All the fun of the fair at King's Lynn

It’s British Science Week, the nation’s annual celebration of all things scientific and technological. A good time to share this fascinating story of fairground machinery and memorials in King’s Lynn.

The steam enthusiast

In 1848, King’s Lynn became the home of a man called Frederick Savage. Born in the nearby village of Hevingham in 1828, Savage started life as a farm labourer and then turned his hand to building agricultural machinery. But his love for invention took him down an unusual path. He was fascinated by steam engines, and had a reputation for designing powerful new machines for farmers to use. But steam also powered the growing tourist industry. Wealthy Victorian city-dwellers began to make day trips on the new train networks, and they needed entertaining when they reached their destinations.

A traditional Victorian switchback ride.

All the fun of the fair

Fairgrounds were becoming big business, and King’s Lynn had a place at the heart of it. For centuries, performers and operators of travelling fairs had gathered every February in the town’s Tuesday Market Place for The Mart, a lively event which marked the start of the travelling season. Savage spotted his opportunity. He designed a dazzling array of merry-go-rounds, switchbacks, show engines and more – all of them lavishly decorated.

These colourful contraptions caught the public imagination. Soon Savage was exporting them far and wide from his factory, the St Nicholas Ironworks. He became so successful that in 1892 the people of King’s Lynn erected a statue of him, which still stands today.

Frederick Savage's memorial statue in King's Lynn. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Mart’s chapel

Just around the corner from the Tuesday Market Place is St Nicholas’ Chapel. This 600-year-old building was often used by the fairground community and was nicknamed The Mart’s Chapel as a result. When Fred Savage died in 1897, he was buried there. The funeral procession was one of the largest ever to take place in the town.

Fred Savage's funeral was held at St Nicholas' Chapel in 1897. © True's Yard Fisherfolk Museum.

St Nicholas’ Chapel is now in our care, and  still sits at the heart of the community. So does The Mart, which continues to visit town every year, traditionally opening on Valentine’s Day.

So next time you see a travelling fairground in England, remember it probably started out in the market place at King’s Lynn.

(Lead photo credit: Paul Townsend, via Flickr Creative Commons)