UK Genealogy Archives logo

Kings Lynn, Norfolk

Historical Description

Lynn, King's Lynn, or Lynn Regis, a parliamentary and municipal borough, a market-town, a seaport in Norfolk, and the head of a union and county court district. The town stands on the right bank of the river Ouse, at the junction of the Nar navigation, 2 miles S of the SE extremity of the Wash, 98¼ miles from London by road and 99 by rail, 26½ N from Ely, and 48½ W by N from Norwich. It is an important terminus of the G.E.R., G.N.R., M.R., and Midland and Great Northern Joint railway, by which it has communication with all parts of the kingdom. Camden derives its name from the Celtic word Ilyn, signifying "a pool" or "an-expanse of water," but Spelman derives it from the Saxon lean, signifying "a tenure in fee." The name occurs in Domesday book as Leen and Lena. The town, at the time of the Norman Conquest, was already a port, with considerable customs and many salt-works; it belonged then, and had belonged previously, to certain bishops; it continued till the time of Henry VIIL to be under the peculiar jurisdiction, both temporal and spiritual, of the bishops of Norwich; and it was known during that period as Lynn Episcopi or Bishops Lynn. It was early and long a great resort of Hollanders, Flemings, and others from the Continental shores of the North Sea, and in the time of Richard I. it was much frequented by Jews and had a good trade. Louis the Dauphin took it in 1216. King John re-took it, chartered it, returned to it for the purpose of removing his treasures when they were endangered by France, and, leaving it to cross the Wash, was overtaken there by the tide, losing all his baggage and very nearly his life. Henry III. deprived it of its liberties on the ground of alleged sedition, but afterwards restored them on becoming convinced of its loyalty. It was visited by Edward III. in 1430, and it had a mint in his time, and sent nineteen ships to the fleet against France. Edward IVi visited it in 1470-71, on his way to and from Flanders, and, lodged at Eed Mount. Henry VII. visited it in 1498, and lodged in the Augustinian friary. Henry VIIL renewed its charter and changed its name to Lynn Eegis or King's Lynn. Mary, the sister of Henry VIII., visited it in 1528, and Queen Elizabeth in 1576. The plague devastated it in 1585,1598, 1624, 1635, 1636, and 1666. A Dutch Protestant called George Vanparre was burnt in it in 1551, and many persons charged with witchcraft were burnt in it in the 16th and the 17th centuries. A rascally witch-finder named Hopkins was patronized by the magistrates, and being paid a certain sum for every woman whom he declared to be a witch, he was at small loss to find victims. The town declared for Charles I. in the Civil Wars; was garrisoned with 5000 men in his cause; stood a siege of twenty-nine days, in the autumn of 1643, by a force of about 18,000 under the Earl of Manchester; surrendered at the end of that period; and was garrisoned for the Parliament thence to the conclusion of the war. John Capegrave, a Provincial of the Austin friars who-flourished during the reign of Henry VI., author of a "Chronicle of England;" Geoffrey the grammarian, a Dominican friar who compiled the first English and Latin dictionary which was ever printed; Nicholas of Lynn, a Carmellite or Franciscan who is said to have undertaken in 1330 the first expedition to the Polar regions; William Sautre or Sauter, a Wickliffite who was burnt at Smithfield in 1401; William Gale, an eminent Augustinian, who died in 1507; Sir Benjamin Keene, an ambassador, who died in 1757; Frances Bumey, the novelist; and Dr C. Burney, son of the historian of music, were natives. Marquis Townshend takes from Lynn the title of Baron.

The town was granted a charter by King John, and it has had eighteen other charters since, granted during the reigns of Henry III., Edward I., Edward II., Edward III., Henry V., Henry VIII., Edward VI., Mary, James I., Charles II., and George II. It is now governed by a corporation consisting of a mayor, 6 aldermen, and 18 councillors, who also act as the urban sanitary authority. The municipal borough consists of the parishes of St Margaret and All Saints, or South Lynn, and it is divided into the North, South, and Middle Wards. The parliamentary borough is co-extensive with the municipal borough. Lynn sent two members to Parliament from the time of Edward I. until the passing of the Eedistributlon of Seats Act, 1885, when the number was reduced to one. The area of the borough is 3061 acres; population, 18,360. The area of St Margaret's parish is 672 acres; population, 12,713; of South Lynn, 2389 acres; population, 5647. Of the ecclesiastical parishes, that of North Lynn, St Edmund with St Margaret and St Nicholas, has a population of 7855; St John the Evangelist, 3794; All Saints, South Lynn, 5647. The tract of country to the W of the town, and across the head of the Wash, is an alluvial flat; but the tract to the E rises in gentle eminences, and is; interspersed with villas and plantations. The town is about 1½ mile long and more than half a mile broad, and is encompassed on the land side by a deep wet fosse, formerly defended by a strong embattled wall with nine bastions. Extensive ruins of the wall still exist, and the S gate of it, a fine tower with a lofty pointed archway for carriages and two smaller ones for foot-passengers, still stands. An octagonal tower called the Bed Mount, used formerly for both military and ecclesiastical purposes, is near the fosse on the E side of the town. The streets for the most part, though clean and well-paved, are narrow. Great modom improvements, however, have been made. New streets, comparatively spacious, have been formed; old streets have been widened; and many large and handsome houses have been built. West Lynn, on the left bank of the Ouse, is a suburb, and communicates with the town by a ferry. Gay-wood also is suburban, and includes Highgate and Albion Place. Public walks, margined with trees and shrubs, are near the London Koad, and one of them-in form of an avenue shaded with lofty lime and chestnut trees-extends from Gnanock Terrace to the Ked Mount, and goes thence, along the inner bank of the dilapidated town walls, as far as the railway station. There is a bridge 25 feet wide and 500 in length between the abutments, constructed of wrought-iron lattice girders supported upon four piers, which crosses the Ouse and connects Lynn with West Lynn. It was built by the Ouse Outfall Commissioners at a cost of £20,000, and was opened for traffic in 1873. The town has a plentiful supply of water drawn from a stream at Gayston and Grim-ston, the waterworks being the property of the corporation. The Tuesday market-place comprises an area of 3 acres; is surrounded by large handsome houses, inns, and shops; serves for meat, poultry, and fish market; had formerly, in the centre, an elegant market cross, and has now there a handsome pillar, [combining gas-lamp and public fountain. The market-house and corn exchange are here, and the former was erected in 1830, at a cost of £3800; the latter in 1854, at a cost of £2450. The Saturday market-place is at the end of High Street furthest from the Tuesday market-place, and serves for butchers and others. The Guildhall, formerly the hall of the Trinity Guild, is here, has a chequered front of flint and stone, Gothic windows, and includes under its roof assembly rooms, with an elegant apartment 87 feet long, 22 wide, and 22 high. The council and magistrates' rooms adjoin the Guildhall, are adorned with many fine paintings, and contain the red register of Lynn, which contains 150 leaves, dates from 1309, and is one of the oldest paper books in existence. Other civic treasures are an ancient State sword, an elaborately-chased covered cup of silver weighing 73 ounces; four silver-gilt maces, which are carried before the mayor on all State occasions, and some silver chains. The Custom-house on Purfleet Quay was erected in 1683. It occupies the site of a religious house formerly belonging to the Trinity Guild, and is in a mixed Greek style, with curious pyramidal roof, surmounted by a small open turret terminating in a pinnacle at a height of 90 feet; and has over the entrance a statue of Charles II. The Athenaeum, in Baxter's Plain, in the centre of the town, was erected in 1854; is an extensive ornamental brick structure; contains a fine hall, 84 feet long and 42 wide, for concerts, lectures, exhibitions, and public meetings; and includes a museum with a large collection of ornithological specimens. The principal portion of the building, however, which is private property, is used as a post office. The Stanley Library, formerly kept in the Athenaeum, now occupies a building in St James' Road, which was erected in 1883, and presented to the town by the late Earl of Derby, K.G. St Margaret's Church Library, which includes some manuscripts of the 13th and 14th centuries, is also preserved here. The theatre in St James' Street is a large edifice of brick belonging in part to the corporation and partly to other shareholders. The public baths on Common Staith Quay were constructed in 1856, are formed of brick, and have very convenient fittings, with hot and cold, salt and fresh, and shower and swimming baths. The pilot office, on the same quay, was erected in 1863, and is a red brick building with an octagonal tower 50 feet high. The county court-house, on the east side of the London Road, was built in 1861, and is an edifice of brick in the Italian style. The workhouse in Exton's Road is a large building of brick; includes a chapel and an infirmary; has accommodation for about 450 inmates, and was erected in 1856 at a cost of over £12,000.

A fine hexagonal tower, 90 feet high, supported by groined arches, stands near St James' Street; belonged to the church of a Grey friary founded in 1264 by Thomas de Feltsham, and serves now as a landmark. A curious cruciform Lady's chapel stands at Eed Mount; was built about 1482; and comprises a crypt with ban-el vault, a pilgrims' and priests' house, a massive octagon of brick, 26 feet in diameter; and a chapel proper, 17½ feet long, 14 wide, and 13 high, with fan tracery roof. The gate of the Augustinian friary, which was founded in the time of Edward I., and where Henry VII. lodged in 1498, is still standing. Some walls of a Black priory, founded about 1272 by T. Gedney, also are standing. The gate of a Carmelite friary founded by Lord Bardolph, and a gate of a college founded about 1500 byThoresby, likewise are standing, and show Later English features. Another ancient monastery, an ancient hospital of St John, and four I ancient lazar hospitals have entirely disappeared. The parish church of St Margaret was founded in 1100 by Bishop Herbert de Lozinga as the church of a Benedictine priory subordinate to Norwich; is an imposing cruciform pile of freestone in the Early English, Early Decorated, and Perpendicular styles; comprises chancel with chapels, nave, aisles, and two substantial western towers, 86 feet high. There is a fine peal of ten bells. It contains no fewer than seventy windows, is 240 feet in length and 132 wide; contains some exquisitely carved stalls and misereres, an Elizabethan pulpit, an elaborate screen, several ancient memorials, and two fine brasses of Flemish make, which are reputed to be among the largest in England. St Nicholas Church, now a chapel of ease to St Margaret's, stands in St Ann's Street, is chiefly in the Perpendicular style; measures 200 feet by 78; was restored in 1853; has a tower with some 13th century work, surmounted by a new and handsome spire; and contains an elaborately carved oak roof, some ancient sediliae, and a finely worked font of 1627, placed on a pyramidal flight of steps. The living is a vicarage, annexed to the rectory of North Lynn, in the diocese of Norwich; net value, £285 with residence. Patrons, the Dean and Chapter of Norwich. The ecclesiastical district of St John the Evangelist was formed in 1846 out of the parish of St Margaret's. The living is a vicarage of the gross value of £200 with residence, in the gift of the Bishop of Norwich. The church, which stands in Blackfriars' Road, was built in 1846 at a cost of about £5000, is of stone in the Early English style, and was repaired in 1889-90. The living of the parish of South Lynn is a rectory of the net value of £262 with residence, in the gift of the Bishop of Norwich. The church of All Saints is an ancient cruciform building of flint and stone in the Decorated style, was restored in 1887. It had formerly a western tower, which fell in 1763. The Congregational chapel in New Conduit Street was built in 1838, at a cost of about £3000, and is a handsome edifice. The Union Baptist chapel in Paradise Road was built in 1859, at a cost of £3000; is a cruciform edifice in the Early English style, and has a small turret. Another Baptist chapel in Blackfriars' Road is a neat edifice of 1841, erected at a cost of £2000. There are three Wesleyan chapels, the oldest being that in Tower Street, which was built in 1812, at a cost of £4500, and is large and ornamental. The others are smaller buildings of more recent date. The Primitive Methodist chapel in London Road was built in 1857, at a cost of about £2000, and is a brick structure in the Italian style. The New Connexion Methodist chapel in Eailway Road was rebuilt in 1893. The Roman Catholic chapel in London Road was built in 1844, at a cost of £2500, from a design by A. L. Welby Pugin, Esq., was enlarged in 1852 by addition of an aisle, and is in the Early English style. There are also Primitive Methodist chapels at Highgate and North-End, a Unitarian chapel in Broad Street, a Friends' meetinghouse, and a Salvation Army barracks. The public cemetery is on the Hardwick Road, occupies about 8 acres, and is neatly laid out.

The Grammar School in St James' Street was founded about 1500 as a college by Thomas Thoresby, was rebuilt in 1825, is under the control of a body of twelve governors, the mayor of Lynn being one ex-offido; has some small exhibitions, and had Eugene Aram as an usher at the time of his apprehension in 1759. There are also British, Roman Catholic, and National elementary schools. St James' Hospital in St James' Road was founded in the 14th century, and rebuilt in 1722; comprises twelve houses and a chapel, and has an endowed income of about £170. Valinger's almshouses in South Lynn Plain were founded in 1811. are for four poor women, and have an income of about £34. Framingham's Hospital in London Road was founded in 1676; is a neat structure of brick with stone dressings; comprises apartments for twelve inmates and a chapel, and has an income of £400. The Wesleyan or Smith's almshouses in St James' Koad were founded in 1822; are for eight aged poor women, and have an income of about £130. Elsden's almshouses in Friars Street were founded in 1842, and have an income of £112. Gaywood almshouses, within Gaywood parish, occupy the site of St Mary Magdalene's Hospital, founded in 1155 by Petrus Capellanus; were rebuilt in 1649; comprise twelve tenements and a chapel in the form of a square, and have an income of about £370. Sugar's almshouses in Goodwins Road, erected and endowed by John Sugar, Esq., in 1887, are for six widows. The West Norfolk and Lynn Hospital stands near the London Road; was erected in 1834 at a cost of more than £3000; was enlarged in 1847 by the addition of two wings; is a neat structure of white brick, and has capacity for fifty-two inmates.

The town, a centre for the farmers and graziers of Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, and Lincolnshire, has a head post office, three banks, several good hotels, is a seat of sessions and a coastguard station, and publishes two weekly newspapers. The principal market is that held on Tuesday for corn and cattle, and another market for meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, and fruit, is held on Saturday. Cattle fairs are held on the second Tuesday of April and the second Tuesday of Nov., the former being chiefly for sheep, of which nearly 30,000 are sometimes penned. A pleasure fair called the Mart commences on St Valentine's Day, and continues for a fortnight, and there was formerly a cheese fair on 17 Oct., but this was abolished in 1878. Although it can hardly be regarded as a seat of manufactures, there are important agricultural implement and engineering works, corn mills, malt houses, breweries, seed-crushing establishments, iron and brass foundries, roperies, sail-making, and cork-cutting works, machine makers, millwrights, and coach-builders. Fisheries are carried on for shrimps, cockles, mussels, and whelks, of which immense quantities are despatched to London and the chief towns of the Midland Counties, and also for smelts, cod, and haddocks. From the great facilities which it afforded for inland communication and its convenient and sheltered position on the north-east coast, Lynn was, from an early period, a place of considerable trading importance. It was connected with the Hanse towns of the Baltic, and carried on with them an extensive trade in corn and wine, and at one time its annual shipping revenue was only exceeded by the ports of London, Bristol, Liverpool, and Hull. Its exports are now chiefly corn, wool, quartzose sand, and coprolites, to British ports, and manufactured goods, implements, machinery, and coal to foreign ports. Its imports include heavy tonnages of grain, chiefly barley and maize, timber and deals from the Baltic ports, linseed, cotton-seed, oilcake, and cork. There is also a trade in wine which has existed from the time of Henry III. In former years the space between the town and the open sea was occupied by huge banks of mud and sand, formed by the rapid action of the tide over the oozy bed of the river, and the passage to the harbour was by a narrow and intricate channel. These evils, however, were corrected by the construction of a direct channel, 4 miles long, which was commenced in 1850, and which has resulted in gain of a large tract of land on the right bank of the Ouse, on the side of the town. A new dock, the Alexandria, constructed in 1867-69, at a cost of £80,000, contains a water area of about 6 acres, and is accessible at any high tide to vessels of from 1200 to 1500 tons. An important addition to this was made in 1884 when the Bentinck Dock. 1000 feet long and 400 feet wide, was opened for traffic also. The estate of the King's Lynn Dock and Harbour Company covers an area of about 100 acres, and in addition to the docks already mentioned includes every convenience for the shipment and discharge of cargoes, together with a branch railway which connects the docks with the G.E.R., Midland and Great Northern Joint railway, M.R., G.N.R., and L. & N.W.R. The deep-water harbour, which is situated on one of the widest reaches of the Ouse estuary, is capable of accommodating over 200 vessels. The limits of the port extend from Eau Brink Cut, ' Norfolk, to the Sparrow Gap, the limit of Yarmouth. The fishing boats belonging to the port are distinguished by the letters L. N. The number of vessels registered as belonging to the port in 1895 was 75 (4500 tons). The entries and clearances each average 1100 (210,000 tons) per annum.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyNorfolk 
Poor Law unionLynn 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Church Records, in association with Norfolk Record Office, have images of the Parish Registers for Norfolk online.

Findmypast, in conjunction with Norfolk Record Office have the following parish records online for King\'s Lynn, St Margaret with St Nicholas:


Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Kings Lynn from the following:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Norfolk newspapers online:

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitations of Norfolk 1563, 1589, and 1613 is available on the Heraldry page.