Pocket Britain
Britain > West Norfolk > King's Lynn

A historic port town in the west of Norfolk with links to Vancouver in Canada

Listen to this article


Quay's & Riverside
Shopping Centre
Customs House
Parish Church
When this town first came to be, it was known as simply "Lynn". This is an old Celtic word meaning "lake". It seems appropriate that the name should mention the town's water features, as it has plenty. It's next-door to The Wash, which is one of the largest estuaries in the UK. Leading into The Wash is the River Great Ouse, which runs through the centre of town. Thanks to these, Lynn became one of the most important ports in the country, even on a par with Liverpool. It was only later, in the 16th century, that the town's name was extended. Henry VIII took ownership of the place in 1538, as part of his dissolution of the monasteries. From then on, the settlement became known as "King's Lynn".

Drawing showing medieval Lynn

King's Lynn is still a working fishing port
Throughout its long history, the town has also been an important centre for trade. It has two main marketplaces, which have been running for centuries. The oldest is the Saturday Marketplace, which is still held every week. On its northern side is the Town Hall, with its distinctive chequered exterior. The building used to include the town's gaol house, which was used by police until as recently as 1955. Now, it's home to the "Tales of the Old Gaol House" museum, where you can learn about the criminals of the past. In this scary place, you'll see just what it'd be like to be locked up like a murderer.

St Margaret's Church, adjacent to the Saturday Marketplace

The chequered exterior of the Town Hall

The Valiant Sailor, a building in the historic quarter of King's Lynn
You can head back in time at the Lynn Museum. Its exhibits cover all of human history, back to the Iron Age and beyond. The clear highlight is Seahenge, a 4000-year-old timber monument that was discovered on a nearby Norfolk beach. It featured an upside-down oak tree, surrounded by a circle of smaller stumps. This bizarre structure is recreated inside its own gallery, so you can make your own guesses as to what it was actually for.

The beach near Old Hunstanton where Seahenge was found
The second of King's Lynn's historic trading centres is the Tuesday Marketplace. This large square used to be the centre of medieval life in the town. It was the site for many public executions, including hangings, and witch burnings. Some unlucky criminals were even boiled to death! The Tuesday Marketplace is also lined with many historic buildings. The most notable is the Corn Exchange, with its recognisable columns. While it was unsurprisingly built for the exchange of corn, today the building is an entertainment venue, which hosts everything from classical music, to contemporary comedy.

Buildings around the Tuesday Marketplace

King's Lynn Corn Exchange

St Nicholas Chapel, near the Tuesday Marketplace.
Every February, the Tuesday Marketplace is home to "King's Lynn Mart", a traditional funfair. Since it's usually the first fair of the year, the mart often features several brand new rides. Of course, the fair also brings along all the old favourites, as well as more side stalls and candy floss stands than you can count.
Just to the west of both marketplaces is the River Great Ouse, which was used to transport goods. You can still see some of the old warehouses on its banks. One in particular, called the Green Quay, is filled with exhibits about the local waterways, and their wildlife.

Green Quay

Did You Know?

A ferry has been carrying passengers to West Lynn for over 700 years and is still used today by commuters and shoppers. Little has changed with this service over the 700 years, with the exception of safety; in 1796 for example, 22 of the 30 passengers drowned when the ferry hit a barge.
Another local landmark is a 17th century building called Customs House. It carries that name because it was used by Customs and Excise, all the way up until 1989. More recently, it has been converted into the town's tourist information centre. Inside, you'll find plenty of information on the town, and some famous residents from its past. King's Lynn's most famous son is George Vancouver, a Captain in the Navy. He was an explorer in the 18th century, and played an important part in the mapping of the Northwest coast of the Americas. The city of Vancouver was named after him, which has since become the largest settlement in western Canada.

The statue of George Vancouver in front of the Customs House

Park Walk

The Walks is a park in the heart of King's Lynn that was established during the 18th century as an open space to relax and go for a stroll. It still serves this function today and is a lovely green space, with pond, streams and various structures. Its a great place for a picnic or a game of cricket in summer!
Visitor Information
King's Lynn Tourist Information Centre, The Custom House, Purfleet Quay, King's Lynn, PE30 1HP. Tel: 01553 763044
Car-parking can be found at the St James multi-storey (follow signs). The tourist information centre can be found inside the Customs House.
Lynn Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm. Entry costs around £3.50 for adults, £2 for children. Market St, Kings Lynn, PE30 1NL. Tel: 01553 775 001

Back ~ Top ~ Home ~ Index

Pocket Britain is optimised for use on a smartphone or tablet with internet access. All content is subject to copyright. All reasonable methods have been used to ensure information supplied is accurate at the time of publication. However, it is advisable to check information before relying on it. Privacy Policy