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Kings Lynn in 1784

The following extracts are included as they give a contemporaneous view of the town of Lynn during the time that the 'Subscribers' were active at Reffley Spring'.  


 They are taken from a young frenchman, Francois de la Rochefoucauld's,  tour through East Anglia in 1784, accompanied by his brother and tutor.  His account of his travels comes from his letters to his father,  the Duc de Liamcourt.  He said of Lynn:

“The town is built in flat country beside the river Ouse, which enters the sea about two or three miles away; the streets are narrow and irregularly laid out, badly paved and scarcely levelled out, though that could very easily have been done. The church is a good size but has nothing to commend it.

The market-place is large and pleasing, overlooked  by some very good buildings, including Mr Hogg’s house, which is truly grand and handsome. He is a very rich merchant for whom , while we were there, a most unusual and delightful event occurred:  he was able to see twenty-five of his own vessels all ready to sail. (n.b. He is describing the Tuesday Market-place of about 3 acres.

Picture taken from  A Frenchman’s Year in Suffolk Francois de La Rochefoucauld p.185.


In 1784-5, the year of Stephen Wilson’s mayoralty, Stephen Hogg was admitted freeman of Lynn, as apprentice to George Hogg snr, deceased, and George Hogg jnr merchants. The sailing of Mr Hogg’s fleet was presumably timed to coincide with the annual Mayor’s Feast. (The Hogg's were one of the premier merchant families in Lynn at the time, and also included Subscribers to Reffley Spring amongst them.)

Francois de La Rochefoucauld observed that: 

The port (of Kings Lynn), is nothing very great, consisting of the river-channel  which has been widened,  strengthened and deepened. The course of a small tributary of the Ouse forms a small part of the harbour. I think the port could hold 250 merchant ships. It was nearly full when we went by, but I was a little sad not to see a single French ship among all these vessels. I noticed that one was built in a peculiar way and asked its function.  I was told it was built for whaling.  Lynn sends out five of these.  Each is manned by a crew of forty-five and carries on its deck six long –boats, very lightly built, for launching into the sea.  Their voyages last eight or nine months, and they catch one, two or three whales.  It is known  that in a single voyage the merchants cover the cost of fitting out the vessel and sometimes the cost of its construction.

Lynn does a very large trade: it sends out a large number of ships to the North and some to America, but the most important item is the coasting trade.  At Lynn a great amount of the inland  navigation of Midland England emerges . A very large number of canals, which run from the middle of England come to the end of their course at Lynn, which is the depository for the commodities which are brought there, passed on to London and from there distributed to foreign countries. All the coal destined for parts of Norfolk, for Suffolk, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and in fact, for a very large part of England, passes through Lynn.” From A Frenchman’s Year in Suffolk. Francois  de La Rochefoucauld  pp 184-190 and  Soho for East Anglia Michael Brander 1964 p. 158. (Francois de La Rochefoucauld did not finish his notes on Lynn as his party headed to Holkham where he was too busy enjoying himself to continue writing.  However  his tutor Maximilien de Lazowski who was accompanying him, provided his own account of the town at this time, which supplements and expands on the account written by his pupil.)


Lynn 1784. Maximillioen de Lazowski's account:

The river, as broad as the Seine at Rouen, carries ships of 3-400 tons: they cannot sail beyond Lynn: the river channel is difficult and pilots are needed between Lynn and the sea: Castle Rising’s castle is a useful landmark, and one threads the channel with a bearing on the castle.  The navigation is protected in the north by a battery of twelve 18-pounders.  This battery in any other position would not last ten minutes against a 30-gun frigate but can adequately defend this passage  because the channel zig-zags and is so narrow that no warship can get into position to fire a broadside at it.

The river is perpetually salt, and in flat land like Lynn’s formed by deposits of the sea there is no possibility of fresh-water springs, yet fresh water is supplied in a most ingenious way that could be adopted in most towns.  In the south, a considerable stream  runs towards the river, and there a water –wheel  has been established to work two pumps by which the water is lifted to the height of a vast round reservoir lined with lead. (Like the defence-works, these water-works were to the north, on the Gaywood river and were known as the Kettle-mills.  Subsidiary pumps were added in the south, but Lazowski is clearly describing the Kettle-mills. They were in open country to the east of Pilot Street, beyond which everything is now a series of industrial eyesores.-Norman Scarfe ed. 1988.) This reservoir which I measured , very imperfectly, may be sixteen feet tall by twelve in diameter. At the bottom of the reservoir two stop-cocks are opened on alternate days and supply water to the whole town: one half of the town today, and the other half tomorrow.  In case of fire, one can close one stop-cock and open the other one supplying the part of the town where the fire is. The few people who are not supplied with water to their houses pay a very reasonable rate for drawing water at stand-pipes in the streets at certain hours of the day: each house has its water tank proportionate to its consumption and to the price paid. The machine that raises the water is simple, and there are few places where one could not procure clean water by such means.

One can still see earthworks raised at the time of the troubles under Charles I, the trenches and ditches dug by Cromwell’s army when they besieged the town. It is now wide open..

Lazowski (also) made a detailed account of the (then) new whale-fishing in Greenland, the lowering of the boats, the harpooning of the whales, the uses of whale-bone and whale-oil: the fishing dangerous (the previous year -1783, five fishermen perished), the navigation difficult but safe: the economics of whaling.)

There are 90 Lynn vessels, but as they each make an average of ten trips a year, that equals 900 ships!  Some do as many as fourteen, but others go further afield to Malaga, or the Baltic….The ships, are busy transporting the grain harvested in this part of Norfolk and in those parts of Suffolk near the navigable rivers.  They export annually 75,000 quarters of all sort of grain and bring in coal to those parts:  the coal imported from Newcastle is, on  an average year, 120,000 chaldrons, each chaldron weighing a ton and a quarter.  The remaining imports are iron, hemp, peas, tar, timber nad planks from Sweden:  a great many of these boats leave almost in ballast, for the county’s industrial products are exported through Yarmouth.

All these imports spread into the counties bordering the waterways: this inland navigation is conducted  in flat, covered boats called lighters (i.e. barges or narrow-boats.): there are 300 of them operating every year: they are sailed with comparatively fewer hands than  other ships – six of them are towed one behind the other and need only three or four men to handle them.

Lynn has its own shipyard: they reckon the cost of building a ship is £6 a ton, but that is only for the carcase of the ship: the rigging and everything that’s needed to equip it come to £1,200 for a ship of 300 tons. From A Frenchman’s Year in Suffolk  Francois de La Foucauld.