Know your Norfolk: 9 quirky things you didn't know about King’s Lynn
- Credit: Matthew Usher
1. Shakespeare was here!
St George’s Guildhall in King’s Lynn is not only England’s largest and oldest complete medieval guildhall but is also the only theatre in the world that can claim Shakespeare trod its boards.
Its history dates back 600 years and it has been a public hall, a court, a merchants’ exchange, a school, an armoury and gunpowder store and a button factory as well as being Britain’s oldest working theatre. The first recorded theatrical production was a Nativity play in 1445.
Shakespeare’s Guildhall Trust was launched in 2019 to help secure the future of the unique theatre complex, which is owned by the National Trust and leased to King’s Lynn Borough Council.
When it was threatened with demolition after the Second World War it was bought by Norfolk philanthropist Alexander Penrose and converted into an arts centre. It opened in 1951 with a celebratory week of music and theatre which became the annual King’s Lynn Festival.
2. So was bad King John.
Lynn was the last place King John stayed before he lost the crown jewels (and then his life.) He is believed to have caught dysentery in Norfolk before heading to Newark (minus the luggage lost in the Wash) where he died.
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King John’s Cup is a cup made of silver, gold and jewels almost 800 years ago. It is the finest and oldest cup of its kind in the country (although it never belonged to King John) and is on display at the Town Hall. Learn more about Norfolk's treasure history here.
4. There are intriguing links with Pocahontas, Canada and desert islands.
Long before Pocahontos was transformed into a Disney princess she was the daughter of a Native American leader, and is said to have saved the life of Lynn man John Smith in 1607. Seven years later she married another Norfolk man, John Rolfe of nearby Heacham.
George Vancouver was born in Lynn in 1757 and sailed to explore and map coastlines around Alaska, Canada, the United States, Hawaii and Australia. A city in Canada (and shopping centre in Lynn) is named for him.
Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe called King’s Lynn: “Beautiful, well-built and well situated,” and might have been inspired by a gravestone for a Robinson Cruso in St Nicholas’s Chapel.
5. Five fabulous festivals
The King’s Lynn Festival, 70 years old this year, began as a celebration of the reopening of the Guildhall of St George.
There is also the King’s Lynn Mart, or fair, in February, a literature festival in March, and in the summer free music from Festival Too, plus the Hanseatic Festival of Watersports featuring speedboat, jet ski and water ski racing on the river.
6. Handsome Hanse
King’s Lynn is a proud Hanse town – meaning it is one of a network of medieval trading towns and cities close to the North Sea and Baltic, including Hamburg, Stockholm and Bruges, which worked together to pursue shared economic interests.
Lynn has Britain’s only surviving Hanseatic League warehouses - Hanse House and Marriott's Warehouse, both dating back to the 15th century.
7. It once began with a B
King’s Lynn was called Bishop’s Lynn for its first few hundred years, changing to King’s Lynn when Henry VIII wrested control of churches and religion from the Pope in 1537.
8. The first known autobiography in English was written by a Lynn woman.
Margery Kemp, who was born, and probably died, in Lynn, wrote the first known autobiography in English, including details of her pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Born in 1373 the visionary and traveller had at least 14 children before setting off on epic pilgrimages to holy sites including Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Rome, Assisi and Canterbury. She was tried for heresy several times for preaching and teaching religion at a time when women were forbidden to do so and her book includes her spiritual and physical quests.
9. Beautiful buildings
The Saturday Market Place is surrounded by beautiful buildings including the Minster and Lynn’s other amazing historic guildhall – the Town Hall or Trinity Guildhall. The Tuesday Market Place has been described as one of England’s grandest squares while Lynn’s 17th century Custom House was called, “One of the most perfect buildings ever built,” by architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner.