True life stories

David Self

David Self praises the restoration of King's Lynn's fishing heritage.

There used to be much in-breeding between Northenders. Who but a Northend girl would put up with a Northend boy, living in his family's crowded two-room home, knowing only one in four of your babies was likely to see its first birthday, knitting his ganseys and mending his nets while he was at sea?

The North End, levelled in the slum clearances of the 1930s, was the home of the fiercely loyal, mutually supportive fishing community of King's Lynn in west Norfolk. In 1987, a retired teacher, Pat Midgley, found two cottages had survived.

With the help of other dedicated volunteers, she has established a trust, and turned the cottages, a smithy - "Those were the days when buckets were mended" - and the adjacent yard into a brilliant, more-or-less self-financing museum.

True's Yard is cramped - but that is its point. With one cottage restored in Victorian style and the other furnished as it might have been in 1920, they give a gruesomely clear picture of what life would have been like when nine children might share a bed and domestic sewage was emptied into the river that was also the water supply.

Any visiting school party is divided into three groups and experienced teachers show one group round the town's docks, while another explores the cottages and the third studies the museum's impressive archives of maps, census material and early photographs. Groups rotate during the well-structured day and there is space, indoors or out, to eat packed lunches.

If it sounds like a day off for the teachers, it is a day's serious work for the children and impressive study packs are provided showing how the day can be geared to cover different aspects of the curriculum.

Typically, schools opt for projects such as Ships and Seafarers, Tudor or Victorian Lynn, King's Lynn as a trading port or Lynn during the First World War. Besides these history and geography-based days, a new day is being devised on wind and water to link with the key stage 2 science curriculum.

Local primary and secondary schools are making much use of True's Yard, including the fact that the museum is "on line" and students can receive answers to questions they forgot to ask once they are back in their own schools.

It also figures increasingly in school journey itineraries with schools from London, Brighton and Oxford making regular visits.

So too do students from King's Lynn Norfolk College - a BTEC graphics student has just designed a new poster for the museum. Open University students frequently explore its social history resources and it is visited by museum studies postgraduates. As one of these wrote, "True's Yard is inspirational in showing the quality of work that can be done with commitment".

* True's Yard, North Street, King's Lynn PE30 1QW. Tel: 01553 770479. Groups: pre-booking essential.

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