Great Grimsby Charter Day

Grimsby’s first royal charter of 1201

One of the most significant dates in Grimsby’s rich history has to be 11 March. This is the date of the issuing and sealing of Great Grimsby’s very first Royal Charter, 821 years ago in 1201.

Great Grimsby Charter Day is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the connection between the past and what we see and experience in the town today, because there are elements of the first Charter and those that followed over the centuries, that still exist in Grimsby life. Even the parts which we cannot see, the history that may sometimes seem ‘lost’, are being uncovered.

But what is the Royal Charter, and what role does it play in modern day Grimsby?

In 1201, King John and his royal entourage witnessed the sealing of the borough’s first Royal Charter. At the time, Grimsby was one of only seven places in the England to have been granted this document, which defined the rights and privileges of the town, enabling it to to govern itself and set its own taxes, essentially paving the way for local democracy and societal systems. This was 14 years before the landmark signing of the Magna Carta, which is seen as one of the most important documents in Great British history.

The burgesses of Grimsby

At the time, responsibility of the town was handed to the ‘burgesses’ – local people who became the ‘free men’ of the town. Today, there are over 1,000 men and women who are direct descendants of the original burgesses, known as the Enrolled Freemen of Grimsby. They are a registered charity and continue to do great work in and around the town, including supporting the regeneration of Freeman Street and the East Marsh.

Visit to find out more about the organisation and their extensive research of the Royal Charter.

Establishing markets under the Royal Charter

Under the Charter, the burgesses were allowed to establish markets. Records show that there has been a market in Grimsby since the 12th century, and it received its own Royal Charter in 1604 from King James I. Fast forward to 1976, and Grimsby Top Town Market moved to its present location. Today, it is still operated under the provisions of the Royal Charter.

Freeman Street Market is owned by the Enrolled Freemen of Grimsby, and it is still thriving thanks to the producers, traders and street food vendors who fill the market, and a renewed focus on the community. In fact, in February 2022, it was awarded ‘best small indoor market in Britain’ by the National Association of British Markets.

The rights to improvement

In the Charter of 1329, King Edward III sanctioned the right to improve the navigation of the River Freshney, and in the 1340s a dock was excavated here, known as the West Haven. Today, this is the Garth Lane area of Grimsby town centre and it is currently undergoing major improvements as a part of the Greater Grimsby Town Deal and Heritage Action Zone. The dock may not exist anymore but over the years, archaeologists have conducted excavations to find evidence of medieval maritime industry.

Find out more about the Greater Grimsby Heritage Action Zone from Historic England:

Where can you see relics of Grimsby’s Royal Charters?

Unfortunately, the original Royal Charter of 1201 was lost many years ago, but Grimsby Town Hall is home to several other significant Charters, Letters Patent, and documents, including the earliest surviving Charter dating back to 1227. Here, you can also see a stone bust of King Edward III, recognising the King’s contribution to promoting Grimsby’s maritime trade.

How is Great Grimsby Charter Day celebrated today?

In 2022 on Great Grimsby Charter Day – Friday 11 March – the Grimsby borough flag will proudly fly high over Grimsby Town Hall.

This year there are two exciting exhibitions to visit. The ‘All Things Freemen‘ exhibition at Freeman Street Market will open to the public. View artefacts, images, online content and an audio exhibit. The exhibition will remain open until Saturday 26 March.

A second exhibition will take place in Grimsby Town Hall. Hosted by North East Lincolnshire Archives and Lincs Inspire, the ‘Royal Connections’ exhibition will feature a collection of documents, images and artefacts on royal visits to the area including those of Queen Victoria, George V, Princess Mary and Elizabeth II. There will also be a rare chance to see Grimsby’s earliest surviving Royal Charter of 1227, issued by King John’s son, Henry III. Find out more about the ‘Royal Connections’ exhibition:

The Time Trap Museum and Town Hall will be open to the public on Friday 11 March and also Saturday 12 March (it is usually closed to the public on Saturdays). Opening hours 10am to 4pm Friday and 10am to 2pm Saturday. Grimsby Fishing Heritage Centre will have 10% off entry on Friday 11 March and also Saturday 12 March in honour of Great Grimsby Charter Day.

Also launching for Great Grimsby Charter Day will be a new town centre heritage trail on the Love Exploring app. Learn about Grimsby town centre’s history and the buildings that made it what it is today. The trail has been created in partnership with the Grimsby, Cleethorpes & District Civic Society. You can download the Love Exploring app to your mobile phone.