Monday, 31 December 2018

At Old Year's End

As this little speck of sand on which we sit goes round the fading twinkling little light bulb in the ever expanding Universe it has somehow come round to that time of year again. Out with the old and in the new and all that cobblers. The doom sayers say their doom again, like they have for as long as, well, forever, but I guess I'll still  stick around to see what happens next. Until tomorrow  ... Chin up and keep buggering on.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

The Old Junk Shop

When I was young we'd have called this a junk shop but now it's 'antiques' and 'collectables'; so spins the world.

Saturday, 29 December 2018


Horace had the misfortune to encounter the Prince of Wales (not the present droopy muppet, nor yet the even more useless one before him who ran off with his American floozy but the one before that, the habitué of Parisian brothels, him, Albert, I think was his name, do try to keep up)  in Jeypore back in 1876 when the sun never set on the British Empire (as one wit said God didn't trust the British in the dark). Horace sat for a few years in Sandringham before the Royals got bored and fobbed him off to the King's Lynn Museum. So since 1928 Horace has been both scaring and fascinating generations of small, young Lynn folk. And as Margot was one of those youngsters we had to go see him again. He sits in the entrance foyer so it was no trouble. I even bought a postcard.

I've been saying Horace and using masculine pronouns but it turns out Horace is more of a Horatia really. But in these days and in the current climate of political correctness if she wants to identify her herself a he I'm not going to argue. Especially not with a tiger.

Friday, 28 December 2018

Greyfriars Tower

Greyfriars tower was a bell tower for the Franciscan monastery and was built in the 15th century. It is 93 feet  tall in its stockinged feet. I've read that it survived the depredations of Henry VIII as it was a useful navigation aid for shipping on the Great Ouse (St Margaret's and St Nicholas chapel being invisible I suppose). Be that as it may the tower is a rare beast indeed and is the finest example of only three remaining Franciscan towers. Naturally it is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, Grade 1 listed; it is also listing, slightly, towards us in this picture and because of this it is on on English Heritage's Buildings at Risk Register.

This, of course, is the tower that Tower Street refers to; unless there's some other, secret, tower hiding out there.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

One or two odd things on Tower Street

A fox toting a set of bagpipes is not exactly a rarity but one smoking a pipe  ... you don't see that everyday. I believe there was also an elephant in this antique shop's front room.

Across the street on Tower Street

And this is Tower Street but that is not the tower to which it refers. That is the Majestic cinema, built mid 1920s and still going strong.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Awkward Reverence

"From where I stand, the roof looks almost new - 
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't..."
                                                                          Philip Larkin

For those who like church architecture and figuring out all the many phases of a building, St Margaret's offers plenty to get their teeth into. Even I, with my own modest knowledge, can spot the rounded romanesque arches of the nave leading to what I suspect are later gothic arches up in the chancel. Or so I thought but a little learning is a dangerous thing. It turns out the nave was rebuilt in the 1740s (after a spire fell onto it from the north tower!) at the same time as the chancel was also rebuilt; the arches, it turns out, are smoothed off gothic arches! (Who knew such things existed? My ignorance seems to expand with everything I learn...) This place has been altered and extended many times over the years from its origins in 1095 and you can still see bits of the original Norman building at the base of the southern tower (see yesterday's post). All this is all very well but our good friend Sir Gilbert Scott has been here at some point, restored the nave and lowered the floor level which had been raised in the 1740s rebuild. As I say the place has history in spades and I can't do it justice here. If you want more I recommend visiting the church or reading this most informative and richly illustrated guide to the church here.

The Flemish style reredos is by Bodley and dates from 1899.

Some brass and stuff up at the holy end ...

The font dates from the time of Gilbert Scott.

Here's part of the Lynn motif again this time it's the pelican in her piety atop the font cover.

I'm told this is a Henseatic trunk and has not been renovated by Gilbert Scott.

The arms of Charles II hang high above the nave. During the civil war Lynn had been held by Parliamentary forces and thwarted a siege by royalists to take it; had they done so the king may well have kept his head. Funnily enough the forces went off to try to capture Hull and failed. Maybe these arms are a reminder not to be disloyal again.

The organ in the transept dates from 1754

A fairly modern statue, colourful but a bit anodyne.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Moon Clocks and High Tides

High up on the southern tower of St Margaret's is this oddity; a moon phase and tide clock. The writing on the edge says Lynn High Tide, each letter representing an hour. The hour hand is a little green dragon with a cross in his mouth (a Lynn motif). The moon phase appears through a circular hole but as it was new moon on the day I arrived you can't actually see the moon . (But don't you take my word for it here's another view) The clock dates from 1681 and was the gift of one Thomas Tue, clockmaker, churchwarden and one time mayor of King's Lynn. Thank you Thomas.

St Margaret's has undergone much needed repairs and renovations this last year, so I've read. The porch needed fixing as bits might have fallen on someone's head. The new stone is a bit off putting but it'll weather and does show how bright the whole church would have looked when new just six or so hundred years ago. Must have been stunning. (Ignore the little red sign saying "Minster open"; St Margaret's was apparently turned into King's Lynn Minster some years back by the Bishop of Norwich, but, like Holy Trinity in Hull, also recently minsterised, no-one seriously uses the term. Seems you can't overturn centuries of use by episcopal degree)

King's Lynn, like Hull, is prone to flooding. The Wash is just up the river and beyond that the big old North Sea prone to tidal surging every now and then. At the entrance to the church these markers are reminders of high water levels over the years. The renovation has somewhat blurred them but the highest, at nearly four feet, was just back in 1978 but the worst by far for the whole east coast of England was in 1953 when hundreds died. There are lots more flood protection measures in place now and regular exercises to test them, so I've read, let's just hope they work when the next surge comes.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Saturday Market Place

If you feel a little cheated, let down perhaps, by all the build up of yesterday's post then the feeling is mutual. Saturday Market Place is, as they say, nowt much to look at. These were taken on a Saturday and, well, it's just a car park; the market having suffered as have many others from the progress of the online shopping. Still and all the surroundings are pretty spectacular I think you'll agree. On the one side St Margaret's church and on t'other the splendid town hall, Trinity Guildhall and old prison or gaol house ...ça vaut le détour, n'est ce pas?

Entrance to the old prison

A sign advertising the delights inside the Guildhall. We didn't have time to see these. Another time perhaps.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

From Tuesday to Saturday

Right, we are on our way from Tuesday Market Place to Saturday Market Place via High Street. High Street is a medieval thoroughfare, a little over a quarter mile in length, packed with shops and adjacent to the Vancouver shopping centre. Although the picture doesn't show it the whole area was very busy with folk doing their shopping and/or having a good old gossip. The place looks pretty much as when I first saw it in the late 70s. OK Woolworth's has gone and Timothy White's is now Boots but Burton's is still there and the large selection of shops is just as I remember it. I noticed only two or three closed shops, one of them was a fire damaged charity shop. The comparison with Whitefriargate in Hull a similar street which was once the vibrant go-to place in town but is now effectively dead could not be more striking, but let us not dwell ...

I think I found the only broken lamp on High Street.

Some pagan winter festival is about to be celebrated ...

Another of Mr Burton's art deco style shops that grace many a high street up and down the land.

Street names change over the years. Briggate (Bridge Street in modern parlance) sounds better to me but it's not my town so I don't get no say.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Archilenses and Tuesday Market Place

We can't stay in Tuesday Market Place forever as there's lots more to see but before leaving there's just time to show this quirky installation. It called an archilens, there's apparently two of them though to be honest I only saw this one. (The other is by the Ouse and is just about visible in the middle of  this picture. I did not notice until I read up about it) It's pretty clear what it is and what it does ("Glass panels with inlaid magnifying lenses ... which distort and change the images of the Tuesday Market Place and the Ouse, producing new and exciting views.") so I won't go on.

And before we bid a final farewell to Tuesday Market Place a word about this space which serves as a car park for most of the time but from Valentine's Day each year this place is given over to the King's Lynn Mart, a two week funfair which "pulsates with the sound of loud music, screaming youngsters and whirling machines". This is the first fair in the showmen's guild calendar (Hull Fair is the last). This year was the 814th fair and they don't look as if they're going to stop any time soon. Being in February, Mart weather has entered into the local vocabulary as shorthand for nithering with showers of sleet and snow, Hull Fair weather used to be similar (cold, wet and autumnal) but recently climate changes have meant Hull Fair is balmy, almost muggy (Ew!!). Finally , finally there may even be a market held here on Tuesday's ... who knows; I was here on a Saturday.

Friday, 21 December 2018

The Corn Exchange

The corn exchange, on Tuesday Market Place, was built in in 1854 with a fine baroque style façade featuring the town's  crest (below) and topped off with a statue of Ceres or Demeter with a sickle and a bundle of corn (below, below). As I was on an very short stay I had no time to go inside and see the transformation into theatre/cinema community arty place along with compulsory coffee shop.

The crest of King's Lynn features three dragons regurgitating a cross. This is an allusion to the story of the town's patron saint, St Margaret of Antioch, who, as was the custom in those days, was swallowed by a dragon but as she was so holy she was indigestible (holy types often are I find) and so was chucked up to use the vernacular. Atop all this nonsense stands a pelican in her piety. This crest appears all over the town in various guises.

The Victorians, in their pursuit of profit in the exchange, seem to have had no qualms about mixing Christian symbolism with pagan idolatry so why should we?

Thursday, 20 December 2018

The Globe Hotel

Seemingly not shrugging at all old Atlas is still carrying the world on his shoulders. Like the witch's heart Atlas is one of those little things to look out for in King's Lynn. He adorns the Globe Hotel at the junction of King Street and Ferry Street forming a corner of Tuesday Market Place. This is yet another merchant's town house from the early 18th century turned into a hotel. As with the Duke's Head it has been much altered and extended. It is also another of the wannabe designs of Henry Bell though many doubt it. And like the DH the Globe is also haunted, this time with a 'Chill' associated with a murder in the stables many years ago ... or maybe they should just fix the windows.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

The Duke's Head Hotel in Blue

Here's the Duke's Head also on Tuesday Market Place. Now memory is a funny old thing but I distinctly remember this place being pink so a rummage through the dusty depths of Google brought forth a confirmation that back in the late 1970s this was indeed a hideous pink confection, you can see for yourself here. I'm not so sure that the blue is much of an improvement; but as I don't live here I don't have to look at it. The building was the house of a local merchant and MP and built in 1683 supposedly to a design by Henry Bell, he of the Customs House (but the Grade 2 listing doubts this attribution). It has been much altered and added to since then having been a bank at one stage. Being built on the site of a much older hotel and being in King's Lynn it is of course reputedly haunted by spectres from its long past.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

The Witch's Heart

Here is the tale as told to me by reliable and truthful sources who had themselves heard it from equally fine and upstanding folk who ... well you get the idea. Now many years ago, in the 16th century, to be precise 1590, seems as good a year as any, a young woman by the name of Margaret Read was charged with being a witch and sentenced to be burned in the Tuesday Market Place. She must have been a proper witch as burning was three times dearer than a good hanging by the South Gates. Now Margaret didn't think this burning was such a good idea as she had the strange notion that she wasn't a witch at all. So she prophesied that if she was innocent her heart would leap from her body and strike this building and the first person to leave through the doorway would die instantly. Now the good folk of Lynn weren't too impressed by this and weren't going to waste a good pile of wood, (they'd baked cakes and had ale, for a good witch burning was a merry sight) so they went ahead and gave her the full 180°C for twenty minutes per 500g plus twenty minutes at the end. So anyhow you can see how this is tending. As she slowly roasted her heart leapt out across the market place struck this building and then merrily bounced off towards the river and with a splash was never seen again. Whether young Margaret was heard to say " I told you so" was not recorded but just to be sure that no-one forgot her warning the doorway was blocked up and a witch's heart crudely carved into the wall. So now you have my story you can pass it on to others, every word is true I tell you, as true as my name is William Braquemard.

Monday, 17 December 2018

St Nicholas Chapel of Ease

Approaching King's Lynn along the A17 you know you're nearly there when you can see the spire of St Nicholas chapel and the twin towers of St Margaret's on the horizon. (There's also a old concrete silo but that's not quite so attractive). St Nicholas chapel was built as a chapel of ease for the rich merchants and fisher folk of north Lynn as St Margaret's was too small to hold everybody and a bit of walk across town and you don't want to get your Sunday best dirtied by medieval squalor now do you? The building is mainly 15th century with some earlier bits. The lead spire dates from 1869 and is by our good friend Sir Gilbert Scott replacing a wooden one destroyed in the 18th century. (Sir Gilbert seems to have renovated every old church in the country) St Nick's is open to the public but we got there too early so we'll have to come back here later to see a surprising literary connection with Hull and angelic musicians.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

The Exorcist's House

Tucked away on Chapel Lane and forming the boundary of St Nicholas chapel is this quaint little house built in 1635 according to all the books and a date on the gable. It seems it replaced an even older building, the supposed one time residence of King's Lynn's very own exorcist and somehow the connection has lasted to this day. (As with so much that is old and passed down it best taken with strong cup of unsweetened scepticism). It is a Grade 2 listed construction with a fine example of an early Dutch gable. Behind it lies an example of what the heir to the throne would no-doubt call a carbuncle, so hideous that I refuse to photograph it. Let us just say that the modern jars with the ancient in a most unpleasant way.
F R Buckley a one time actor, playwright and "Swashbuckling" author of many stories lived here from the 1950's 'til the mid 70s. The house is reputedly haunted by his wife (his second wife, the first having committed suicide in 1931) and there are other tales of mystery surrounding this guy who claimed to be a wizard (hmmm) and also that he was an expert on the occult who advised the local police (hmmm x2). Margot once met him at his house back in the early 70's, she says she went to get his autograph, anyhow he was quite a nice old man as she recalls but then she does have strange tastes in men.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Good King John

OK so King John lost the Duchy of Normandy and other bits of France to the French king, and he caused the decline and fall of the Angevin Empire. He was so weak the mighty barons forced him into signing that wretched Magna Carta. Then he went and lost his treasure while crossing the marshes just before dying of dysentery leaving the country in a civil war. And in all children's history books and especially in that ongoing saga Robin Hood he is made out to be a bad guy scheming to get the crown while his handsome, brave, do-no-wrong brother Richard (he of the Lionheart) ponced around on crusades and caused mayhem where ever he sat down. Well all that counts for nothing in King's Lynn. King John is the king who granted the town a charter in 1204 which was the making of the place. And in Lynn, if in no other town in England, King John is very much the Good Guy.

This statue is in New Conduit Street.

And, as a footnote, if you are thinking King's Lynn is named after King John then think again. The charter was given to the town of Bishop's Lynn as in those days the Bishop of Norwich owned the place. If Henry VIII had managed to sire a male heir from his first wife the place might still be called Bishop's Lynn. But in the event he didn't and in his nationalisation of the Catholic church he took possession of the town and so it became King's Lynn in 1537.

Friday, 14 December 2018

The Purfleet, Customs House and Vancouver

Turning our backs to the river we come across what is now a little tourist attraction but was once a medieval harbour of sorts. This is the Purfleet, the old, and I do mean very old northern boundary of the town. I remember it being run down and seedy little car park back in the late 1970's when I first came to Lynn but it's been spruced up. The Customs House has been renovated and is now a Tourist Information office with a small museum upstairs (see below). Outside there's a statue of local lad Captain George Vancouver after whom the local shopping centre and a bit of Canada are named.

The Customs House was built in 1683 as both a merchants exchange and Customs office. By this time though Lynn as a port was in a bit of a decline with more and more shipping going through that evil place up north called Hull.

The bewigged person with his oh so subtle rod and dangling tassles is Charles II.

This is the Long Room upstairs in the Customs House.

This is to let us know who is in charge.

Some tools of the Customs trade

I was tempted by this long case clock but I really can't find the room for it at home ...

The pink bag is Margot's

In medieval times King's Lynn was in the Hanseatic league hence the models of Hanse vessels in the Long Room.

PS. I almost forgot this area appeared in a film, Revolution, starring (if that's the word) Al Pacino, Donald Sutherland and Nastassja Kinski  with King Street and the Customs House pretending to be New York. If you haven't heard of it that's probably because it was a monumental flop at the box office. Here's a snippet from You Tube.