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From boy to Mayor – a personal reflection on the Lynn Mart

todayFebruary 21, 2021 16

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From the buzz of excitement when he visited the fairground as a child to the times when, as borough mayor, he performed the official opening ceremony, DR PAUL RICHARDS has a lifetime of memories of Lynn Mart.

He was in the civic party on opening day for many years and saw how much the Mart’s visit to Lynn meant to the town and also to the showmen as it marked the start of their summer touring season.

Although the Mart is missing from the Tuesday Market Place this year, Dr Richards has been looking back over his times at the fair and has compiled these Mart Milestones.

The Mart in King's Lynn.. (29896370)
The Mart in King’s Lynn.. (29896370)

Our family lived in Checker Street in the Friars and it was only a twenty minute walk “up town” to the February Mart.

As a child in the 1950s the Mart always brought snow and cold until you reached High Street.

The music grew louder and the lights brighter as the Tuesday Market Place with its roundabouts and side shows came into view.

My favourite ride was called the ‘Caterpillar’ which was rather more gentle than the whizzing ‘Waltzers’. For generations of Lynn children and adults alike the February Mart has been a source of pleasure and delight in dark winters.

Going away to university for seven years followed by fully occupied college life as a lecturer, I lost touch with the Lynn Mart. This changed in 1991 when I became a borough councillor and attended the activities associated with it every February.

Being borough mayor (1998-2000) was the real turning point. Since 1537 the mayor has declared the Mart open every 14 February (epidemics apart) and I was privileged to do this twice.

In February 2000 it was from the magnificent set of gallopers whose making Frederick Savage himself had overseen. The roundabout was owned by the President of the Showmen’s Guild, Bertie Ayers, and is now at Beamish open-air museum in County Durham.

Official Opening of an Exhibition on the King's Lynn Mart at True's Yard Fisherfolk Museum King's Lynn, opening by Nipper Appleton..(LtoR), Dr Paul Richards and Nipper Appleton at the opening ceremony. (44485316)
Official Opening of an Exhibition on the King’s Lynn Mart at True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum King’s Lynn, opening by Nipper Appleton..(LtoR), Dr Paul Richards and Nipper Appleton at the opening ceremony. (44485316)

Savage was Lynn’s first great industrialist whose St Nicholas Ironworks near the docks manufactured, from the 1880s, the steam driven roundabouts which transformed the traditional English funfair.

These leisure machines were exported all over the world and Lynn became the ‘Mecca’ of British showmen. It is interesting to note that both the marriages and funerals of members of their community took place in St Nicholas Chapel into the 1980..

That Frederick’s statue facing the South Gate was erected four years before his death in 1897 emphasises the impact he had on his adopted town. In 1889 he had become the first industrialist to be Lynn’s mayor in the long history of the borough.

For centuries the mayor and aldermen processed behind the four mace bearers from the Town Hall to the Tuesday Market Place to open the February Mart.

In February 2000 I was also accompanied by the Lynn Waits or mayor’s band discontinued in 1836. Chris Gutteridge as their leader composed a piece called ‘The Mayor’s March’ and we followed them down Queen Street to open the Millennium Mart.

Lynn’s Mart is still regarded by many Showmen as the first chartered fair of their English season so its opening in 2000 was a special event.

During my two years as mayor I was glad to become acquainted with several members of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain. Over the years they have generously supported the mayor’s charities.

The fame and appeal of Lynn Mart is confirmed by the number of mayors from the eastern counties who usually attend the February opening day. In 1999 no fewer than 16 mayors or members of ‘the chain gang’ visited the town to join the celebrations (Norwich, Boston, Cambridge and Peterborough included).

For several centuries the opening of the Mart was followed by a civic luncheon at the Town Hall when showmen and their ladies mingled with other guests. My speech as mayor at this event in February 1998 was (not surprisingly) about Frederick Savage whose life and work I have studied.

Since 2013 the Mart luncheon has been held at the Duke’s Head hosted by members of the eastern section of the Showmen’s Guild.

The hotel is interwoven with the lives of the Mart community. It has been the venue for ‘Ladies Night’ and children’s parties. It remains a meeting place for committees of the Showmen’s Guild.

Across the square the Globe Hotel (Wetherspoons) was used by the Mart families for fancy dress dances. The plot outside was where Savage featured new rides every year and showmen from all over England engaged in business deals.

Public houses in and around the Tuesday Market are associated with the Mart and its people, though three have closed, and the Black Horse in Chapel Street was demolished.

Into the 1950s showmen in exotic costumes performed fire eating and sword swallowing close to these taverns where they could regularly quench their thirst.

Until 2020 my historic pub tours of Lynn were hopefully given extra interest and colour through acquiring such knowledge.

The Mart both before and after its transformation by Frederick Savage represents a rich seam of local history and civic identity with which we can hopefully reconnect in 2022.

n Have youmissed the Mart this year? Share your memories by emailing

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todayFebruary 21, 2021 51