lynn Lumière sites all within a few minutes walk of each other and all with their own unique stories and history – St Nicholas’ Chapel, The Custom House, King’s Lynn Minster; Greyfriars Tower and 1-3 Tuesday Market Place, although this site is currently undergoing maintenance.
“My personal favourites are the Custom House, because you can sit down on the quay and watch the display in what is a wonderful setting by the river, and the Minster, where the movement of the dragon and the skeleton coming down the tower is magical,” says Elizabeth.
For a Lynn Lumière trail map and more information see www.west-norfolk.gov.uk. Watch Lynn Lumiere from dusk to 11pm every night.
We all like to look back on our childhoods with a sense of warmth and nostalgia, but how different was ours from those enjoyed by children today or those who grew up 200 years ago?
A fascinating exhibition at Lynn Museum – Little Lives - brings childhood to life, from the 19th century to the present day, exploring how young people lived, learned and played.
Imogen Clarke, curatorial teaching museum trainee, says “I think the adventure and imagination of childhood is something captured in all of the stories throughout Little Lives. Though times have changed enormously, it is interesting to see how play seems to be a common theme. Three of the children featured grew up in the days before the internet, before mobile phones, and before the now ubiquitous use of social media.”
As well as exhibiting previously unseen items from the museum’s collection, it also gives visitors the opportunity to explore memories from their own youth and it tells the stories of four local children who grew up at different periods during the last 200 years and who all had very different experiences.
“Whilst developing the exhibition we looked through Lynn Museum’s fascinating collection of childhood objects for inspiration,” says Imogen. “The four children we have focussed on were chosen because of their personal relationship to the objects on display.”
Ian, Mike, David and Alastair Breen grew up in the 1950s and 1960s and went to King Edward VII Grammar School in King’s Lynn and their memories form part of the exhibition.
“The Breen brothers’ story is particularly interesting. Sheila Breen, mother of the Breen brothers, worked for the museum some years ago and donated the boy’s school uniform and text books to the collection,” says Imogen. “We were then able to trace Michael Breen to Korea, where he now lives, through a newspaper cutting and Michael and his brothers were happy to share personal stories and memories of their childhood.”
Another of the featured children is Emma Morse, who grew up in the 1990s and noughties.
“Emma went to a local school and had lots of memories of contemporary childhood in King’s Lynn. She recalls the excitement of newly published Harry Potter books and films and her time as a Brownie. Emma has also kindly loaned us many personal objects from her childhood to help tell her story.”
The other children featured were Beatrice Monement, who was a child in the 1850s and played with a dolls house made by her father, as well as croquet and chess, and Elaine Lowerison, who was a child in the 1900s and went to the Ruskin School in Heacham. Her family photographs and ephemera have helped to tell the story of this unconventional school.
“One story featured in the exhibition looks at the Ruskin School at Heacham – which was founded in 1900 by Harry Bellerby Lowerison. One of the unusual aspects of this privately-run school, was that it was for both boys and girls in mixed classes. Mr Lowerison believed in enabling the children to enjoy sports activities and to make good friendships. The house was even nicknamed “The Wilderness”,” she laughs.
The exhibition at Lynn Museum, Market Street, PE30 1NL, runs until June 10, 2017. For more information see www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/LynnMuseum
Once a year, King’s Lynn’s Tuesday Market Place is transformed into a lively, brash festival of fun, where a kaleidoscope of flashing lights bounces off every surface and into the night sky and a cacophony of music, laughter and explosive sounds shatter the usually sleepy historic quarter.
The Mart has been part of the town for more than 800 years starting with the first recorded Charter granted to King’s Lynn during the reign of King John, followed by a charter marking the Valentine’s Day fair granted by Henry VIII in 1537.
And while it is unrecognisable from its earliest incarnations, its spirit very much remains intact, bringing together thousands of people to enjoy the sights, sounds and thrills of the fair.
As well as drawing in crowds from the town and surrounding villages, the Mart, which traditionally opens on Valentines Day and runs for two weeks – attracts visitors from all over East Anglia.
Donald Gray, who is chief steward of the Mart, says that for many people, the event is as much about the nostalgia and traditions, as it is the fun of fair.
“I am fifth or sixth generation of the Gray family and as long as I remember our family has been involved in King’s Lynn Mart. My uncle, Herbert S Gray, escorted the Queen and the Queen Mother around the Mart in 1955 and then took them for tea and sandwiches in his trailer; to have one queen in your home is pretty amazing, but two is incredible and a fantastic memory. It shows how special and important the Mart is to the tradition of the town.
“There is a great camaraderie when everyone comes together and it is an amazing event. It livens the town up, people come down and just soak up the atmosphere, or to have a chat. They don’t need to spend a penny if they don’t want, it is just an incredible spectacle.”
The King’s Lynn Mart officially marks the start of the traditional fair season and the opening ceremony in the town is one of much celebrated pomp and ceremony. A parade of dignitaries, including officials from the Showmen’s Guild, makes its way from the town hall to the Tuesday Market Place, before the Mart is opened with the mayor taking to the bumper cars.
“The opening of the Lynn Mart is one of the most fantastic in the country. Showmen taking part in it for the first time can’t get over how special it is. It is a magical thing to be a part of and to come along and see.”
The 813th traditional King’s Lynn Mart runs from 12pm, February 14 to February 25, in the Tuesday Market Place.
29th King’s Lynn Fiction Festival
The King’s Lynn Fiction Festival, now in its 29th year, takes place this month and features a number of writers – from international acclaimed and best selling authors to journalists and those who have penned lesser known, but thought provoking works.
Among those taking part are Louis de Bernieres, Booker prize shortlisted author Carol Birch, historical fiction writer Robert Edric, playwright Jemma Wayne, novelist Yvvette Edwards and Norwich writers Rachel Hore and DJ Taylor.
The festival, sponsored by Norfolk County Council and King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council, features a number of events from readings and workshops to lively debates.
King’s Lynn Fiction Festival, March 10 to 12, Town Hall, King’s Lynn. Ticket prices, £8.50 per event, with an all-weekend season pass being £37.50. For a full programme of events see www.lynnlitfests.com