King’s Lynn’s Bohemian Rhapsody

The Borough Archive in King’s Lynn has an important series of large, leather-bound books called The Hall Books. They record the proceedings of the town council over several centuries and are the subject of a new volunteer transcription project.

The books covering the 1600s are particularly interesting. There is an entry for January 1612 referring to Bohemia. It is reported that the council was presented with a letter from the Bishops of Canterbury and Prague, and another from King James I asking for donations for, “the building of a church and great college in Bohemia”.

1 kl-c_7-9_29

Hall Books, KLBA, KL/C 7/9

A donation of £8 was duly made, £3 from the Borough treasury and £5 collected from the inhabitants of Lynn, as was reported on 19th February

2 kl-c_7-9_115

Hall Books, KLBA, KL/C 7/9

I was not able to find a definite reference to the church in question, but a good candidate would be the Church of Our Lady Victorious, the first Baroque church in Prague, built for the Lutheran community between 1611 and 1613.

Religion at the time, as so often, was in a state of growing conflict; the Protestant Union was formed in 1608, and in response the Catholic League in 1609. England did not have a direct link with Bohemia until 1618- more of which later.

King James’ daughter Elizabeth married the Calvinist Frederik, Elector of Palatine, in 1613, and took up residence in the Court in Heidelberg. Frederik was Director of the Protestant Union in 1610.

Bohemia at the time was part of the Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire, and was rebelling against its Catholic overlords. On the death of Emperor Matthias, Frederik was offered, and accepted, the crown of Bohemia.

Elizabeth of Bohemia, as she was now known, and Frederik had eight children.

In 1618, the Defenestration of Prague- the “throwing out of the window” of emissaries from the Emperor, triggered the Thirty Years’ War. Frederik had been hoping for armed support from England, the Dutch Republic and the German Protestants, but none was forthcoming.

Bohemia crops up again in the Hall Book in January 1621 when an appeal was recorded for a collection for the relief of Bohemia- no doubt funds to support the war effort.

3 kl-c_7-9_172a

Hall Books, KLBA, KL/C 7/9

£100 was raised, “as a benevolence for the King of Bohemia” and recorded as being passed to Elizabeth’s representative at her residence in London in May 1621.

4 kl-c_7-9_180

Hall Books, KLBA, KL/C 7/9

Lacking the armed support he had hoped for, Frederik saw his forces routed by the Imperial army in 1620 at the Battle of White Mountain, and the couple, henceforth known as the Winter King and Winter Queen, due to the brevity of their reign, had to flee, and found refuge in The Hague.

Frederik died in 1632, and Elizabeth in London, while visiting her nephew Charles II after the Restoration.

There, it would seem, King’s Lynn’s connection with the story ended- except that it didn’t.

When the House of Stuart died with Queen Anne, a Protestant successor was required, under the terms of the Act of Settlement, and the nearest qualifying relative was Elizabeth’s daughter, Sophia of Hannover. Unfortunately, she died two months before she was due to take the crown, and the succession passed to her son, who ruled as George I, from whom our current Queen claims descent. Her family has had a close connection with our town since the time of Queen Victoria through the ownership of the Sandringham estate and generous donations to King’s Lynn Museum over the years.

Compiled by NRO Research blogger, Pete Widdows

Posted in Snapshots from the Archive | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Appliance of Science: Using Science in Conservation

Back in October we were really pleased to run our first ever workshop as part of the Norwich Science Festival.

The workshop looked at how science was used on a practical level within the workplace; in this case focusing on how we conserve our documents. A-level students from Hethersett Old Hall School and Taverham High School participated in the workshop, which included an introduction to the Record Office to help the pupils understand what we do and gave a chance to see some of the documents in our care. Next pupils had a tour of the building and a demonstration of various pieces of equipment in the Conservation Studio.


Learning how Documents are Conserved


Exploring the Equipment in the Conservation Studio

After that the real work started as the pupils and our Conservator, David, explored acids and bases, talked about what pH is, and discussed the dissociation of water. David explained how the more acidic the paper the harder it was to preserve. He went on to demonstrate the 3 ways of testing the pH of paper. Using these techniques the students themselves tested a variety of different papers and then compared the results to see how accurate each method of testing was. Pupils also made a de-acidifying agent used in paper conservation in order to halt the process of deterioration caused by the acidity in the paper.


Making a De-acidifying Agent

Finally pupils put their new found knowledge to the test by building their own conservation kit. Pupils had to think about why some materials were more suitable for preserving and conserving documents than others and work out which of the items given to them should be included in their kit.


Creating a Conservation Kit

Overall the pupils enjoyed the workshop saying:

‘I found the demonstration of equipment and the strong room viewing very interesting’

‘[I]enjoyed the practicals

and ‘Very well explained! Very interesting’.

This workshop is available all year round and we hope to be back as part of the Norwich Science Festival again next year. If you would like to book for your own school or would like more information please don’t hesitate to contact us.


Posted in Behind the Scenes, Schools, Young People | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

King’s Lynn and The War of the Spanish Succession

We recently told you about our new project, working to transcribe the Hall Books of the King’s Lynn Borough Archives. This blog is an example of something of interest found as part of that project, showing how worldwide events were affecting the borough, and how the Town Council in turn were responding to them.

On Wednesday 19th June 1706, in the midst of the War of the Spanish Succession, it was decided that the Town Council would write a letter to Queen Anne, reacting to the events happening on the continent. The war was a European-wide conflict, lasting from 1701 until 1714, which was triggered by the death of the childless Charles II of Spain in November 1700. Thanks to the tangled web created by various European royal families intermarrying and producing offspring, it was unclear who should succeed. Charles II’s will designated Louis XIV of France’s second grandson, Philip (a member of the French Bourbon dynasty) as heir. However, concerned about the European balance of power, England, the United Provinces (or Dutch Republic) and Austria-Hungry formed a ‘Grand Alliance’, and pushed instead for the succession of the Archduke Charles, the younger son of Leopold, the Holy Roman Emperor. This led to war between the Grand Alliance, and the Bourbon Alliance of France and Bourbon Spain.

Queen Anne Letter 1

Queen Anne Letter 2

The Council’s “Address to the Queen’s Most Excellent Majestie”. NRO, KL/C 7/12

By 1706, when the letter was written, Allied victories in Italy and the Low Countries had forced the French army back within their borders, and control of the sea allowed the Allies to conduct successful offensives in Spain. On the 23rd May, an Allied force under the Duke of Marlborough shattered a French force at the Battle of Ramillies, today located in Belgium. The Allies were able to exploit their advantage, and managed to capture the majority of the Spanish Netherlands.

The letter begins as follows:

To the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty.

The humble Address of the Maior, Recorder, Aldermen and Com[m]on Councill of Yo[ur] Ma[jes]ties Ancient Bur[rou]gh of Kings Lynn May it pleas Yo[ur] Ma[jes]tie

Having ever since our hap[p]y Revoluc[i]on (w[hi]ch Restored our English Constitution) undergone the various Events of a Long Warr with the utmost Chearfullness and Alacrity. Our Zeale can never Slacken (but Encrease) under Yo[u]r Ma[jes]ties Reigne of Wonders, Who is Raised by Providence to Extricate Us out of the greatest Difficulties, And to put a hooke into the Nostills of that great Leviathan who hath soe long sported himself upon our Waters.

The “hap[p]y Revoluc[i]on” referred to is the Glorious Revolution. This occurred in 1688-89 when Queen Anne’s Protestant sister, Mary, along with her Dutch husband, William of Orange, overthrew their father, the Catholic James II. In the period leading up to this, King’s Lynn was unsettled, with various factions competing for power within the Town Council, and letters arriving from James II purging the Council of those he saw as undesirable, and instructing those that remained who to elect as Mayor. Thanks to the Revolution, however, the Protestant faction were victorious – indeed, the idea that Queen Anne was “Raised by Providence” is a particularly Protestant statement. The invasion, however, was considered a declaration of war between France and the Dutch Republic, leading to the Nine Years War from 1689 until 1697.


Engraved portrait of Queen Anne. NRO, Y/C 2/15

The idea of France as a “great Leviathan” was particularly common in the 18th century. The Leviathan was a great sea monster mentioned in the Bible, and was often used to refer to a seemingly insurmountable enemy, or an overwhelmingly powerful person or thing. In 1651, Thomas Hobbes had written a book of political philosophy, entitled ‘Leviathan’, which argued for rule by an absolute sovereign. In 1706, France was ruled by King Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, one of the most powerful French rulers in history, and who helped to create an absolutist monarchy in France. With the former James II in exile at the French court, and King Louis opposing the new king of England, the French monarchy supported the various attempts of James and his descendants to regain the throne. Being a maritime borough, close to the east coast, it is easy to see why the inhabitants of King’s Lynn were concerned about the French “sporting” upon English waters – whilst the Battle of Beachy Head (1690) had been in the distant English Channel, the Battle of Dogger Bank (1696) was perhaps a little too close for comfort. Such battles could also have an impact on the trade which was a vital part of the borough’s economy.

The letter continues:

It is Yo[u]r Ma[jes]ties Genius that Inspires, ‘Tis Yo[u]r Choise yt Enables Yo[u]r brave Generall the Duke of Marlborough to make our Streets Thus often resound with the Joyfull Noise of Victories, Those Strokes are Masterpeeces not to be found in the Louvre at Versailles. Whilst with One Blow he Reduces the Treacherous Bavarian and makes him Fly his Owne Country, With This Other he drives him out of his French Governm[en]t too…

The Duke of Marlborough was John Churchill, later described as Britain’s finest general in a biography written by his most famous descendant, Winston Churchill. In 1704, Marlborough had triumphed at the Battle of Blenheim (and as a reward had received the palace of the same name), and in May 1706 had overseen the victory at Ramillies, which we can assume this letter was responding to. The “Treacherous Bavarian” is presumably Maximilian II, Elector of Bavaria. He had a stake in the Spanish inheritance, and had allied himself with the French. However, he was disastrously defeated at Blenheim, and forced to flee to the Spanish Netherlands, and again at Ramillies, when he found refuge in the court at Versailles.


John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, artist unknown

…But noe less wonderfull are All the rest of ye Steps of Yo[ur] Ma[jes]ties Governm[en]t upon the Main Continent (Even the furthest parts of Spain nearest France) Wee See the Large Provinces of Catalonia & Valentia (with an Amazeing Success) Reduced to their Lawfull Sovereigne; where our Brave English Peterborough’s Zeal for the Honour of his Prince & Country hath Rivalled even the Longest Experience…

From 14th September 1705, the Allies had been besieging Barcelona. On 19th October, Charles Mordaunt, the 3rd Earl of Peterborough, captured the city from its Spanish Bourbonic defenders. Following this, on 24th January 1706, Peterborough led a handful of English cavalrymen into Valencia after riding south from Barcelona, captured the nearby fortress at Sagunt, and forced the Spanish Bourbon army to withdraw. The English held the city for sixteen months, defeating several attempts to expel them – as the council concede,

… it is as Difficult to Preserve as Gaine…

This was proving to be the case by 1710, when the Allies were expelled from central Spain. Casualties and costs were mounting, and the aims of the various powers involved in the Grand Alliance were diverging. The Tories came to power in Britain in the same year, and vowed to end the war. In 1712, the British ceased fighting, and in 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht recognised Philip, Duke of Anjou, as king of Spain, confirming the will of Charles II, but on the condition that he renounce any right to the French throne.

The address ends with a fawning statement somewhat typical of addresses towards monarchs of the 18th century (despite the best efforts of Oliver Cromwell sixty years previously):

Wee are thankfully convince[ed] Yo[u]r Ma[jes]tie is the best Protector as well as the greatest Ornam[en]t and Benefactor of our Established Church, And are best Judge of w[ha]t is for its Advantage. And If any party, Faction (out of a Private Ambition) should Endeavour to Insinuate any Groundless Fears, Or Erect us any other Guarantees (that Yo[ur] Ma[jes]ties Dayly Actions) As Wee are satisfyed It is Endeavouring to Alienate & transfer from Your Ma[jes]tie the Affection of Your Subjects and their just Dependency on Your Person Soe It is to Robb us of Our Peace & Quiett.

That Yo[u]r Ma[jes]tie may be alwayes feared & honoured abroad Beloved and Reverenc’t at home, As It shall be alwayes (In our low Spheer) Our Utmost Wishes & Endeavours Soe may bee deemed unworthy the name of an Englishman That doth not heartily say Amen.

There is also a slightly defensive tone, as the authors distance themselves from anyone who might be wishing to cause trouble for the crown. In the past 100 years, the inhabitants of King’s Lynn had seen a monarchy, Civil War, a republic, a restoration of the monarch, and what was effectively an invasion by a foreign prince. There had been only three peaceful successions between six monarchs (and two Lord Protectors). It was, then, perhaps best to ensure that they were in the good books of the current sovereign.

Queen Anne only lived to be flattered by her subjects for another eight years. In December 1713 she became seriously ill, and the country dreaded a civil war. The events of the previous thirteen years had shown what could happen on the death of a childless monarch. Anne hung on until 1st August 1714, when she died, and a remote German cousin, George of Hanover, was invited to take the throne.

Proclamation of King George I

Proclamation of King George I. NRO, KL/C 7/12

For your chance to find out about other events like this, try your hand at transcribing the King’s Lynn Hall Books here.

Chloe Phillips, Project Officer.

Posted in Snapshots from the Archive | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Work of an Archivist

At the very beginning of this month, the Education and Outreach team were out and about delivering our new The Work of an Archivist workshop to the Year 5s at Mundesley Junior School.

The workshop explores the work of not only the archivists but the conservators, the searchroom team, the digitisation team, the strongroom team and of course the education and outreach team here at the Norfolk Record Office.

We started by playing a game based on a type of document called an indenture,  this was an agreement between two people written on one piece of parchment and then cut with a zig zag line so both could keep a copy of the document without fear of fraud.   The game involves finding the other half of your question/answer, having fun and finding out more about the Norfolk Record Office (NRO).  The children discovered many interesting facts including;   the NRO looks after over 12 million documents and that our oldest document is over 900 years old.

Mundesley Nov 2018 (3)

Palaeography skills in action

Our second activity  gave the children the opportunity to look at copies of documents and put them into chronological order.  The documents included letters from Nelson, a 19th century letter from a child to an uncle and a document to fill in if you were injured during the First World War and our oldest document.  The children showed impressive palaeography skills.

We next explored how to handle documents, thinking about what we could do to prevent the documents from any damage e.g.  having clean hands, using pencils not pens, not leaning on documents.


Mundesley Nov 2018 (4)

Putting into practice what we have learnt today.

The final activity put into practice what we had learnt during the day, thinking about the Journey of a document from attic to archive.

Find out more about our free workshops for schools here 





Quotes from Mundesley Junior School Year 5

Posted in Schools | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mad Monk of Hickling Priory

The Priory

Hickling priory plat 1

Hicking Priory. NRO, MC 530/8/21

Hickling Priory was founded in 1185 by Theobald de Valentina and was occupied by around 10 Black Canons, a denomination that worshipped the Virgin Mary, St. Austin and All Saints who lived communally with no possessions. The priory in Hickling was a pillar of the community as the monks ran schools and hospitals and were involved in farming in the surrounding areas.

DNTA748_mos cropped

Hickling tithe map showing the priory and surroundings. NRO, DN/TA 748

The Mad Monk

There was once a monk from Hickling Priory who was responsible for keeping the records of the priory’s accounts. After supposedly being unable to keep the records consistent and forging the numbers, he feared detection and went mad.

After his death, the Mad Monk was reportedly seen by swindlers and profiteers in the area. The monk scared them away, warning that their misdeeds and unsavoury occupations would result in terrible consequences. A group of explorers looking for a high altar in the area reported seeing an aged, haggard, “woefully thin” man holding a in a tunnel near the priory who would yell in terror and flee further into the passage (NRO, RYE 139). It was said that he appeared with a scroll and would pace the tunnel, trying to add up columns of numbers.

To this day, the Mad Monk wanders around the premises of the priory and there have been a number of sightings over the years.

Rosie Barrie

Posted in NRO Research Bloggers, Snapshots from the Archive | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Did Cromwell come to stay, and what’s Beadle about?

A local legend came to light in an early meeting of the fledgling Hapton History group; Oliver Cromwell stayed in the village during the English Civil War. The story had been passed around by word of mouth, one current resident remembering the shopkeeper having removed a plaque from the local stables citing the fact. But how to go about proving a local legend?

Continue reading

Posted in NRO Research Bloggers, Snapshots from the Archive | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Witches of Lynn

It’s strange how one thing leads to another. When I was researching the French POWs in King’s Lynn, I came across Devil’s Alley, where the warehouse that was used for temporary accommodation was situated. This led on to the legend of Devil’s Alley- related in the King’s Lynn All Saints Church website:

“It is said that the devil’s hoof print is to be seen in Devil’s Alley off Nelson Street in Kings Lynn. The devil arrived by ship to the town, and disembarked to steal some souls, but he was spotted by a priest who drove him away with prayers and a dousing with holy water. The infuriated devil stamped his hoof with anger so hard that he left his imprint.”


The Devil was all too real back in those days- people believed he was a physical entity who chased souls and with whom certain people- witches- could communicate. The Witchfinder General didn’t just exist in Hammer horror films. For 14 terrifying months he ran amok throughout East Anglia at considerable profit to himself “clearing towns of witches”, and indeed was invited to King’s Lynn to do just that.

1 kl-c_7-10_f187

Extract from the King’s Lynn Hall Book, f 187. KLBA, KL/C 7/10

It seems that, once he had reduced his victims to complete submission with techniques we now call sleep deprivation and water boarding, he asked when it was that the “witch” first communicated with the Devil.

The frenzy for witch hunting really began in the reign of James I, who apparently came into contact with it in Germany, but fear of witches had been rife decades before then- as witness the legend of the witch’s heart at number 17 Tuesday Market Place. The Market Place had long been a place for public execution, and the story goes that one witch who was burned alive in 1590 was Margaret Read. At the moment of death, her heart burst from her body, struck the wall, leaving the mark still to be seen today, then, with an energy all its own, bounced its way to the river, presumably via Page Stair Street, and plunged into the river, causing it to froth and boil.

Margaret Read was an actual person, and details can be found in the St Margaret parish register (NRO, PD 39/1). There are two possible candidates. One was baptised there on March 25th 1568.

2 PD_39-1

Parish Register for St Margaret, King’s Lynn. NRO, PD 39/1

This would have made her 22 in 1590. Most witches seem to have been old women, though not exclusively so, as witness the stories of the Witches of Salem, and of Pendle Hill. The other candidate was Margaret Hammond, who married Thomas Read at St Margaret on April 8th, 1562 (PD 39/2).

3 PD_39-2

Extract from Parish Register for St Margaret, King’s Lynn. NRO, PD 39/2

From researching my own family at the Norfolk Heritage Centre in the Forum in Norwich, my impression is that in those days, marriage generally happened around the age of 20, so in 1590, Margaret Hammond-Read would have been around 48 or 50, which perhaps makes her a more likely witch.

In his History of the Borough of King’s Lynn, Henry Hillen has something to say about witchcraft in general and about Matthew Hopkins. He also names a number of other witches who were executed in the 1590s.

4 Hillen p848

Extract from History of the Borough of King’s Lynn, by Henry Hillen, p848


Other executions included Mary Smith, burnt in 1616, Dorothy Lee and Grace Wright, hanged in 1646, and Dorothy Floyd, or Lloyd, in 1650.

But to return to the Witchfinder General- Matthew Hopkins began his career in Manningtree, Essex, and at a time when the average worker’s daily pay was 2 pence, he was paid £23 to cleanse the town of Chelmsford of evil, including the inevitable torturings and burnings. One of his techniques was to use a pricker to test whether bite marks, scars or nipples were immune to pain, as they were reputed to be after suckling the Devil. The pricker was a three inch spike which was plunged into the victim, who of course, felt no pain, and the pricker left their flesh not having drawn blood, which was further proof. Hardly surprising, as the instrument was something like the plastic dagger I had as a child, where the blade was spring-mounted and retracted into the handle under pressure.

As indicated above, on 11th May 1646, Alderman Thomas Revitt was delegated to approach Hopkins, and there is a transcript of “Extracts from King’s Lynn Borough records relating to Matthew Hopkins’ visit to Lynn in 1646 “

The Chamberlain’s Account of 1645-6 (KLBA, KL/C39/102) contains two entries under the heading ‘Gifts and extraordinary Charges’, for expenses of sending messengers to Matthew Hopkins.

5 kl-c_39-102 Hopkins-edit

Extract from the Chamberlain’s Account of 1645-6. KLBA KL/C 39/102

So Matthew Hopkins came to Lynn. On the 2nd September 1646 it was ordered that he be paid £15, “to be borne by the towne” (KLBA, KL/C 7/10).

6 kl-c_7-10 f193v

Extract from King’s Lynn Hall Book. KLBA, KL/C 7/10, f 193 verso

Though later in September it was ordered that he was paid £20 “for his pains and in full discharge of his demands”:

7 kl-c_7-10 f195

Extract from King’s Lynn Hall Book. KLBA, KL/C 7/10, f 195

There is a book in the Archive the minutes from the Quarter Sessions where the charges against those accused of witchcraft were heard (KLBA, KL/C 21/2).

8 kl-c_21-2 Session opening

Extract from King’s Lynn Unreformed Corporation sessions minutes. KL/C 21/2

There is an entry for each of the accused, a list of witnesses, several of whom, along with Hopkins himself, seem to be giving evidence against more than one of the accused- of which more shortly- and the verdict.

Grace Wright was found guilty, and she was hanged in 1646.

9 kl-c_21-2 Grace Wright

Extract from King’s Lynn Unreformed Corporation sessions minutes for Grace Wright. KL/C 21/2

Thomas Dempster, Cicily Taylor, Dorothy Griffin, Katherine Banks and Emma Godfrey were all found not guilty, while the trial of Lidiah Browne was postponed, as she was, unsurprisingly given Hopkins’ methods, “not of sound mind”.

9 kl-c_21-2 Grace Wright

Extract from King’s Lynn Unreformed Corporation sessions minutes for Lidiah Browne. KL/C 21/2

In his History, Hillen also reports that Dorothy Lee was also hanged in 1646, and Dorothy Floyd or Lloyd in 1650- both due to the efforts of the Witchfinder. He also has a couple of other interesting facts to share. Going back to my point that a number of people seem to have given evidence against several of the accused, one is tempted to think that certain people considered themselves able to recognise witches. On page 848, Hillen mentions “the wonderfully omniscient Mrs Sparrow, who could not only detect those who had recently purloined goods, but point out the person who bewitched cows”. Was this a person of extrasensory talents, or someone with a grudge against the neighbours?

In spite of being paid handsomely by the town, though, the Witchfinder does not seem to have been very successful in King’s Lynn. If we look at the figures, seven people were brought before the court, but only one was found guilty. Apart from one who could not enter a pleas due to insanity, the rest were declared not guilty.

Vincent Price did much better!

Compiled by NRO Research blogger, Pete Widdows

Posted in NRO Research Bloggers, Snapshots from the Archive | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Volunteering Opportunity: The King’s Lynn Borough Archives Transcription Project

Image 1 - KLBA

Searchroom users at King’s Lynn Borough Archives

Thanks to a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we have been able to set up a new project, which aims to use crowdsourcing to transcribe the documents held at the King’s Lynn Borough Archives. These records have been under the administration of the Norfolk Record Office since 1974, when the King’s Lynn Borough Council agreed to become part of the county’s record service, but with the records remaining in the King’s Lynn Town Hall. The Norfolk Record Office has since worked with the borough to jointly care for the records. In 2016, the Town Hall was refurbished, with a new strongroom created to house the documents, and the public searchroom refurbished to be more comfortable for visitors. The new Stories of Lynn museum was also opened. More information about the King’s Lynn Borough Archives can be found in an earlier blog here.

Image 2 - kl-c_7-15_104

Hall Book, King’s Lynn Borough Archives. KLBA, KL/C 7/15

The initial project aims to transcribe a section of the Hall Books, which contain the minutes of meetings of the historic Town Council – the Mayor, Aldermen, and Burgesses. These include references to local issues, such as annual elections, the admission of freemen, business regulations, and orders relating to trade, public health, and amenities, as well as mentioning matters of national importance. The Borough Archives hold Hall Books dating from 1372 to 1902, under the reference KL/C 7. The plan is to focus on those dating from 1611 to 1822 (KL/C 7/9-15), as two separate projects – Georgian Lynn, followed by Civil War Lynn. The inhabitants of King’s Lynn during the Georgian period witnessed events such as the Napoleonic Wars, the American War of Independence, the passing of the Corn Laws, and the draining of the Fens, whilst those who lived during the Civil War saw the borough both fortified and besieged.

It is currently necessary to visit the King’s Lynn Borough Archives in order to view these documents. This project intends to make the contents of the Hall Books more accessible to researchers, with the ultimate aim being a catalogue which links to digital images of the books, accompanied by a relevant transcription. We are, therefore, also asking transcribers to tag both names and places that they come across, so that researchers in the future are able to find what they are looking for more easily. Already, there has been mention of street names and places within King’s Lynn itself – St Ann’s Fort and the Gaywood Road Almshouses – as well as elsewhere in the country, such as Great Yarmouth, Wisbech, and Cambridge. However, there have also been references to places and events much further afield, including great European battles at Barcelona, and English colonies in America. Similarly, the books contain references to local events, such as the sending for of the famous witch-hunter, Matthew Hopkins, and the fortification of the borough during the Civil War, as well as national events, such as victories during the War of the Spanish Succession, and the proclamation of George I as king.

Image 3 - Proclamation of King George I

Hall Book, King’s Lynn Borough Archives. KLBA, KL/C 7/12

Those interested in volunteering can visit the transcription website here, as part of the Zooniverse, which plays host to several crowdsourcing projects. High-quality digital images of the documents have been uploaded to the site, where the user is provided with a random page of the project and given the chance to transcribe it as free text. There is a tutorial and field guide, which should be able to help with any queries, but failing that, there is the ‘talk’ option, which allows users to discuss images with each other, as well as with a project administrator. It is not necessary to create a Zooniverse account in order to transcribe, but doing so prevents users from seeing the same image twice, and opens up the ‘talk’ message boards. There are also plans to host various sessions at the King’s Lynn Borough Archives, if users live locally and wish to socialise with fellow transcribers.

Image 4 - Screenshot

Screenshot from Zooniverse.

Tips for transcribers:

  • The tutorial should appear at the beginning of your first transcription session – this will explain how to set out your transcript. If you are unsure about anything during a later session, the tutorial can be viewed again by clicking the ‘tutorial’ button, above the text box.
  • The Field Guide is a tab on the right-hand side at the page – this should be a fairly comprehensive guide to anything you might be stuck with. It lays out the format of the Hall Books, gives examples of common names (under ‘Members of the Congregation’), explains how to deal with tables, deletions, insertions, and notes added to the page, and contains guides to money, Roman numerals, dates, abbreviations and contractions of words, and a letter guide.
  • The project may seem intimidating at first, but it will become much easier with practice – you will get used to the handwriting of various town clerks, become familiar with common King’s Lynn names, and have a better idea of how the Hall Books are laid out and the information they are likely to contain. If you are unfamiliar with secretary hand (the style of handwriting common in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), we recommend that you begin with the Georgian Lynn workflow. Once you become used to this, the Civil War Lynn workflow will hopefully seem much easier.
  • It is useful, whilst you transcribe, to have open a family history site (for example, FindMyPast or Ancestry) and the Oxford English Dictionary website. The former can help to confirm readings of names, whilst the latter is handy if you are unsure about any slightly archaic words.
  • If you are having trouble with a particular image, simply refresh the webpage, and you should be provided with a brand new one.
  • Don’t feel too much pressure to ‘get it right’ – each image is being transcribed three times in total, and the results combined and compared, so any mistakes that might be made will hopefully be caught by someone else.

If you have any queries about this project, please don’t hesitate to get in touch, at

Chloe Phillips, Project Officer.

Posted in Events | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments