Many, many times on entering King’s Lynn I have pondered just how many people, local or otherwise, know why King’s Lynn’s urban gateways are proudly branded “King’s Lynn – A Hanseatic Town”.
Recently, King’s Lynn has had a somewhat unfair reputation in my own humble opinion. As a ‘west area officer’ for several years I grew to appreciate the fantastic contrasts in the west of Norfolk, stark beaches, fabulous architecture, ‘big skies’, rolling hills (yes, Norfolk has some hills!) and gorgeous villages. Look below the surface and the town of King’s Lynn itself is packed with heritage, history and culture. One particular part of this heritage hitting the local press today is Hanse House, the only surviving Hansa building in the UK.
Between the 13th and 17th centuries the so called ‘Hanseatic League’ united cities and their guilds in Northern Europe trading largely along the northern coasts of modern Europe, but stretching as far as the Baltic and the North Sea. These cities enjoyed their own legal systems and protection and provided each other with mutual aid.
In addition to the major ‘Kontors’ (trading posts) individual ports had their own warehouses and merchant representatives. There were several of these ‘subsidiary settlements’ in the UK, including Ipswich, Bristol, Boston, Hull, Norwich, Yarmouth and York. Bishop’s Lynn (now King’s Lynn, since King Henry VIII took control of the town in 1537) was one of the latter, and celebrates it’s connections in various ways – in 2009 with it’s first Hanse Festival.
The town is now also part of the modern Hanse, and since 2005 has been actively linking with other historic Hanseatic league settlements in order to promote cross border working and strengthen social, economic and social connections.
The reason that the town’s Hanse House has hit the local headlines is because of a campaign to ‘save’ the building. Dating from 1475, the warehouse was in use by the Hanseatic League until 1751, after which it moved into private possession. In 1970 the building was restored and is currently the home of a County Council register office. Following relocation of the register office in the relatively near future, it has been proposed that the building is sold off. Prince Charles’ visit today will no doubt keep the building’s fate in the news. Time will tell how far the cuts bite into our local heritage.
I hope that somehow the building is retained for local peoples’ use and enjoyment. It is after all a relic of a different King’s Lynn, where even the name of the town was dissimilar. Despite the passage of time however, the town is not completely removed from it’s roots. The docks are still central to the town and many of the landmarks remain in the (dare I say it) ‘historic’ town centre.
I would encourage anyone to take a wander around the town, or even better run around it in the annual Grand East Anglia Run, to discover hidden gems that even many local people are unaware of.
The more we recognise where we’ve come from, the more ideas we can have for the future.