If you ask people to name a famous sailor associated with King’s Lynn, most people would name Nelson. He was famous for his part in helping Britain defeat the French in the Napoleonic Wars – although he was actually born in Burnham Thorpe and had little to do with Lynn. After Nelson the next favourite candidate known to a few would be Vancouver. Captain George Vancouver was born in Lynn and his ship Discovery beat a convoy of American ships to the northwest coast of America to declare the land as “British Columbia”. Today Vancouver is Canada’s largest port. (See Update below.)
Despite the above two illustrious men, there is a King’s Lynn building that was once named after an heroic geordie sailor. The building stands at the corner of Priory Lane and Nelson Street opposite Hampton Court and is known as The Valiant Sailor. Unfortunately because of the building’s location at the end of Nelson Street (formerly Lath Street), many people think the Valiant Sailor refers to Nelson. It doesn’t. The building was once a pub named in honour of a sailor called Jack Crawford from Sunderland.
In his early 20’s in 1796, Crawford was press-ganged into the Royal Navy and served on HMS Venerable under Admiral Duncan, the Royal Navy Commander-in-Chief of the North Seas. A year later (1797) Crawford was on the Venerable during the Battle of Camperdown (Britain was fighting the Dutch during the French Revolutionary Wars).
During the battle Venerable’s mast was shot down, and thus the Admiral’s flag also disappeared from view. Lowering the Admiral’s personal flag was a sign of surrender, and even an unintentional fall was unacceptable. Despite being under intense gunfire, Crawford climbed the mast and nailed the flag to the top.
The British went on to win the battle. The Dutch fleet was broken as an independent fighting force, losing ten ships and more than 1,100 men.
Crawford’s bravery was recognised. He was presented to King George III and given a pension of £30 a year. He was also given a silver medal from the people of Sunderland, and throughout the land pubs were named after him. However, he seemed unable to cope with the fame. Sadly he became a drunk and had to sell his medal. He died of cholera in 1831 and was buried in an unmarked “pauper’s” grave.
The building, which started life in the late C15th, and which became a pub in the C17th, has a link with a C20th famous artist (Walter Dexter) who lived in it while he taught at a local school, and who may have taught a certain Maurice Micklewhite (Sir Michael Caine) – but that’s another story.
Since posting the above King’s Lynn’s Deputy Mayor, Lesley Bambridge, has suggested other possible candidates for the title of “King’s Lynn’s Third Most Famous Sailor”. I will leave the reader to decide: Samuel Gurney Cresswell and Commander Thomas Curtis.
© James Rye 2021