All the fun of the mart
Each year, on the first weekend of the February half-term, King’s Lynn comes alive to the sound of the funfair. Its traditional mart is a highlight of the winter – though it often heralds a period of cold weather.
Marts held in English towns date back to the Middle Ages. Towns such as Lynn were granted a charter by the monarch to hold annual fairs – which were then more about trade than fun. Lynn – then known as Bishop’s Lynn – was first given permission to hold a fair in 1204 by King John, a generally unpopular monarch who gained lasting affection in this part of Norfolk for his gift.
Many towns and cities can date civic charters to this time; Cambridge, for example, got its first fair in 1211. Such documents tended to put a town ‘on the map’ and helped it gain status. The Valentine’s fair, Lynn’s second, was the gift of King Henry VIII in 1537. It was held in the Tuesday Market Place, attracting merchants from Britain and continental Europe.
At that time, Lynn was a thriving port, with links to the Hanseatic League, an international trading group based in Germany. As centuries wore on, the entertainment that went hand in hand with the fairs, became more important than commerce. During the reign of Queen Victoria the Lynn Mart got a new lease of life. Local man Frederick Savage ran an agricultural engineering business in the town, and was friendly with travelling showmen.
Savage worked with them to create new rides, such as roundabouts, and they became a feature of the February event. Today Lynn Mart runs for two weeks in mid-February, and is seen as the first funfair in the travelling showmen’s calendar.