Whales have been hunted by humans since prehistoric times; for meat, fuel, and all sorts of other products.
Maritime industries have played a key part of King’s Lynn’s history and economy for hundreds of years and whaling was from the eighteenth until the late nineteenth centuries one of the most lucrative.
According to Maritime Heritage East the earliest recorded reference to whaling in King’s Lynn comes from Sir Hamon Le Strange who is quoted in Thomas Southwell’s Notes on the Arctic Whale Trade: ‘…a sperm whale cast ashore in his manor in 1626 was cut up and disposed of by some that had bine (been) in Greenland, fishing for whales’
Between 1760 and 1830, whaling was an important and lucrative industry in Lynn with ships sailing for Greenland in the Spring and coming home with their haul later in the Summer. Local merchants and businesses were naturally led to invest in the whaling industry in King’s Lynn, lured by the big profits to be made. During this period the Greenland Company was formed [Nelson Street] and set sail several whaling ships from the town; most notably the Experiment, the Bedford, the Archangel, the Fountain and the Eclipse.
The products of the whaling were so useful and versatile – which is why it became such a significant industry: In addition to the meat and fuel, whale was used in:
- Shipbuilding: (jawbones used to strengthen the hulls of ships);
- furniture making (eg chairbacks);
- commercial (eg grease from whale oil used to lubricate machinery and oil as an ingredient in soap making);
- domestic purposes (brushes from baleen) and
- even in clothing (corset stays).
And when it all seemed to be exhausted, even the remaining bones could be ground down and used as fertiliser – nothing went to waste. St Margaret’s Church in King’s Lynn was illuminated using whale oils until 1839.