The Great Whale is the centrepiece of Harding’s Pits Doorstep Green. Nearly 20 feet high and weighing 3.5 tonnes it reflects an important part of King’s Lynn history. From the 16th to the 19th century the area close by the Green was home to the Lynn whaling industry; its ships were built and victualled here, its merchants and captains met and traded from the Greenland Fishery close by in Bridge Street. All of which makes it appropriate for the whale to have become the defining mark of the Harding’s Pits Doorstep Green.
These are the work of an artist from Suffolk, Ben Platts-Mills and his helpers. Timber is their material and the chainsaw is their principal tool. Their work is to be seen in many parts of East Anglia and further afield and Harding’s Pits, with its carved entry markers and the Great Whale at the centre, is among their best. The Fairstead Doorstep Green in North Lynn has another fine example of their artistry.
Before he began work, Ben held classes in the three primary schools close to the Green — Whitefriars, Greyfriars and St Michaels — asking children what they would like to see put there. The ideas came thick and fast, hence the seal supported by a man rising out of the earth and with a submarine on the end of its nose, the tumblers (part of Harding’s Pits was once used as winter quarters for the travelling fairground folk) holding up the fisherman in his sou’wester, and the great bird now cruelly vandalised but still keeping watch over the Green and its many inhabitants.
See more of Ben’s work here.
A bit more history
Before that, in the 12th to 14th centuries, the Green was among the lands of the Whitefriars, the Carmelite monks whose monastery gate still stands only a few yards away on the edge of the Friars area. For this reason the site is also locally known as The Abbey to older residents.
In the 16th century the site formed part of the defences of the walled town. The rampart which rises across the Green towards the Great Whale follows the line of one of these defensive earthworks.
Later still, the Green boasted a variety of industries, from brick kilns to timber yards and market gardens. In the First World War it was used to graze horses requisitioned by the army from farms all over Norfolk before trains carried them away from Lynn to draw big guns on the Western Front.
In the 20th century it became one of the town’s rubbish dumps. Then it fell into disuse, uncared for except by local people who even then valued it for its open space, wide skies, glorious sunsets and the blackberries which invaded almost every part of it.
It was rescued from a fate worse than death — development as a supermarket — in the mid-1990s and work began on its restoration early in 2000.
Today it acts as a green lung for the surrounding communities and habitat for many plants, insects, birds and mammals.