Medieval fair tumbles into King's Lynn

Amy GraySummon your minstrels and uncork the mead, forsooth. For the Great East Anglian Fair of 1503 is returning to Bishops Lene.In the lead up to July's Hanse Festival, which will celebrate King's Lynn's historic trading links with Europe, youngsters will be invited to a medieval market where almost everything is as it might have been in the 16th Century - when Lynn and known as Lene.Amy Gray

Summon your minstrels and uncork the mead, forsooth. For the Great East Anglian Fair of 1503 is returning to Bishops Lene.

In the lead up to July's Hanse Festival, which will celebrate King's Lynn's historic trading links with Europe, youngsters will be invited to a medieval market where almost everything is as it might have been in the 16th Century - when Lynn and known as Lene.

That includes all the characters in the market, such as tumbler Tom Catchpole and rat catcher Bill Fletcher - who are under strict orders not to break character while in costume in the face of any modern distractions.

About 1,000 school children from across Norfolk are expected to visit the market over four days from June 30, with an open day for families on Saturday, July 4.

As he recced the site in costume yesterday, Mr Catchpole looked suitably baffled by teenagers in low-slung jeans playing basketball.

'I am a travelling entertainer,' he said. 'Catchpole by name, Catchpole by nature. I shall be walking the tightrope, I shall be juggling and, depending on how much mead is flowing, I shall be falling over.'

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Mr Catchpole praised the work of rat catcher Bill Fletcher, who in medieval Lynn would have been the town's first line of defence against the dreaded plague, brought in by rats hitching a lift on cargo ships sailing to Norfolk from Hanseatic ports.

'Bill Fletcher is a very important person, we've suffered enough from the plague,' said Mr Catchpole.

Mr Fletcher, who would have passed a ruined plague on the outskirts of Lynn on his travels north from the East End of London, said of the children coming to the fair: 'Their dress will be a bit odd but they can help me catch some rats.'

Youngsters will also have the chance to interact with characters including a fortune-teller, a falconer and a blacksmith, as well as the architect of the Red Mount Chapel.

Back in the 21st century, assistant arts and education manager Nick Neal said the village set was complete and ready to be installed, but a few of the costumes needed a last-minute tweak to make them as authentic as possible.

'It's based on the Great East Anglian Fair of 1503, many people would come to see the travelling fairs and each actor has a role that would have been about at the time,' said Mr Neal. 'They have to answer any questions as if it's 1503, in our experience the kids who come along will suspend disbelief for the two hours they are in.'

The project was awarded �45,445 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, who will be visiting the village, and �15,000 from the West Norfolk Partnership.

Lynn is the only English member of the modern Hanseatic League -ports linked by trading in medieval times - and council leader Nick Daubney said he hoped the village would get people interested in the town's history.

'This is a really innovative project and will help to give people an insight into King's Lynn's Hanseatic heritage as it will re-create 1503, a time when we were one the most significant English members of the Hanseatic League,' he said.

'We are keen for people to take pride in this fantastic cultural heritage, a heritage that has after all given us a veritable treasure trove of historic buildings and shaped our distinctive character.'

About 20 spaces are still available for pupils to attend during the week, call Mr Neal on 01553 779095 to book. The family day on July 4 is from 10am to 2.30pm and is free.