King’s Lynn pub where fishermen sang to Ralph Vaughan Williams could be turned into a shop

Singers Thomas Anderson, James Singers Thomas Anderson, James "Duggie" Carter (standing) and the Rev Edward Edwards, who introdruced the two men to Ralph Vaughan Williams in the Tilden Smith.

Saturday, January 11, 2014
8:31 AM

The Retreat - formerly the Tilden Smith - was the last surviving pub in King’s Lynn’s old North End.

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The Retreat pub in King's Lynn, where fishermen sang to Ralph Vaughan Williams. Picture: Chris BishopThe Retreat pub in King's Lynn, where fishermen sang to Ralph Vaughan Williams. Picture: Chris Bishop

Now agents are advertising for a tenant, saying its ground floor is suitable for a shop and could have a display window fitted.

Lynn historian Dr Paul Richards said: “Pilot Street was the high street of the old North End with all the pubs. “It will be the last of the old North End pubs to go, it will be a break with a very long tradition, it will certainly be a break with the historic North End.”

Composer Vaughan Williams visited Lynn in January 1905, as he travelled the country collecting traditional folk songs to use in his own compositions.

The weather was rough and fishermen who were unable to get out on The Wash had gathered in the Tilden Smith. Among them were Duggie Carter and Joe Anderson, who were belting out songs like the Captain’s Apprentice, Dogger Bank and The Mermaid.

Their melodies are said to have influenced some of Vaughan Williams’s later works, like his Norfolk Rhapsodies and Sea Symphony.

The Tilden Smith once stood at the heart of the North End - a self-contained fishing community within a few streets’ radius of St Nicholas Chapel, also known as the fishermen’s church.

The nearby Fisher Fleet was home to hundreds of boats, while up to 1,000 people lived crammed into the warren of cottages.

Fishermen all wore colourful “gansies” - woollen jumpers whose individual patterning could help to identify the wearer if they drowned and their body was eventually washed up ashore. After she began researching the history of the patterns in the late 1980s, from a picture of Duggie Carter, retired teacher Pat Midgley became interested in the North End, which by then had been bulldozed by slum clearence and to make way for new roads. She discovered a fragment survived at the corner of North Street and St Ann Street.

Two of the old fishermen’s cottages were still standing, which today form part of True’s Yard, the museum Mrs Midgley helped to set up to preserve memories of the old North End, which opened in 1993.

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