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The yellow, orange and beige Tudor style buildings down Nelson Street, King's Lynn.

History of King’s Lynn

King’s Lynn, originally known as ‘Lin’, is thought to have derived its name from the Celtic word for a lake or pool, and it is recorded that a large tidal lake originally covered this area.

In 1101 Bishop Herbert de Losinga of Thetford began the first Medieval town between the Purfleet and Mill Fleet by building St. Margaret’s Church (now King’s Lynn Minster) and authorising a market. A small prosperous town grew up quite quickly and, in 1204, following a charter from Bishop John de Grey of Norwich, the town became Bishop’s Lynn (Lenne Episcopi).

Trade built up along the waterways that stretched inland from Lynn, and the town expanded and quickly filled the space between the two rivers, Millfleet to the south and Purfleet to the north.

The History & Heritage of King’s Lynn

By the late 12th century, a further period of expansion began, more deliberately planned than the first, with wider straighter streets and a much larger market place – this is the second Medieval town between the Purfleet and Gaywood River or Fisher Fleet.

Bishop’s Lynn grew rich on trade, both within Britain and abroad. The Hanseatic League, a powerful German trading organisation made up of merchants from North Germany and neighbouring countries around the Baltic Sea contributed greatly to this prosperity. The legacy of trade can be found in the many merchant houses and other fascinating buildings in this medieval port.

The Grade 1 listed St George’s Guildhall is Britain’s oldest working theatre, with performances since 1445. Recent academic research supports local tradition that Shakespeare performed at the Guildhall in 1593, and Shakespeare’s comedian Robert Armin was born in King’s Lynn. Exciting current plans for St George’s Guildhall set out how the theatre and surrounding site will be renovated into a welcoming and accessible space of great international appeal in the near future, though remains open to offer a variety of forthcoming events and performances.

After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, Lynn changed it name to Lynn Regis – subsequently King’s Lynn – remaining an active port to this day.

A couple standing in front of The Custom House and Captain Vancouver Statue at Purfleet Quay, King's Lynn. From left to right, the man is wearing a green jumper and the woman is wearing a beige cardigan.
Custom House, Purfleet Quay
A daytime shot of St Nicholas Chapel in King's Lynn.
St. Nicholas Chapel, King’s Lynn
A daytime shot of Alive Corn Exchange in King's Lynn.
Alive Corn Exchange, King’s Lynn

A daytime shot of King's Lynn Minster in the sunshine.
King’s Lynn Minster

The town has so many fascinating secrets to discover – the Robinson Cruso family have a ledger stone in St. Nicholas Chapel, which is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays in the summer; the unique tide clock on the King’s Lynn Minster (St Margaret’s Church), and the opportunity to see three different ‘clocks’ on the Saturday Market Place; and the carving of the ‘witch’s heart’ on one of the buildings in the magnificent Georgian Tuesday Market Place, one of England’s grandest town squares which also houses the Alive Corn Exchange, now a thriving concert hall.

King’s Lynn is brimful with historic buildings, streets and courtyards. One of England’s most important ports since the 12th Century, King’s Lynn’s maritime past is featured throughout the town, with fine old merchants’ houses stretching down to the river between cobbled lanes, and the elegant Custom House overlooking the original medieval harbour.

For a digital tour of King’s Lynn’s history, visit the external “Time Machine King’s Lynn” website and visually explore the town’s rich heritage and timeline.

The Where to Stay in West Norfolk publication for 2022.

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Discover more about King’s Lynn

The Where to Stay in West Norfolk publication for 2022.

Hanseatic King’s Lynn

Explore the town’s historic streets and rich heritage. Why not discover the fascinating Hanseatic history on foot with the Hanseatic Trail…
The Where to Stay in West Norfolk publication for 2022.

Guided Walks

Fine houses, medieval churches and guildhalls, secret courtyards and hidden alleys remain to be discovered with the King’s Lynn Town Guides.