King’s Lynn’s demon population is rising

Here in Norwich, the people are proud of their ghosts. The Man in Black gives tours throughout the city, and the Murderers pub is so proud of the landlady murdered outside the pub centuries ago that they’ve made a name out of it. They’ve even gotten famous murderers, like Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth, on their walls for pub goers to gaze upon during football matches. Recently, the Bridge House pub started calling itself Lollard’s Pit after the religious dissenters who were executed nearby in the 16th century. It’s not that the pub owners are huge fans of executions. They’re just proud of their history.

But in King’s Lynn, it’s hard to keep track of all the ghosts. The little Norfolk town has over 50 ghosts; until it mysteriously disappeared, you could rent a skeleton from the haunted library. True’s Yard fisherfolk museum is a cute, maze-like collection of pretty rooms, courtyards and cottages where 38 ghosts reportedly reside. At least, that was the official count: life at the museum is so strange that Nottingham’s Bassetlaw Ghost Research Group came, and counted everything from child-spirits to poltergeists. To the museum staff it was old news. Lindsey Bavin, manager at True’s Yard, often offers tours: “This is where our poltergeist resides”, Bavin said, walking through a room where a fisherfolk used to live (and apparently someone else). “His name is Henry, which I think is a delightful name for a poltergeist. This corridor here, which for some strange reason we can never keep the bulbs going for more than a week at a time. A lot of it gets blamed on Henry”.

For Balvin and her staff strange happenings are just part of the job. Far from seeking relocation or exorcism, the museum are pretty forgiving of their resident poltergeist.
“Paintings have been knocked off the wall, you see all those photographs there? And staplers in particular seem to be his favourite. Suddenly those flying across the room,” Balvin said. “Well, if you’re a poltergeist, what’re you gonna do?”

It’s an attitude of live and let haunt. The fisherfolk were the same. On land and water, the fisherfolk community lived precarious lives. For many a mixture of religion and everyday superstitions provided an anchor of security. Even their homemade rugs helped out.

“One of the superstitions was that if you had one of these rugs and a demon looked down your chimney, and saw this rag rug it would think it was a demon looking back up at it”, Balvin said. And then they’d leave you alone.

Spookiness is woven into King’s Lynn history. Part of Balvin’s daily routine is tending to a small cottage bedroom that some would prefer to avoid. The museum discovered that years ago a girl had been strangled there, by her father, for loving the wrong man. Rather than lose her and disgrace the family, he throttled her. It’s creepy, but it’s sad too. Balvin says that it’s important to keep these stories alive; “the ghosts reinstate untold tragedies”.

Recently, when a builder ran for help on seeing a hanged man in the attic: investigation found no body, but a story of a tattooist’s suicide in the same spot. That last sighting raised the museum’s ghost count to a crowded 39. True’s Yard has a practical solution – the attic door stays shut. It doesn’t stop Balvin enjoying her job, she just ignores the weird and gets back to work.

The Duke’s Head Hotel nearby doesn’t advertise its ghost either – it seems in Kings Lynn that nobody stops the press over weird happenings. Naomi Howard works at The Duke’s Head Hotel. Their resident ‘red lady’ haunts room 28.

“I’ve had guests that have heard noise, and I’ve actually had to move someone, because it was freaking them out”, Howard said.

The lights in the surrounding corridors flicker and fail, sometimes the room gets suddenly cold. So they don’t book the room out anymore. The more people we talk to, the shrugs and smiles we get – the ghosts: they’re just part of the place. Asking people in Kings Lynn if they get bothered by the ghosts is a bit

like asking if they get bothered when it rains – it’s just part of life.

But can everyone that works in a haunted building believe? Tom Newman, who manages the Maid’s Head pub, a newcomer to town and a self-proclaimed sceptic. Tom manages the haunted Maid’s Head pub, whose namesake recalls King’s Lynn’s darker history: “The maid was boiled in oil in the middle of the market square. There was only two people boiled in oil in this country, one in Kings Lynn, and one in London – they thought it was a bit of a sport”, Newman said.

But, the boilings didn’t die out because they were disgusting, or cruel, but because they weren’t very interesting to watch. “It was a slow process”, Newman said.

It seems typical of Kings Lynn, where the macabre and unexplained are part of the furniture – almost literally so for Tom. Tom doesn’t just work at The Maid’s Head, he lives there. And for a sceptic, he’s adapted pretty quickly to life in Kings Lynn.

“I’ve heard a couple of footsteps since being here, some of my teammates have heard people running up and down the stairs and along the corridors, when there’s been no one up there at all”, Newman said.

For a nonbeliever, Newman sure enjoys telling the stories. Even the sceptics here don’t outright deny Kings Lynn’s ghosts. That’s because they like the ghosts, and the excitement they bring. Anyone can tell a ghost story, and anyone can add a little extra each time. The stories pass along, from the 17th century fisherfolk, to the people here today, to us.


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August 2022
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