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21 April 2014
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Northenders

Northenders

Pat Midgley's discovery of a black and white photo of a sailor sparked interest in the North End of King's Lynn and led to the opening of True's Yard Museum. Now BBC Radio Norfolk has delved further into its history for a documentary.

Pat Midgely and her collection of memorabilia
Pat Midgely and her collection

A black and white photograph of an old fisherman in his traditional woollen jumper was the key which unlocked a lost world in a corner of King's Lynn.

The North End, or Fishers End, in King's Lynn was the site of the town's fishing community. It was a self-contained world with its own traditions, shops, pubs, churches and school.

Its memory lives on today through the True's Yard Museum Of Fishing which was established around the last two remaining fishermen's cottages.

The BBC has decided to highlight this little known, but historically important community.

The fisherman in the picture was Duggie Carter, who died before the First World War.

At that time the Fisher Fleet was home to 400 boats. In the small area nearby, 900 people lived in the streets and yards which made up the North End.

But both the fishing industry and the area suffered a gradual decline with slum clearance and road improvements hastening the end of the homes and community.

Families moved out to other parts of the town, often into smart new council houses.

But a group of houses and former shops was saved by the King's Lynn Preservation Trust.

Vicyims of The Mystery
James and Matthew were lost at sea

It was into one of these houses that retired teacher Pat Midgley moved into.

Her interest was in the history of knitting, recording and making the patterns of fishermen's guernseys (or ganseys).

Each area, and often each family, had its own design. If a fisherman was lost at sea this was an easy but sad way to indentify his body.

Pat was shown the photograph of Duggie Carter and was able to recreate the pattern.

She realised that opposite her house were two fishermen's cottages which were perfectly preserved - even the wallpaper was intact.

She knew that there was a whole story to be uncovered about the fishing community.

And so, 20 years ago, a campaign to create what became the True's Yard Museum began. It was officially opened by Prince Charles in 1993. 

Rich history

The history of the area is a rich one.

There was a close bond and sense of community. Inevitably there was loss of life but one incident cast a long shadow – the wreck of the fishing boat The Mystery on Friday, 6 January, 1928.

A fierce gale blew up just before lunchtime and three brothers – Percy, Jim and Matthew Smith, along with Earl Massingham – were all lost when their boat hit a sandbank just off the coast at Snettisham.

It was said the whole North End turned out when people realised the boat hadn't returned.

They searched for the bodies. Three were found but Matthew Smith's never turned up.

A space remains to this day at the burial place and memorial at the town's Hardwick Cemetery for Matthew Smith. No funeral was ever held for him.

Happy times

Exterior of the Pilot Cinema
The Pilot Cinema: Last word in luxury,

But there were happy times.

People recall the excitement which came each February with the arrival of the Lynn Mart, the traditional fair which starts the showmen's year.

Fairground rides were made in Lynn by Savages and new ones were tried out by locals in the Tuesday Market Place.

The building of the Pilot Cinema just before WW2 by local businessman Ben Culley also caused a stir. It was the last word in luxury with its plush seats and curtains.

Musical history

And the North End has its place in musical history.

In 1905 the young composer Vaughan Williams was travelling around Britain recording local folk music to incorporate into his work. He was told he wouldn't find much in Lynn but whoever told him this was wrong.

He was led to the Tilden Smith pub, now The Retreat, where fishermen – including Duggie Carter – got together to sing melodies which were distinct to the area.

Williams noted down the songs and The Captain's Apprentice and a tune which he adapted as a hymn were both published and worked into his Norfolk Rhapsodies and at least two of his major symphonies.

last updated: 25/05/07
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