Originally named Bishop's Lynn, the town was part of the manor of the Bishop of Norwich in the 12th century. By the 14th century, the town ranked as the third port of England. It still retains two buildings that were warehouses of the Hanseatic League that were in use between the 15th and 17th centuries.
When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1538, the town and manor became royal property. The names King's Lynn and Lynn Regis reflect this change. The town became very prosperous from the 17th century through the export of corn; the fine Customs House was built in 1683 to the designs of local architect Henry Bell.
The town went into decline after this period, and was only rescued by the relatively late arrival of railway services in 1847 - with services mainly provided by the Great Eastern Railway (subsequently London and North Eastern Railway) and its fore-runners, and by the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway, which had its headquarters in the town at Austin Street, and an important station at South Lynn (now dismantled) which was also its operational control centre.
In the post-Second World War period King's Lynn was designated a London Expansion Town, and its population roughly doubled as thousands of people were relocated from the capital.
The town is mainly situated on the east bank of the Great Ouse, with a small part, known as West Lynn, on the west bank. Other districts of King's Lynn include the town centre, North Lynn, South Lynn, Gaywood, North Wootton, South Wootton, and Fairstead.
In the town centre, the Guildhall (1421) and the Town Hall (1895) are King's Lynn's most impressive secular buildings, built with flint-chequered facades, and adjacent to the Saturday Market Place (the original hub of the town). It also has two impressive churches: St Margaret's (also on the Saturday Market Place) and St Nicholas' Chapel - the latter built close to the newer Tuesday Market Place, at the heart of a massive Georgian expansion and one of the finest public squares in England. The roads connecting the two markets contain many fine historic buildings, and run parallel to the quays that lined the River Great Ouse (now largely superseded by docks).
King's Lynn has always been a centre for the fishing and seafood industry (especially inshore prawns, shrimps and cockles). There have also been glass-making and small-scale engineering works (many fairground and steam engines were built here), and today it is still the location for much agricultural-related industry including food processing. There are a number of chemical factories and the town retains a role as an import centre. It is a regional centre for what is still a sparsely-populated part of England.
For more information about the history of King's Lynn, the Visit West Norfolk page is full of facts and photos.