West Dereham Sign Gary Trouton


August 2011

Richard reports on a group visit to King's Lynn to proceed on a two hour walk entitled Victorian king's Lynn.

This month we went to Kings Lynn on the evening of the 16th of June to meet up with Dr. Paul Richards and proceed on a two hour walk entitle Victorian Kings Lynn.

The sky looked very threatening at times but the rain held off and we started the tour with Paul at the Saturday Market Place.

Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1838 as a young woman aged just nineteen and died in 1901.

The area where the market stalls now stand was known as The Shambles from about 1814 and was a site for meat traders until it was finally demolished in 1864.

There were at least 15 slaughterers and butchers there with about 8 coming in from the outlaying towns and villages. We know that there is a small slaughter house in West Dereham which has recently been restored by the current owners and was certainly in use during the latter half of the 19th century. They were mainly pork butchers so it is possible some of the meat could have ended up at the Shambles.

The area also supported many Public Houses and a favourite drink was pul, pronounced pearl, a mixture of ale and wormwood which is a herb of the genus Artemisia and has stimulating qualities and is also used in the preparation of vermouth and absinth, the latter of which will kill the over indulgent.

A piped water supply was still very much of a luxury and ales and beer were the preferred drink to most of the working class as it was less likely to cause stomach

upsets. Working conditions were harsh particularly on the water front where sailing ships tied up and discharged/loaded cargo. Handling sails and ropes took a great deal of physical strength.

Moving on down St James street we came to the Theatre Royal which is now a Bingo Hall. The site has held a theatre since the early part of the 19th century the original of which burnt down and the building which we see today was erected as a cinema.

The Victorian theatre was very popular and lots of the most famous acts of the time appeared there.

Passing by we also viewed the Greyfriars Tower which owes its survival to the fact it could be seen from the sea and the Wash so it proved to be a useful landmark for shipping entering the port.

Crossing the main London Road into the Walks , a fine avenue of Lime trees which are clearly shown on a map of 1846 with the Alms houses on the left. Here was also the dreaded Work House a vast building with west and east wings and just to the north the New Burial ground. This site has been redeveloped in recent years and all the standing gravestones have been moved to the back of the Court House under the canopy of a very old Plane tree of the genus plantanus. This tree is reputed to be 600 years old. We also looked at the Evengelist Chapel of St John with architecture very much in the manner of Augustus W. Pugin 1812-1852 who was the architect of the Gothic Revival. There are a number of fine buildings in this style to be seen in this part of Lynn. It was here we attracted the attention of a passer by who stopped to listen in on Paul's commentary, just goes to show how interesting these walking tours can be.

The Railway finally came to Kings Lynn in 1846 just in time to save a declining town which at one time was the third largest port in England. At first operated by the Great Eastern Railway Company then incorporated into the London & North Eastern in 1923. Later it also was a destination for the Midland & Great Northern Railway which moved its main depot to Melton Constable in the early 20th century. The Station remains a fine example of a Victorian Railway building with very little in the way of modern alteration or interference.

The Great Eastern Railway Hotel is now just a building site, having been neglected for years it's been demolished although many fine examples of Victorian architecture do still exist along the streets at right angles to the Station.

Over the road then known as New Street to the Cattle Market and Paradise Lane. The Cattle Market closed in 1969 and moved out to Hardwick Road. The site is now a car park , supermarket and bus depot.

Into Norfolk Street and a look at Paradise Yard which was once one of many which were off this street. Paradise Yard remains intact and the buildings are listed and was the working area of local Wheelwright. Some of their equipment can still be seen outside the workshop. When the cash is available it will be restored and open to the public as part of Lynn Heritage.

I do remember this area quite well as I used to drive through Lynn during the mid 1960s on my way into Norfolk from Lincolnshire where I was working at that time.

We often would stop off in the town centre, yes you could park almost anywhere in those days, and have a cup of coffee and a bite to eat. Tuesday was market day and the cattle market and the Tuesday market place were crowded with people in from the rural towns and villages buying and selling. I always loved the smell, hustle and bustle of the cattle market, you buy almost anything there from a small runt piglet for the pigsty at home to antique furniture which went largely unrecognised in those days.

The yards also housed many Saddlers and Harness makers of which I think Mr Wilson was the last as he survived into the 1970s and held a Royal Warrant from the late Victorian times.

Moving on into Jews Lane off Chapel Street which leads on to the Tuesday Market place. This was a "red light" area at that time and no doubt proved profitable to those women who were members of the profession. The pubs around discharging their clients at closing time particularly on markets days when purses of some of those who were successful in doing good business were full and the huge numbers of seaman of many nations, fishermen, farmers and their labourers who treated market days as a holiday more often than not.

We ended the evening on Common Staithe Quay the rain having gone all round us but ended a long drought we have had at West Dereham by dropping 6mm rain on our very dry land.

I have been brief in my description of what we heard and saw that evening and Paul is always enthusiastic with his delivery and vast knowledge of Kings Lynn. Phyllis and I always enjoy his tours and I discover something new to add to my history of the town every time.

Richard C. French

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