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A couple standing beside the Captain Vancouver Statue on Purfleet Quay, King's Lynn.

20 Historical Figures with Connections to West Norfolk

With history dating back to pre-Roman times, it’s no surprise that west Norfolk has been home to many significant historical figures over the years. From...

With history dating back to pre-Roman times, it’s no surprise that west Norfolk has been home to many significant historical figures over the years. From legendary authors and stage performers to avid explorers and successful innovators, we have compiled a list featuring some of west Norfolk’s most famous (and infamous) connections.

Captain George Vancouver | King’s Lynn

[Born 1757]

King’s Lynn was once home to Captain George Vancouver, the British royal navy officer, navigator and surveyor who completed one of the most challenging surveys ever undertaken.

The English navigator was born in the seaport town on 22nd June 1757. Between 1791 and 1795, he famously explored and charted the northwest pacific coastline from San Diego California to Anchorage Alaska. His legacy lives on today with many locations bearing his name including Vancouver Island, Vancouver River, Mount Vancouver, Vancouver in Washington and the city of Vancouver in British Columbia. Vancouver Quarter, the shopping centre in King’s Lynn, is also named after him!

On the Purfleet Quay in King’s Lynn, you will find a bronze statue of Captain George Vancouver holding a telescope and a scroll. The plinth is made of stone from the Pacific West Coast of Canada.

Frances Burney | King’s Lynn

[1752 – 1760]

Frances Burney, also known as Fanny Burney and Madame d’Arblay, was an English satirical novelist, diarist and playwright.

Burney was the daughter of the celebrated musician and musicologist, Dr. Charles Burney. She was born in King’s Lynn (then Lynn Regis) in 1752 and later moved to London with her family in 1760.

During her lifetime, Burney wrote four novels, eight plays, one biography, and twenty-five volumes of journals and letters. Her first novel, Evelina, was published anonymously in 1778 and was a critical success, considered a landmark in the development of the novel of manners.

Captain Samuel Gurney Cresswell | King’s Lynn

[Born 1827]

Captain Samuel Gurney Cresswell was the first naval officer to cross the entire Northwest Passage. The arctic explorer and artist was born in King’s Lynn on 25th September 1827. During the Arctic expedition in search for the Northwest Passage, Cresswell was appointed the second lieutenant and artist aboard the HMS Investigator under Robert McClure, the Irish naval officer and explorer. Although Robert McClure was in charge of the voyage, Cresswell technically reached England first. Cresswell’s paintings and sketches provide a valuable pictorial record of the Arctic excursion and the activities onboard the HMS Investigator.

The east stain-glass window in King’s Lynn Minster was presented by Cresswell in 1866, a year before he passed away in the historic town.

Frederick Savage | King’s Lynn

[1851 – 1897]

Frederick Savage, the Victorian Fairground Manufacturer, moved to King’s Lynn in 1851 and lived there until his death in 1897. The pioneering engineer invented the system for running fairground carousels using a horizontally mounted steam engine at its core. Starting out as a farm labourer, he later went into the business of agricultural machinery and fairground machinery, producing engines for carousels and merry-go-rounds. Later on in his life, Savage was appointed Justice of Peace and became the Mayor of King’s Lynn from 1889 to 1890.

A monument of the late engineer can be found at the junction of London Road in King’s Lynn. The statue was a part of Banksy’s Great British Spraycation series of artworks in 2021. You will also find fine examples of his work at Lynn Museum including magnificent carved fairground gallopers.

Carved fairground gallopers on display at Lynn Museum, King's Lynn.
Carved fairground gallopers on display at Lynn Museum, King’s Lynn.
The Captain George Vancouver Statue at Purfleet Quay in King's Lynn.
Statue of Captain George Vancouver on the Purfleet Quay, King’s Lynn.

William Shakespeare | King’s Lynn

[1593]

The world famous playwright, poet and actor is believed to have performed in the historic town of King’s Lynn during the late 16th century. Recent academic research by the UEA supports the notion that Shakespeare performed at St. George’s Guildhall in 1593, alongside the Earl of Pembroke’s Men. This was during the time when London playhouses and theatres were closed due to the outbreak of the Bubonic Plague.

St. George’s Guildhall is the oldest working theatre in the UK, with performances dating back to 1442. Robert Armin, Shakespeare’s leading comedy actor, was born in King’s Lynn and performed at the Guildhall. He is credited with all the “licensed fools” including the Fool in ‘King Lear’, Feste in ‘Twelfth Night’, and Touchstone in ‘As You Like It’, among others.

Isabella of France | Castle Rising

[1332 – 1358]

Isabella of France, the daughter of Philip IV of France, was the Queen Consort of King Edward II between 1308 and 1327. Nicknamed the “She-Wolf of France”, Isabella is most famous for leading an invasion of England that resulted in the deposition of King Edward II in January 1327. Their son, Edward III, was crowned king the following month at the age of 14. King Edward II was imprisoned and died in September 1327; many people believed that Isabella was responsible for the murder of her late husband. After her fall from power, she was held under house arrest at Windsor Castle until she was moved to Castle Rising Castle in west Norfolk in 1332. During her stay in Castle Rising, she lived a very regal lifestyle, however it is said that Isabella suffered ‘bouts of madness’. The castle was used as one of Isabella’s main residences until her death in 1358.

Charles Burney | King’s Lynn

[1751 – 1760]

Charles Burney was an English music historian, organist and composer who was the father of writers Frances and Sarah Burney, the classicist Charles Burney, and the explorer James Burney.

At 19 years old, Burney produced music for Thomson’s Alfred at Drury Lane Theatre in London and was later appointed organist at St. Dionis Backchurch in 1749. Due to ill health, he moved to King’s Lynn (then Lynn Regis), where he took a post as an organist at St. Margaret’s Church. Burney lived in King’s Lynn between 1751 and 1760. During this time, his children Susan, Charles and Frances, the famous satirical novelist, was born. The Burney family moved back to London in 1760.

Margery Kempe | King’s Lynn

[Born 1373]

Margery Kempe was born as Margery Burnham (or Brunham) in King’s Lynn around 1373. She was an English Christian mystic and visionary, known for writing in dictation one of the oldest examples of an autobiography written in the English language , known as “The Book of Margery Kempe”. As Kempe was illiterate, she employed an Englishman (who had lived in Germany) as a scribe for the book and later persuaded a priest to rewrite and finish the medieval text. The book details Kempe’s life, her pilgrimages to holy sites and mystical interactions with biblical figures including Jesus and God.

You will be able to find a bench commemorating Margery Kempe on the Saturday Market Place in King’s Lynn, close to the Trinity Guild of King’s Lynn where a “Margueria Kempe”, thought to have been Margery, was admitted.

Inside St. George Guildhall theatre in King's Lynn, West Norfolk.
Inside St. George’s Guildhall in King’s Lynn, where Shakespeare is believed to have performed during the late 16th century.
The exterior of Castle Rising Castle in West Norfolk.
Castle Rising Castle, one of Isabella of France’s main residences between 1332 – 1358.

Robert Walpole | Houghton

[Born 1676]

Robert Walpole is the longest serving Prime Minster in British History and is often viewed as Great Britain’s first prime minister.

Born in Houghton in 1676, Walpole was one of nineteen children to Robert Walpole Senior, a member of the local gentry and a Whig politician who represented the borough of Castle Rising in the House of Commons. Walpole won the seat as MP for Castle Rising, following Walpole Senior’s death in 1701. In 1702, Walpole left this seat to represent King’s Lynn, where he would retain for the remainder of his political career as a representative of the Whig party.

He was later appointed as a member of council to Prince George of Denmark, the Secondary of War and the Treasurer of the Navy between 1705 – 1710.

In 1712, Walpole suffered a setback when the ruling of the Tories tried him for accepting an illegal payment as the Secretary of War. As a result, he was found guilty, expelled from Parliament and was imprisoned in the Tower of London for six months.

The Whig Party regained power in 1714 and by 1721, Walpole was appointed First Lord of the Treasury, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons. He was the First Lord of the Treasury for over twenty years and played an important role of restoring Government credit after the South Sea Bubble financial crisis.

Admiral Lord Nelson | Burnham Thorpe

[Born 1758]

Admiral Lord Nelson, in full ‘Horatio Nelson, Viscount Nelson of the Nile and Burnham Thorpe’, was a British naval commander for the Royal Navy. Born in Burnham Thorpe on 29th September 1758, Nelson was the sixth of eleven children and grew up deeply religious, following the Christian faith throughout his life. His father, Reverend Edmund Nelson, was an English parish priest and records from Burnham Thorpe church suggest that Nelson often assisted him as a child.

At the age of 12, Nelson joined the navy as an apprentice and worked in the lower naval ranks. He was given his own ship and made captain by the age of 20, where he experienced sailing in the West Indies, Baltic and Canada. When Britain entered the French Revolutionary Wars in 1793, Nelson was assigned to the Mediterranean and achieved significant victories against the Spanish at Cape Vincent in 1797 and at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801.

In January 1801, Nelson was promoted to Vice Admiral of the Blue. Four years later whilst commanding the HMS Victory, Nelson died during the Battle of Trafalgar at 47 years old. The Battle of Trafalgar is considered the Royal Navy’s most famous triumph and is commemorated at Trafalgar Square in London, where you will find Nelson’s Column at its centre.

On the playing field at Burnham Thorpe, you will also find a wooden carving of Nelson at the famous Battle of Trafalgar.

Pocahontas | Heacham

[1616 – 1618]

Amonute, nicknamed Pocahontas, is famously known for fostering peace between English colonists and Native Americans during the 17th century. Born around 1596, Pocahontas was a Native American woman and the daughter of Chief Powhatan, the ruler of the Powhatan tribal nation. The Powhatan tribal nation consisted of around 30 Algonquian communities located in the Tidewater region of Virginia.

By the age of 11, Pocahontas became acquainted with colonists who settled in Jamestown in April 1607. She was taken prisoner during the First Anglo-Powhatan War in the spring of 1613. Chief Powhatan was told that Pocahontas would only be returned if he released English prisoners, returned stolen weapons and provided the colonists with food. However, her father only sent half of the ransom and Pocahontas remained imprisoned.

During her time in captivity, Pocahontas lived under the care of Alexander Whitaker and converted to Christianity. She was baptised under the name “Rebecca” and married John Rolfe, an English explorer and tobacco farmer, in 1614. On 30th January 1615, she gave birth to their son, Thomas Rolfe.

In the Spring of 1616, Pocahontas, John Rolfe and their son moved to England. During their stay, they lived in Rolfe’s family home in Heacham for two years and was considered an ‘Indian Princess’ by the English. However, before returning to Virginia, Pocahontas died of unknown causes at the age of 22.

When visiting Heacham, make sure to check out the village sign which includes a figure depicting Lady Rebecca Rolfe (Pocahontas).

Henry L’Estrange Styleman Le Strange | Hunstanton

[1815 – 1862]

Henry L’Estrange Styleman Le Strange was a Victorian entrepreneur born in Snettisham on 25th January 1815. He was the only son of Henry Styleman and Emilia ‘Preedy’ Styleman and is best known for developing (New) Hunstanton into a popular seaside resort.

In 1839-40, Le Strange inherited Hunstanton Hall and 10,000 acres stretching from Wolferton to Thornham. During the mid-19th century, seaside resorts and sea-bathing were becoming very popular with many aristocrats travelling to small fishing villages like Brighton and Blackpool.

Whilst living at Hunstanton Hall, Le Strange decided to develop the southern area of Old Hunstanton as a bathing resort. In 1846, the first building was built on the Green – the New Inn – now called The Golden Lion Hotel. Le Strange also brought a group of investors together to build a railway line from King’s Lynn to Hunstanton. The line was opened in 1862, the same year Le Strange died at the age of 47. The Lynn Hunstanton Railway was a major factor in developing Hunstanton as a seaside resort. Due to fewer passengers using the line, British Rail closed the railway on 5th May 1969.  

On Hunstanton Green, you will find a life-size statue of Henry L’Estrange Styleman Le Strange looking proudly over the Wash.

The exterior of Houghton Hall in West Norfolk.
Houghton Hall was built in 1720’s for Great Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole.
A figure depicting Pocahontas on the village sign for Heacham.
A figure depicting Pocahontas on the village sign for Heacham.

St. Edmund | Hunstanton

[855 – 869 A.D]

St. Edmund, also known as Edmund the Martyr and Edmund of East Anglia, was the first patron saint of England and is considered Hunstanton’s most famous visitor.

Edmund was born into the Wuffing family who had ruled East Anglia for over 200 years. After spending his childhood living in Saxony (northern Germany), Edmund set sail to East Anglia and landed in Hunstanton in 855 A.D. to claim his throne. Edmund was crowned King of Northfolk (Norfolk) in 855 A.D. and King of Southfolk (Suffolk) the following year. At his coronation on Christmas Day 855 A.D, 14 year old Edmund took an oath to protect his people from any threat from neighbouring kingdoms.

In 865 A.D., the Vikings arrived in the north of England. Lead by Ivarr the Boneless, the Vikings brought their Great Heathen Army to East Anglia and engaged in an enormous battle with Edmund’s forces in 869 A.D. The Vikings demanded Edmund to renounce his religion and rule under Viking Law. Edmund refused to do this but to save his kingdom from further suffering, he surrendered to the Vikings. As a result, the Vikings whipped and beat him, tied him to a great oak tree and used his back for target practice. On 20th November 869 A.D., Edmund was beheaded. His head was discarded in a nearby forest, hidden amongst the undergrowth. Edmund’s body was later found by his followers, all arrow wounds upon Edmund’s undecayed body had healed and his head was reattached.

Edmund was eventually buried in Bedricsworth (now Bury St. Edmunds) where a religious community was founded, and St. Edmund was adopted as the Patron Saint of England.

In Hunstanton, you can follow the Wolf Trail to trace the story of St. Edmund and visit the ruins of St. Edmund’s Chapel, which was built in memory of St. Edmund in 1272.

King Edward VII | Sandringham

[1863 – 1910]

Edward VII, the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, was the Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne for 60 years. Following the premature death of his father, Prince Edward visited Sandringham Hall and purchased the property in October 1862. The Prince moved into the old Hall with his new wife, Princess Alexandra of Denmark, in March 1863. However, the Old Hall was deemed unsuitable for their growing family and was demolished in 1865. By 1870, Sandringham Hall was rebuilt into its current red brick form. A ballroom and additional guest and staff accommodation was later added.

Prince Edward succeeded the throne on 22nd January 1901, on the death of his mother Queen Victoria. Sandringham Gardens were first opened to the public in 1908 by King Edward VII. Following his death in 1910, Sandringham Estate was passed on to his son, George V, who opened the Museum in 1930. The late queen, Elizabeth II, opened Sandringham House to the public in 1977 during her Silver jubilee year.

Frank Winnold Prentice | Downham Market

[Born 1889]

Frank Winnold Prentice was a British merchant seaman and the Assistant Storekeeper on the RMS Titanic, a luxury passenger liner which sank on 15th April 1912. Prentice was born in Downham Market to Henry “Harry” Frank Warner Prentice and Elizabeth Sherwood. On 10th April 1912, he boarded the RMS Titanic and was in his berth on the port side of E deck when the ship struck the iceberg four days later. Shortly after the collision, Prentice assisted in the loading of the lifeboats, helping women and children reach safety.  By 2:05am on 14th April 1912, all lifeboats had left the RMS Titanic. Prentice and three men decided to jump from the vessel before it sank. They climbed over the Titanic’s railing and fell 100ft into the icy waters of the North Atlantic. Prentice survived the fall and eventually reached Lifeboat 4, where occupants helped pull him aboard. Lifeboat 4 was later picked up by the rescue ship RMS Carpathia at 8:00am, which arrived in New York on 18th April 1912.

Prentice passed away on 19th May 1982 in Bournemouth, Dorset. At the time of his death, he was the second to last surviving crewmember of RMS Titanic.

Eugene Aram | King’s Lynn

[1758]

Eugene Aram was an English philologist who moved from Yorkshire to King’s Lynn in 1758. He was appointed as the new usher (second schoolmaster) for King’s Lynn Grammar School.

Little did they know that their new usher was hiding a very dark secret. In Knaresborough, Daniel Clark, a local shoemaker, was missing. Witnesses claimed that Aram was the last person seen with Clark and shortly after his move to King’s Lynn, a workman uncovered a skeleton thought to be that of Clark. Accusations from his friend Richard Houseman and circumstantial evidence was building up against Aram, and as a result, he was tracked down at King’s Lynn Grammar School and arrested in August 1758. Aram was sent to Tyburn Prison in York and after a three day trial, was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.

In 1993, Aram’s skull was returned to King’s Lynn and gifted to Stories of Lynn Museum by the Royal College of Surgeons. Visitors can see the skull on display beside a skull fragment believed to be from his victim, Daniel Clark.

The wolf statue in front of Old Hunstanton Lighthouse in Hunstanton, West Norfolk.
The Hunstanton Wolf Trail which tells the story of St. Edmund, the first patron saint of England.
The exterior of Sandringham House in West Norfolk.
Sandringham House, the royal residence of King Edward VII and Princess Alexandra of Denmark.

George William Manby | Denver

[Born 1765]

George William Manby, the famous inventor and author, was born in the village of Denver on 28th November 1765. His father was Captain Matthew Pepper Manby, the lord of the manor of Wood Hall in Hilgay. In 1813, Manby invented and patented the “Extinctuer”, the first ever portable pressurised fire extinguisher. The Extinctuer consisted of a copper vessel of 3 gallons of pearl ash (potassium carbonate) solution contained within compressed air. Manby also invented the Manby Mortar, a lifesaving device that prevented shipwrecks.

Peter Hellendaal | King’s Lynn

[1760 – 1762]

Pieter Hellendaal was a Dutch composer, organist and violist who performed in King’s Lynn between 1760 and 1762.

Hellendaal was born in Rotterdam in the Netherlands on 1st April 1721. His father, Johannas Hellendaal, worked with amateur musicians and provided Pieter with a passion for music, educating him about the organ and violin.

At 10 years old, Hellendaal was appointed as the organist at St. Nicholas Church in Utrecht. By 1752, he had married, started a family and moved to England to establish himself as a professional composer and violin soloist. However, he was unable to secure a steady income as a musician in London and worked as an organist for St. Margaret’s Church (also known as King’s Lynn Minster) from 1760 – 1762.

Mrs Bernard Beere | King’s Lynn

[Born 1851]

Mrs Bernard Beere, also known as Fanny Bernard-Beere, was a well-known Victorian actress born in King’s Lynn in 1851. At 26 years old, she made her stage debut at Opera Comique and performed in many plays including Shakespeare’s Othello at St. James’s Theatre and Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance at Haymarket Theatre.  

Thomas Cromwell | King’s Lynn

[1610/11]

Thomas Cromwell was an English Member of Parliament during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. After his retirement, Cromwell resided in King’s Lynn up until his death in 1610/11. The parliamentary diarist documented proceedings in the House of Commons and his work has become a valuable source for historians.

Please note that the information provided on this webpage was up-to-date on the date and time it was published [01/09/2023 at 14:00]. Details may have changed after this time and date.

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