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.
Watch our “Visit West Norfolk” short film for a visually rich idea of many of the historic places to see in the region, including a good selection of places to visit in King’s Lynn, as seen in the first half of the film below.
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.
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.
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.