Discover the stories and places that tell the fascinating maritime history of King’s Lynn. Download the guide here. 

Explore the rich medieval heritage of King’s Lynn by following the Pilgrimage Trail. Download the guide here. 

King’s Lynn has a long and illustrious maritime history, including the only surviving Hanseatic warehouse in England just off the Saturday Market Place. In 2005 the town became the only English member of the New Hanseatic League, whose 177 members include Hamburg and Lübeck, with the aim of developing business links and promoting culture, heritage and tourism between member towns and cities.

Discover the fascinating history of key Hanseatic sites by following the Hanseatic Trail. Download the guide here 

Art, Cities & Landscape Partnership
The Maison de la Culture d’Amiens and the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk are working in partnership to develop their cultural, natural and built heritage through the landscaping, architectural, and artistic efforts of French and English artists. This cross border project, funded by the European Commission will bring long-term enhancements to The Hortillonnages in Amiens and to the public realm in King’s Lynn and surrounding area. You can download further information here 

Want to take a guided walk around King’s Lynn? Download the programme here 

King’s Lynn is full of fascinating history, Thanks to Trues Yard, below we explore some of its maritime tales

The Devils Eye

North End families had a rag rug by the fire. This has a red diamond in the centre called ‘the Devil’s Eye.’ This was to ward off the devil. The Devil would look down the chimney see the devils eye, think there was a devil already in the house and then go away. If you were rich you would call for a priest called an exorcist.



Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink! The people of King’s Lynn used the rivers for disposing of rubbish including sewage. There was very little clean water available and water related illnesses such as Cholera and Typhoid were common.

Unusual Cures

People in King’s Lynn had some unusual ideas to make people better. This was one cure that Northenders tried to make a child better: they would catch a mouse and put it in a bag and tie it around the child’s neck. As the mouse died it was thought that it would take the illness away from the child. On one occasion a midwife found a mummified mouse in a bag.

Keeping Warm

In winter Children would sleep up to nine in a bed. Another way of keeping warm was to sew a child into their clothes during cold months.

The Witch’s Heart

In 1620, a young girl called Mary Smith was accused of being a witch.  Her neighbour claimed that Mary had cursed his wife, causing her to catch a fever and died.  So she was put on trial and found guilty of witchcraft.  Mary spent her last night at the Griffin tavern (Duke’s Head) and was then burnt at the stake in Tuesday Market Place.  As she died, it is said that her heart burst from her chest and landed on the house of the clergyman who accused her.  The image of a heart can still be seen today.

Putrid Punishments

The Tuesday Market Place was used for local punishment, with stocks, whipping post and gallows all situated here.  For nagging wives there was a special punishment called a Scold’s Bridle. This was a metal from that went over the head with a metal piece that went into the mouth pressing on the tongue preventing the wearer from speaking. This was one of the punishments given at the consistory court at St Nicholas Chapel. Quay to the House Fisherman’s wives would often take a key (usually a house key) to the Quay while waiting for their husbands to come back from sea in hope of their safe return.

The Seal who drank the Pub

A North End fisherman called Alf Rake had a orphaned seal as a pet. He would often be taking the seal with him to the Tilden Smith (now the Retreat) and the seal would drink beer from a spittoon.

Superstitious Fishermen

Never carry money at sea,  never say rabbit or pig on a boat – if they had to be mentioned rabbits were called conies and dirty beasts for pigs

Never whistle on a boat – would blow up the wind

Monks, nuns and cross eyed women were omens of bad luck


1. George Vancouver (1757 -98)


Joined the Royal Navy in 1772 at 14 and sailed with Captain Cook on two journeys to the Pacific before appointed Commander of The Discovery to explore the North-West of America.  He surveyed 5000 miles of coast from California north to Alaska.

Captain George was born in what is now New Conduit Street .

2. Horatio Nelson (1758 – 1805)

In 1771 Horatio Nelson set sail with his uncle on HMS Raisonnable when only 12. We know he visited the Lynn Feast at the Town Hall later on with his wife.  He lost his arm on Tenerife and the sight of his right eye in Corsica before the Battle of the Nile in Egypt in 1798 made him famous.  Finally he defeated the combined fleets of the French and Spanish at Trafalgar on 21st October 1805.

3. Samuel Gurney Cresswell (1827 – 67)

Born at Bank House in Lynn and joined the Royal Navy.  He was the first European person to traverse the North West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific around the top of Canada.

4. James Burney

Sailed with Cook and Vancouver around the world and rose to be a rear-admiral. He was the son of Dr Burney who was organist at Lynn Minster (1751 – 60).

5. Nicholas of Lynn (d.1369)

He was a 14th century Franciscan friar in Lynn who made six voyages into the North Atlantic and may have reached America 130 years before Columbus.  He is believed to have had an observatory at the top of the Greyfriars tower.

via Paul Richards 18th March 2013.


True or False?

A lonely Wellington boot is buried underneath this courtyard at Thoresby College.   True— an archaeologist lost them during a dig on the site.  She got stuck in the mud (very boggy as it used to be a river bed), her colleagues pulled her out, but one boot remained stuck and was buried for future archaeologists to puzzle over!

Clifton House Tower.  This 5 storey Elizabethan brick tower was built for a wealthy merchant.  It had several uses including:

  • to look out for his ships
  • to have private supper parties
  • to show how rich he was.

Pirate, Smugglers & Press Gangs

The Custom House


Why didn’t smugglers like this building? The whole purpose of a smuggler was to avoid paying the custom or taxes on goods, which was a crime.  In the 18th century smuggling increased because of the heavy taxes or customs duty on tobacco, brandy etc. William Kemble and Thomas Franklyn were  notorious smugglers, born in King’s Lynn.  Kemble was responsible for operations at sea, while Franklyn organised things on land (he suffered from sea-sickness).   Both men were frequently arrested, but were always set free, because of local support—people either liked the smuggled goods too much or were too frightened of the smugglers and their followers! 

Black Goose Pub—the headquarters of the 18th Century press gangs! (There’s an old archway which it was linked to, opposite the Jobcentre) This is also where the notorious smuggler, Thomas Franklyn, was captured in 1782.  He tried to escape by climbing onto the roof!

St George’s Guildhall

This is the oldest and largest guildhall left in England.  Underneath it is a long undercroft, stretching down to the river.  It was once used by smugglers to bring illegal goods into the town.

Pilot Street

The oldest and longest street in the North End., it was once called Dowse Hill which means Devil’s Hill!  Lots of smugglers used to hang out in the pubs in these streets. Did You Know?  It was also the job of custom officers in the 17th century to look out for ships carrying the plague. They would have to be put into quarantine into the River Nar (separated from everyone else) to stop the disease-spreading!

Press Gangs

occurred throughout history, but were particularly prevalent in the late 1700s to early 1800s, during wartime. There are lots of tales about how press gangs operated: a man in the street would first be asked to volunteer and if he refused he was often plied with alcohol or simply knocked out and taken. They only wanted skilled men and the North End and King’s Lynn had many skilled sea-faring men.

The Ghost of St Nicholas’ Chapel

In the 1700s, a ghostly figure used to be seen walking through the Chapel grounds every night. It wore a long, dark cloak.  The ghostly white figure seen walking through St Nicholas’ Chapel grounds was actually a woman taking food and drink to her husband.  He was hiding from the press-gang in one of the tombs!

For more information on the History of King’s Lynn, visit and Visit West Norfolk