History

King’s Lynn: wealthy and well-connected

A landscape of King's Lynn

I had seen examples of Shared Learning Projects (SLPs) in the ‘Sources’ magazine that comes with Third Age Matters.  So following a training day for Trustees (committee members), which also promoted these projects, I thought if these other U3A’s can do this, then so can King’s Lynn!  Also from the national data lists of U3As who had produced SLPs I could find nothing recorded at that time from Norfolk.

The first step was to ask for support from our committee, which was given and three committee members volunteered to help with setting up the project.  The next decision was to find a local organisation interested and willing to work with us.  The College of West Anglia didn’t have anything in mind that they wanted our help with so I decided to approach Dr Paul Richards, a local historian and Trustee of Marriott’s Warehouse Trust and True’s Yard in King’s Lynn to find out if there was any way we could work with either of these local charities who promote knowledge of King’s Lynn’s history.

Dr Richards was interested in the idea and told me that there were several topic areas they had not had time to investigate and that Marriott’s Warehouse Trust would welcome our input.  Our aim was to produce research and related work to be exhibited and we were offered the opportunity to hold an exhibition at Marriott’s Warehouse to be in place for the Hanseatic Festival 2017.  The Trust would provide a meeting room for us and help us with resources and guidance.

The choices of topic were whaling, ships and ship building and imports and exports in Lynn during the 18th and 19th centuries.  All our members were invited to choose one of these and the final result was a majority in favour of finding out more about imports and exports through our port.  The project was launched on April 15th 2016 and we met on the second floor of Marriott’s Warehouse.

I had invited Jennifer Simpson, the Shared Learning Co-ordinator for the East of England region to come to the launch and she was able to talk to us about SLPs and describe the exciting learning opportunities they represent.  Following this Paul gave us an introductory talk about imports and exports during the 18th and 19th centuries and the various ways our research could go.  Our imaginations were fired as we realised how much there was to discover about the history of our town during those two centuries of unprecedented change and development.

During the eighteenth century the Enlightenment culminated in the French and American revolutions and further afield James Cook discovered Australia.  At home it was the start of the Georgian period of history and during this time some great social and political changes began to happen.  Robert Walpole became the first Prime Minister of Great Britain, Richard Arkwright built the world’s first water powered mill and Methodism started in England led by Charles and John Wesley.

The nineteenth century was marked by the collapse of the Spanish, Napoleonic, Holy Roman and Mughal empires, and the expansion of other empires including that of Britain.  At the end of the Napoleonic Wars the British Empire grew rapidly and by the end of the century it controlled one fifth of the world’s land and one quarter of its population.  During the Pax Britannica, which followed the Napoleonic era there was unprecedented expansion of industrialisation and economic growth through trade with the empire.

We were to discover how King’s Lynn contributed to and was affected by these great developments.

During the fourteenth century Bishop’s Lynn (not King’s Lynn until the sixteenth century) ranked as England’s most important port.  Salt, wool and grain were the major exports while imports included  timber from Scandinavia, pitch, fish and iron.  The Hanseatic League of merchants from north Germany had great trading links with Lynn which underpinned the town’s development.  During the late seventeenth century there were thriving and prosperous merchants trading in wine from Spain, Portugal and France.

After the fens were drained during the mid seventeenth century they were turned into farmland and their products exported to the growing population in London.  Fishing, ship building and glass manufacture were also important industries.  Coastal trade was significant as it was cheaper to transport goods by water than land and large quantities of coal were imported into King’s Lynn from north east England.

The port continued to be important during the nineteenth century and two new docks were opened, the Alexandra and the Bentinck.

Our U3A’s first task was to chart our ideas and we began to move into smaller groups according to particular interests.  There was a really wide choice of what we could do and some members fairly quickly identified where their interest lay and some (myself included) took longer to settle on a particular aspect.  Initially the aim was to complete the work within six months from the starting date in April 2016 but in reality we had longer and most people had finished by Christmas of that year.

The town’s archives were still held in Norwich and some members visited County Hall in Norwich to access them.  Locally we had the public libraries, the library at True’s Yard, the archive office in the Town Hall and the town museum.  Dr Richards was helpful with recommending books and also lending some of his own.  Merchant houses were visited and connections followed up in the Minster, St. Nicholas Chapel and their cemeteries.

From the outset I wanted to include other U3A groups in the project and gradually some groups who could contribute produced some excellent work which can be seen at the exhibition in Marriotts Warehouse.   Book Group 1, Stitchery, Creative Writing and the Art group were all involved and their contributions greatly enhanced the research.  The Book Group researched the work of Fanny Burney who lived for a time in King’s Lynn and whose novels were exported to Europe.

Rebecca Rees, the project manager for Marriotts, was to display all the work ready for the Hanse Festival on the 20th and 21st May.  Rebecca, who works part-time at Marriotts and True’s Yard, was under a lot of pressure and there was a real risk that our exhibition would have to be postponed.  Fortunately SLP and committee members rallied to help her display all the work and the exhibition was ready in time.

In August 201 the SLP group met with Dr Richards and Rebecca to decide how the exhibited work could be used.  It will be on display until Christmas at Marriott’s Warehouse and after that there are several possibilities to further publicise it.   It could be taken to other local U3As who might be interested in finding out how to set up a Shared Learning Project.  Dr Richards suggested that we approach St Nicholas Chapel, a significant historic building and the largest parochial chapel in the country.  They might want to display it there next spring around the time of the 2018 Hanse Festival.  Another suggestion was that the museum in King’s Lynn could be invited to display it.

Dr Richards requested that an article about the exhibition should be sent to the King’s Lynn Magazine under the auspices of Marriott’s Warehouse Trust and I volunteered to write this.

At the launch of the exhibition Rebecca had produced a leaflet ‘King’s Lynn Merchants Houses in the 18th and 19th centuries’ and these were available not only at the exhibition but also at the Tourist Office and True’s Yard.  They were popular with visitors to the town and SLP members thought that it would be a good idea to produce more leaflets related to the different topics members had researched.

At the launch of the exhibition Rebecca had produced some of the research into merchant’s houses in a Merchant’s Trail pamphlet and these were available at True’s Yard and also the Tourist Office for visitors to the town to use.  They were popular with tourists and the group decided that pamphlets related to the different topics members had researched could be sold and would be a better option than a book as they would be more affordable and people could choose the topics that they were most interested in.  Photocopies of the art and stitchery work to be included with the texts.

I hope that in the future our U3A will work on another SLP – we have so much locally that could be discovered, about our environment and our society both historic and present.