In a small town called King’s Lynn on the eastern coast of England, there is a woman named Ann, and a quite remarkable number of lovely, colored doors. Here at Rowley Press, we’re self-admitted anglophiles, so Ann and her town and its doors managed to fascinate us from the first serendipitous moment we met.
I was roaming around Norfolk studying Palladian architecture at the time, and a scholar I worked with mentioned that King’s Lynn, the town I was staying in during my sojourn, contained a woman named Ann. She knew all about the place, apparently, so on a morning I had slated to visit a wildlife preserve (as a bit of a break from the Palladians and their columns), I instead called up this Ann and asked if she wouldn’t mind showing me around her town. And it was most certainly her town.
Seen from any other eyes than Ann’s, King’s Lynn has nothing remarkable to recommend itself. Like any other of the hundreds of little hamlets the speckle the coast around Norfolk, it’s filled with dull brick buildings, a few ancient edifices, and one or two minor claims to fame, in this case, a customs house and an office of the Hanseatic League (I’m still not entirely clear on the details of what that was, so I couldn’t possibly hope to explain it here). On a misty morning in May, I walked its streets with Ann at my side, her age somewhere past 80 but certainly shy of 90, her hair a nearly translucent halo of white curls, her voice strong enough to startle a stone, and the distinct scent of Nivea cream surrounding her like a personal cloud.
Brought to life by Ann’s powerful, flowing monologue, King’s Lynn filled in and fleshed out with a thousand stories of inhabitants, craftsmen, sailors, builders, lovers, children, vicars, scandals, young women out for strolls in the park, dreams, tragedies, ups and downs and ups again. Each corner, every alley contained the living, breathing tales of centuries past. Ann seemed to know something about everything, and every place. A town with nothing remarkable. Nothing remarkable except to a person like Ann.
Strolling along, I realized I was taking picture of nearly every door we passed. Bright, vibrant hues of blue, green, yellow, and red, they were the only visual relief in long lines of unrelenting, brown brick homes. Ann’s voice continued beside me, “And in 1759, this building burnt down and was restored by…” Red door. “This is the park where young women of the more well-to-do families would…” Blue door. “Here’s the spot where the only women to own her own shipping business before 1750…” Green door. Vivid symbols of a secret story held in the mind of a remarkable woman in an unremarkable place. A woman named Ann.