This is likely to be part one of an ongoing investigation
My interested in the Hanse started in 2014 when we stayed on the campsite at Uyeasound in Unst, Shetland. There is a small building adjacent to this called Greenwell’s Booth. On doing some research I found it was a Hanse building. Then on visiting Whalsay we saw another Hanse building which was much bigger with two stories. One floor of the inside had lots of interpretive panels about this.
Whalsay Hanse Building.
So what is the Hanse?
It is the medieval German word for ‘Convoy’. Another term that crops up a lot is ‘Hanseatic League’ which was a medieval group of towns/ regions that stretched across Northern Europe and the Baltic region allowing ports to be connected and merchants to share economic interests. It influenced more than five centuries of trade in the Baltic and North Sea regions. This is a very simple explanation and the more I delve into this the more fascinating it becomes. Actual records from the time are few and far between but recent excavations etc and the use of more accurate analysis methods are yielding more facts. Norfolk (and the wider area of East Anglia) did a lot of trade by sea. It seems there were three Norfolk Ports with Hanseatic links - Great Yarmouth, Norwich (which had shipping up to its centre for quite a time in its past) and King’s Lynn.
Researching the Hanse leaves me with conflicting impressions about it. At times I think it was a great early example of cross country co-operation moving goods from country to country. At others I get the idea it was quite exploitative and that local traders were ‘taken advantage of’. Perhaps it was a bit of both. The Hanseatic League in one form or another lasted for hundreds of years - from the 12 th Century to 17th Century. The discovery of America and internal conflicts seem to have led to the final break up of this complex trading network.
Knowing that much of the export trade to the continent from Great Yarmouth and Norwich was in wool and cloth and the imports included dyes, investigating the Hanse is fascinating to me.
On the weekend of (18th - 20th May 2018) Kings Lynn held a three day Hanse Festival. (This is an annual event.) We were fortunate to be able to attend and do the Hanse Walk, which took in eleven, yes eleven Hanse highlights. It was so fascinating I am wanting to go back and discover more. Unfortunately we could only spend an hour or so, but it was so hot that we could not take any more. The northern part of Kings Lynn is the relevant area for all things Hanse and although I have lived in the county for many years altogether I have never been to this before.
This image shows the side of the only remaining Hanse warehouse in England Hanse House in Kings Lynn built in 1485. The river is in the far distance (in front of the grass). The Georgian ‘makeover’ on the right is part of the original building.
Note: There is a modern Hanse which King’s Lynn joined in 2005 as the first UK town. There are over 180 towns/ cities which are members and that were part of the medieval Hanseatic League, across Northern Europe. The aim of this is to cultivate traditions and exchange between the participants.
Kings Lynn- Hanse Festival 2018 and 2 leaflets from the Tourist Information Office (Festival map and programme, Hanseatic King’s Lynn a self guided trail)
Essays in Hanseatic History The King’s Lynn Symposium 1998 ed. Klaus Friedland and Paul Richards.
Uyeasound, Shetland, Hanseatic Booth: Information Board
Whalsay, Shetland, Hanseatic Booth : Information Display