True's Yard Museum

We all enjoy exploring museums and learning about history. It is always a great opportunity to explore so many fascinating things and discovering where they come from. So, we decided to head to True's Yard Museum to learn about the local history of a close-knit local community on a cold November afternoon. 

True's Yard Museum is situated in a series of cottages that are, in effect, the only remains of an old fishing community in the North End area of town. It is an independent museum run almost entirely by volunteers and tells visitors that many stories of the old North End fishing quarter of King's Lynn.

The museum is full of medieval artefacts and objects relating to the town of King's Lynn and its maritime history, which was, at that time, a very prosperous and wealthy port, all laid out in such a way to make it a fascinating visit. The exhibits comprise of galleries, archives, models, a smokehouse, smithy and a couple of cottages. There is even a fantastic Lego display of St. Nicolas Chapel.

North End was once home to hundreds of fishermen and their families. They all loved and worked in tiny cottages that were all crammed into small courtyards that were built close together. North end was filled with its own boat builders, chandlers, sailmakers, pubs, bakehouse and school. The hard and sometimes dangerous life they led bred a fierce loyalty where they supported each other in times of crisis. It was a real close-knit community, and often many wouldn't marry outside of North End.

True’s Yard was of a formerly mixed housing and places of work for the fishing community, based around yards and this happens to be the last; as slum clearances in the 20th Century removed a lot of buildings. What remains shows quite well the mixed occupation of the area. There are a couple of cottages; a blacksmith’s; a former local shop; a smokehouse; and a boat which is undergoing some kind of restoration.

The Galleries

As soon as you walk in True's Yard Museum you will see a model that shows the local town during the Tudor Period. It was quite fascinating to spot all the familiar places and see how they have changed. With the model, you can also see that the town was protected by a town wall, parts of which can still be seen today such as the South Gates.

Just as you pass the model display of fishing equipment you will come to the galleries that are filled with many interesting facts, models and artefacts from times long ago. In the middle of the room there is a model that shows the North End in 1884, which most of it was flattened during the slum clearances The map on the wall highlights the areas which survived and those which were demolished. There were so many display cases that contained a variety of artefacts donated by North End families.

The Cottages

Our favourite part at True's Yard Museum was getting an opportunity to go inside to explore the two brick cottages that have been furnished from different time periods for a real authentic experience. Throughout this part there are several recordings of North End families that are played to help create a unique atmosphere to give visitors an insight into life in the North End. 

The cottages consist of just two rooms, one upstairs and one downstairs. At one time in cottage no.5 a family of eleven squeezed into the tiny rooms. The nine children had to sleep in one double bed, top to tail, while the parents had to sleep on the floor. There were no toilet facilities, instead they used a chamber pot which was kept under the bed. The cottages were lit either by oil lamps or candles. A coal fire heated downstairs: at the end of the day the remaining hot coals were used to warm the tiny bedrooms.

As you can see the girls really enjoyed going into the cottages to discover all the things they would use on a day-to-day basis, learn about how families would love in such a small space. As we went around the museum there were so many interesting finds that kept us all intrigued.

The Smokehouse

The Smokehouse is the original building historically used to smoke the fish caught by the local fishermen of North End, as you walk by, you will noticed that it has been set up with 'real' fish to show you how it might have looked. I can only imagine the stench from the smokehouse. Opened by former fisherman Thomas Westwood, along with his wife Mary and three daughters, Mary, Penelope and Emily. He also had two sons Thomas and Charles. The family also opened a fishmonger in the front room of the house that faced St. Ann's Street, from which they sold the fish they smoked in the smokehouse situated to the rear.

Educational Room

Inside the Smokehouse, to the left, you will see an educational room which gives little visitors an opportunity to get a hands-on experience and learn about life in North End. There were some everyday items that they would have used as well as seeing some of the clothes that they would have worn, nothing was ever thrown away. There was also a box crammed with lots of pirate dress up, boxes filled with items for little visitors to guess what was inside as well as some trays of sand with hidden items that visitors had to brush to uncover.

The Activity

In True's Yard Museum courtyard is a restored fishing smack, named Activity, which was made by local shipbuilders at the turn of the 20th century. The Activity is a half-decker shrimp and shell fishing boat. During the summer it would be used to gather shrimp, and cockles and mussels at other times of the year. The boat has a shallow draught, enabling it to easily navigate the waters of The Wash at low tide.

The Smithy

The building was once a blacksmith shop in North End, back when nothing was thrown away but repaired whenever possible. This is the main museum space where a variety of artefacts were generously donated by residents of the North End. Originally, the community baker lived in the neighbouring shop. It was common for local residents to bring food to the baker so that he could cook it in his oven for a penny.

True's Yard Museum is a delightful gem to find tucked away in the North End area of King's Lynn - a town that is full to the brim of fascinating stories that are rich in maritime history. It is an incredible opportunity to discover the atmosphere, lifestyle and living conditions of a close-knit fishing community. The cottages are especially riveting, how so many people could live in such small accommodation was a real eye-opener. A place to learn about a way of life long gone.

Though the restored cottages and smokehouse take centre stage at Trues Yard, there is much more to see in the museum, with two galleries of displays on the life of fishermen in King's Lynn, traditional costumes such as the local knit jumper known as a gansey, aprons and an assortment of dress up in the educational room. 

We were able to spend a solid hour in the museum. This was not quite enough to take everything in, but due to a late admission we kind of overstayed our welcome and got kicked out of the museum in the politest way possible. I'd say you need a good hour and a half to see every detail throughout the museum, more if you wanted to make a stop at the tea rooms too. 

The museum is mostly wheelchair friendly, with one available to borrow; there are a few steps in places and there is a display on the first floor of the cottages – which is only accessible via a spiral staircase. There is a disability toilet and guide dogs are welcome. True's Yard Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday 10am-4pm. Adults £3, Seniors (over 60) £2.50, Children £1.50, Under 5′s go free. Family (2 adults 2 children) £6.