King's Lynn True's Yard complex returned to former glory

Annabelle DicksonThe smell of smoked herring fills the air and across the yard an ancient fishing smack is being returned to its former glory. In an archive deep in the True's Yard complex, hours of recordings chronicling life a North Ender can be heard.Annabelle Dickson

The smell of smoked herring fills the air and across the yard an ancient fishing smack is being returned to its former glory.

In an archive deep in the True's Yard complex, hours of recordings chronicling life a North Ender can be heard.

On Friday True's Yard museum will reopen its doors after the Christmas break and is set to evoke an even more vivid experience of what life was like for King's Lynn's North End fishing community.

A raft of changes have been made at the heritage site, including the restoration of the town's last remaining smoke house, which was discovered in a Victorian shop, which was once a fishmonger.

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And, although delayed by snow, work to build a new mast, rigging and a viewing platform for a 1904 fishing smack is almost complete.

Trustees and volunteers are now hoping visitors will come flooding through the doors.

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Chief executive of English Heritage, Simon Thurley, who lives in King's Lynn and has followed the latest project, said: 'I see an awful lot of very big and well-funded projects and in many ways this is more exciting than any of them.'

In 2008 the museum was awarded �294,000 grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund for a three year project to extend the museum. And having raised �140,000 itself, the museum has undergone a transformation.

Alongside the new exhibits, a larger education centre has been built, and the sound archive will open in the next few weeks.

Visitors to museum and historians will be able to hear the voices of those who experienced life in the North End, but local people will also be able to record their own stories.

Pat Midgley, who founded the museum in 1991, said she was particularly interested in the sound archive.

'My aim for the museum was mainly the research facility', she said.

'My view is that without the volunteers and particularly the North Enders themselves none of this could have happened.

'It's just a great achievement for a small group of people who are so proud of that fishing community as it was. The whole effort has been wonderful and the number of people that are involved in it.'

Mr Thurley said: 'Although King's Lynn does have its little fishing fleet today, it is hard to see that this town was the fourth largest port in England.

'You could read thousands of books or see thousands of photographs and you would get an iota of what it was like in the old days.'

He added: 'It is a band of heroes who have done this. People who have been passionate about the North End in Lynn, without them this important part of East Anglia would not be with us.

'I thought True's Yard was great anyway, but this is going to make it even better. It deserves to go from strength to strength.'

Craftsman Paul Lake, who is working on the fishing smack, said: 'It has been a challenge because there is so much that is unknown. 'You take one piece out to do a job and then two pieces fall out.'

True's Yard is all that remains of Lynn's old fishing community, the North End, which existed for hundreds of years.

Hundreds of families lived within a stone's throw of their chapel of St Nicholas, which still dominates the area, and the North End had its own boat builders, chandlers, sail makers, pubs, bake houses and school.

Although the fishing fleet still sails regularly from King's Lynn, the old way of life has gone.

Historians describe the life of the North Enders as hard and sometimes dangerous and it bred a fierce loyalty in the Northenders. They supported each other in times of crisis, seldom married anyone from outside the North End and cared for their widows and orphans.

The men would sail up to 100 miles away to bring in their catch, and their women would tend the children, wait and pray, and mend the nets when they came home.

It was finally demolished in the slum clearances of the 1930s and the 1960s.

True's Yard Museum was opened in 1991 to preserve two Georgian cottages in Lynn's last remaining fisherfolk yard.

It was enlarged in 1996 to incorporate the former Naval Reserve pub and has since become a heritage centre holding important archives and photographs.

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