Photo gallery: New exhibition showcases King’s Lynn old pubs
PUBLISHED: 13:34 24 March 2013 | UPDATED: 13:34 24 March 2013
If there was ever a town that liked a drop it was King’s Lynn, and glasses were raised yesterday to a new exhibition charting the colourful history of the town’s pubs.
“Pubs have played a huge part in English history,” said Lynn-based historian Paul Richards, before he proposed a toast to the drinks trade of Lynn.
“If I think of English social history, I can’t think of a more important subject than pubs through the centuries. From the 14th century until today, they’re an essential part of history. The richness of our history through public houses is enormous.”
But Dr Richards said Britain was losing around 1,000 pubs a year, while the trade was changing fast.
“Sadly, we’re seeing a lot of the community functions of pubs lost,” he said. “They’re trying to be eating houses, with a drink on the side.”
Lynn’s old pubs offered lodgings, sick clubs, savings banks, an improvised mortuary in one case and attractions ranging from cock fights to ship auctions.
By 1800, the town’s 10,000 residents had 68 hostelries to choose from. By 1850, the number had doubled and the town had nine breweries running full-pelt.
But by the turn of the 20th century, the ale houses which thronged the port’s quays and grand squares were again in decline.
It was the advent of the steam engine – not the temperance movement – which sealed their fate.
“A sailing ship would have a crew of 25, while a steam ship four or five times as big would have five or six crew,” said Dr Richards.
Nowadays little remains of some of the town’s former pubs. The Clough Fleet Tavern was knocked down to make way for the access road to the town centre Sainsbury’s.
Several are now almost unrecognisable, housing shops such as Fiddamans Hotel (Oxfam, in Norfolk Street) or the Bird in Hand (Hughes Electrical, also on Norfolk Street).
Others, such as The Rummer, at the corner of St James Street and Tower Street, or The Victory at the corner of the Tuesday Market Place, are now offices.
Forty-two people died when the Eagle Hotel, on Norfolk Street, was hit by a German bomb in 1942. The raid brought the war well and truly home to Lynners.
How many revellers who pack into Bar Red, formerly Chicago’s, which stands on the site today, realise how time was called on its forebear.
One of the proudest that remains is the Greenland Fishery – a former whaler’s tavern on the edge of Hillington Square.
Boal Quay and Blubberhouse Creek were the base for Lynn’s 18th century whaling fleet, which put to sea for months on end, searching the Arctic seas for orca.
When whales were killed, they were towed all the way back to Lynn to be boiled up for lamp oil.
With the arrival of Lynn’s first gas lights in the 19th century, the fleet and its harpooners soon became redundant.
And there were fewer sailors coming ashore with money to throw across the bars of Lynn.
Many of the former pubs feature in the exhibition at True’s Yard, in St Ann’s Street – itself housed partly in a former pub, which features 56 then and now photographs of 28 pubs.
The exhibition, which also features a map of King’s Lynn, highlighting all the locations, is open until June.
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