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In the Prince's Country (Sandringham, Castle rising, and King's Lynn) page 2


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If space could be afforded, a great deal might be written here about the past history of Lynn and its neighbourhood, and some interesting information included concerning the devastating inroads of the sea which occurred when what is now known as the Fenland really deserved the name. In the days when the Romans descended upon East Anglia the land for fifty miles around the shores of the Wash was scarcely land at all, and only here and there, in places almost inaccessible to the invading legions, the natives managed to exist in small settlements surrounded by vast swamps. Then, the south of Lincolnshire, the west of Norfolk, part of Suffolk, nearly the whole of Cambridgeshire, and portions of Huntingdonshire and Northamptonshire - or rather of the districts which now bear these names - were submerged by every flood tide, and if Lynn existed at all it was only as a small settlement. It undoubtedly owed the importance it had attained to in the time of the Conqueror to the Romans, who either themselves raised, or caused the vanquished Britons to construct, solid embankments along the coast, which served, in a measure, to keep out the sea. Land was thus reclaimed, and turned to good account by the planting of orchards, the laying down of pastures, and the cultivation of corn; so that the Fens, as they are still called, became a "fat" land, noted for its fruitfulness in cattle and crops. Men learned to live peaceful lives, devoted to their farms and homesteads; but all the while they had an enemy at their gates, ever ready to take advantage of an opportunity to devastate their hard-won lowlands. This enemy was the sea, and often during the centuries which elapsed between the Conquest and the comparatively recent completion of a really effective system of drainage and defence its waves for a time won back its ancient bed and desolated Fenland fields and homes. The intervals between these disastrous floods, however, were long enough to enable the fenmen to repair the damage done and maintain the general condition of the district, so Lynn, the chief port of the coast and a favoured borough of several kings, grew in wealth and fame.

One of the first of Lynn's antiquities which you see, as you leave the station and turn into the pleasant "Walks,' which open out near by, is the Red Mount Chapel, an octangular erection on a mound in the midst of this popular summer resort. The prior of Lynn in the year 1483 was responsible for its building, and it contains three storeys, the lower of which is a vault and the upper a cruciform chapel with a beautiful groined roof. Mackerell says that " this religious place was a receptacle for the pilgrims who took this in their way, to say their orisons at, as they travelled along towards the sometime famous and celebrated priory or convent of our Lady at Walsingham." Not far from the walks, and on the way to the cemetery, is the massive South Gate, built in the fifteenth century to replace an earlier one which formed part of the early fortifications of the town. Above the main archway, in which the groove of the portcullis is still to be seen, is a guardroom, and on either side are smaller arches for the convenience of foot-passengers. Although not such a substantial building as the South Gate, the Greyfriars' Tower, which stands in the Grammar School Garden, is a finer relic of the town's past. This lofty tower, supported by four piers, is all that is left of a monastery founded in the thirteenth century. The Grammar School near the tower is not, as is often stated, that in which Eugene Aram was an under-master when, in 1758, he was arrested for the murder of Daniel Clark of Knaresborough. The school at which Aram taught was held in a chapel connected with the parish church. This chapel was demolished in 1779. There was once an Austin Friary in Austin Lane, to the south of St Nicholas Church, but all that remains of it is a bricked-up gateway.

Like Norwich Cathedral and St Nicholas' Church at Yarmouth, Lynn parish church owes its foundation to the Norman bishop Lozinga. Its architecture is of various periods, Norman, Early English, and the Decorated styles being each in evidence. A little more than a century and a half ago the nave and aisles were destroyed by the falling of the spire of the south-west tower; but they were soon restored, the nave in what someone calls "a conscientious manner but debased style." There are some curious miserere seats in the stalls, under which are grotesque carvings. The most interesting things in the church are a couple of brasses of Flemish workmanship to the memory of Robert Braunche and Adam de Walsoken. They are in the south-west tower. On the Braunche brass is depicted what is supposed to be a banquet given to Edward III. by Braunche during his mayoralty. Comment is often made upon the fact that one of the guests is represented in the act of straddling across the table in his eagerness to get at one of the dishes of peacocks being brought in by female attendants. The other brass is engraved to represent a vintage harvest. The church is very much smaller than it used to be, for at one time its length was 240 feet and its width 118 feet, while its south-west tower and spire rose to the height of 275 feet. St Nicholas', a chapel-of-ease to St Margaret's, stands a little way from the market-place. It was built in the 14th century, and is an impressive structure, though pronounced by an authority on church architecture "a bad specimen of a good style." It has magnificent east and west windows and a beautiful south porch. Among the monuments on its walls is one to the memory of Sir Benjamin Keene, K.B., a native of the town, who was Ambassador at the Court of Spain, and died at Madrid in 1757. His remains were conveyed to England and buried here. Let into the floor is a gravestone which bears the name of Robinson Cruso, and near the font is another to the memory of a certain Thomas Hollingworth, who is described as having been " an eminent bookseller... much esteemed by gentlemen of taste for the neatness and elegance of his binding." The modern church of St John, near the station, owes its existence to the late Mr Motteux of Sandringham Hall, who, on being twice ejected from pews in St Nicholas, made inquiries as to the accommodation in the Lynn churches, and, finding it insufficient, contributed 1,500 towards the building of a new church.

The Guildhall or Town Hall is an ancient building in the Saturday Market-place. Its Elizabethan porch attracts attention, and should you enter the Assembly Room you will find there a number of portraits worth examining, including those of William III. and Mary, Lord Nelson, and Sir Robert Walpole. Among the records preserved in the hall is the " Red Register of Lynn," which dates from 1309 and is one of the oldest paper books in England. A goblet known as King John's Cup, said to have been given by that monarch to the Corporation, is to be found in the possession of the mayor.

The old merchant princes of Lynn were able to build substantial and imposing mansions, some of which are still to be seen in the streets of the old town, though most of them have lost something of their impressiveness and substantiality. One of the best preserved is in Queen Street, which opens out of the Saturday market-place. It has two inner courts and an old brick tower; but the glory of it is gone. This was a splendid Jacobean mantelpiece which was sold not long ago for 900. In the same street are some ancient buildings that once constituted a college for priests, founded by Thomas Thoresby, a 16th century mayor of the borough; and in King Street is the Custom House, which dates from 1683, and has a statue of Charles II. over the entrance. It is just such a building as one might imagine that to have been which Hawthorne refers to in his introduction to "The Scarlet Letter," where he writes of a decaying New England port. In King Street, too, is St George's Hall, an old guildhall sometime used as a theatre. Lynn scarcely looks a place where a touring theatrical company would draw large audiences, and in this respect it cannot have altered much since the time when George Stephens, after an unsuccessful season, parodied in this hall Lorenzo's address to Jessica:

"O Jessica, in such a night as this we came to town,
And since that night we've shared but half-a-crown.
Let you and I, then, bid these folks good-night,
For if we longer stay they'll starve us quite."

A visit to the Docks suggests that, after all, Lynn's commercial stagnation is more apparent than real, for these are not ancient docks with decaying wharves, but modern basins with every sign about them of considerable maritime trade. As a fishing port, however, Lynn will not bear comparison with Yarmouth and Lowestoft, for the boats which carry on the local whelk and mussel fisheries are only cockle-shell - or shall I say mussel-shell - 'longshore craft.

A glance at an ordinary atlas might lead you to imagine that by going to Lynn you would be able to bathe in the sea and enjoy the golden sands. But Lynn is quite two miles from the Wash, and a much greater distance must be travelled before you can step upon a sandy beach. By a stroll along the banks of the Lynn Cut, however, you may obtain a wide view of the reclaimed land and unreclaimed ooze flats and salt marshes which stretch away towards the sea. And if the sight of these tempts you to explore still further into the recesses of Marshland, you may, by journeyings south and west of the town, gain some idea of the Fenland of to-day, and of the strenuous efforts which its old-time inhabitants made to win it from the waves. In the course of your peregrinations you will come across some grand old churches, first rank among which must be accorded to those of Terrington St Clement, Wiggenhall St Mary, and Walpole St Peter. Of Tilney Smeeth, a wide expanse of pasture upon which the men of Marshland had a right to feed their cattle, and which is referred to in one of the romantic tales of Tom Hickathrift, the fighting giant, a story is told which deserves to be true. A courtier is said to have spoken of it to King James I., and, referring to its fertility, stated that " if over-night a wand or rod was laid on the ground, in the morning it would be covered with grass of that night's growth so as not to be discerned." The King's response to this assertion was that he knew some grounds in Scotland, where, if a horse was put in over-night, they could not see or discern him in the morning! " At Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalene was founded that Crabb or Crabhouse Abbey, of which Dr Jessop has written so delightfully in his " Frivola; " and Islington, a straggling village near the high road from Lynn to Wisbech, is the Islington of the ballad-famous bailiff's daughter. Of the district lying westward of Lynn Dr Jessop writes: - "The Ouse was the western boundary beyond which it was not worth while for the Norfolk men in the early times to fix their habitations; for all to the westward of the river stretched an enormous morass, say fifteen miles from north to south, and eight or ten from east to west.... It is even now a dreary region, a land of marshes and big drains and swamps. The water is naught, for all its horrible abundance; but the land is very rich in pasture, such as cattle thrive on." Here, you may see the tide-walls erected centuries ago, some of them by the Romans, to keep out the sea, and also the " cuts" or drains made by Cornelius Vermuyden when that Dutch experimenter attempted to improve the condition of the marshlands; while at West Walton, where the Nene divides Norfolk from Cambridgeshire, in the church there, you may read a 118 curious inscription, recording how, in 1613, 1614, and 1671, "the sea broke in and overflowed all Marshland, to the great danger of Men's lives and losse of goods," and concluding with the quaint lines: -

"Surely our sins were tinctured in graine
May we not say the labour was in vaine
Soe many washings still the Spotts remaine."

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