Larvik - history of the town
The oldest recorded mention of the name "Larvik" dates back to 1512, when Dutch sailors mentioned the bay by the name Laghervik. The area began to be settled in c. 1620. Initially it was a small local community of approximately 200 persons. Industrial development and the existence of a rich middle class caused a port to be opened in Larvik in 1665. At that time it is estimated that Larvik had 600-700 residents.
In 1671 the county of Larvik was established with Ulrik Fredrik Gyldenløve, the Norwegian viceroy and son of the king, at its head. The town was governed by the count's officials and had no established city rights. It became more prominent in 1750 due to the establishment of a navy base - Fredriksvern.
As early as in the Middle Ages, an important trade route passed through the area that was to become Larvik. The town developed on a steep hill located near a bay dotted with narrow straits. Langestrand (in the West) was the site of an ironworks and workmen's houses, while Torstrand (in the East) was occupied by the other social classes.
The architecture of Larvik, similarly to other places across Norway, was dominated by wooden houses. In the 17th and 18th centuries the shoreline was dotted with wooden boathouses, and behind them were the largest and most impressive houses located on the main street. Two-story houses dominated throughout the main town streets; they had large rooms and windows in wooden frames. Outside of the main areas there were smaller houses, erected on hillsides. The streets were covered in sand. The houses were built from wooden bales, usually unpainted and not weatherboarded.
The oldest known written occurrence of the name Larvik dates back from 1512, when sailors from the Netherlands mentioned the bay as Laghervik. Two of the most important prerequisites for the upcoming town at that time were the port and the power of the Farris river which gave Larvik good prospects for export of timber and the existence of a sawmill at Farriselven is documented as early as 1539. The farms lying around Larvik bay was owned by a Danish nobleman who gradually seized control of the sawmill industry and he also opened an ironworks, which soon became Norway’s most important one.
A small community with approximately 200 people was established about 1620. The growth in early industrial activity and bourgeois industries resulted in Larvik being declared as a seaport under Tønsberg township in 1665. The population is estimated to have been between 600 and 700 people at this time.
In 1671 the Countship of Larvik was established for Ulrik Fredrik Gyldenløve, Norwegian viceroy and a natural son of the king. Gyldenløve was the most prominent aritocrat in Denmark-Norway and owned Larvik as his private estate. The city was governed by the count’s high officials and was not granted ordinary city privileges. Larvik's importance increased when the Norwegian naval base Fredriksvern was established in 1750. Until 1814, Norway was under Danish reign, but from then on a new era started. Larvik was gradually transformed into an ordinary Norwegian middle-sized city.
Already in the prehistoric times, the area around Larvik has been an important thoroughfare. The city's main street, Storgaten, emerged during the 1600s and followed the natural arch from the characteristic rocks called Bøkkerberget to the Tollerodden promontry. An alley went up from the main street and ended in an elongated square. The steep terrain up from the bay was pierced by narrow straits in a fan shaped appearance, connecting the seaside with underlying buildings and activities.
The settlement was like elsewhere in Norway dominated by wooden houses, until industrial development and large fires in the 1900s led to a gradual replacement of Larvik’s old wooden architecture. In the 17th and 18th century there were boathouses nearest the sea, and behind these were the finest and largest houses along the main thoroughfare. Behind these again were smaller houses built ‘up on the slopes and here and there among the hills’. The streets were not paved with cobblestones, only sand, with an occasional stone slab in front of a house entrance. The houses were built of round, interlocking timber logs which mostly were left unpainted and without panelling. To most properties there was a small garden attached. Two-storey houses dominated along the high street, with large rooms and windows set in wooden frames.
Larvik had two suburbs that grew parallel to the city. Langestrand in the west was the ironmill workers district, while Torstrand in the east was a mixed area of all social classes.
Around the year 1700 the population was between 1200 and 1400. In 1769 a national census was carried out in Norway, arriving at the sum of 2154 inhabitants for Larvik, including Fritzøe Ironworks and Langestrand. This indicates that the population of Larvik was still growing, but the pace of growth had flattened off considerably. Larvik was still a small town around 1820, with a population of 2500. In 1835 the number grew to 3413 and 11 000 in 1885. Today Larvik municipality has a population approximately 40 000, 23,100 of which reside in the city.
The Counts of Larvik
The year 1380 saw the start of a union between Denmark and Norway that would last 434 years. During the final phase of absolute monarchy from 1660 to 1814 all power rested with the king in Copenhagen. The nobleman Ulrik Frederik Gyldenløve was appointed viceroy in Norway in 1664. Gyldenløve was the king’s illegitimate son, and the Countship of Larvik was established for in 1671 for the purpose of securing him wealth and prestige.
As a Danish countship Larvik was closer to the wheels of power than any other Norwegian town, and its culture, architecture, crafts, and traditions thrived under the foreign influences.
Ulrik Frederik Gyldenløve (1671–1704)
Ferdinand Anton Danneskiold-Laurvig (1704–1754)
Frederik Ludvig Danneskiold-Laurvig (1754–1762)
Christian Conrad Danneskiold-Laurvig (1762–1783)
Christian Ahlefeldt-Laurvig (1785–1791)
Frederik Ahlefeldt Laurvig (1791–1805)
95000 b.c – The first traces of humans are from the Mesolithic
800-900 – The Viking settlement at Kaupang
1000 – Heidarheimr (Hedrum) as religious and cultural center and hub
1100 – 1500 - Days of glory of the Manvik and Brunla estates
1520 – Danish noblemen establishes pre-industrial activities related to river Farris and Fresje manor
1633 – Larvik is given the status of a custom office
1671 – Larvik county was established and Larvik is given status as rezidentstad
1670’s – Larvik church and the Count’s residence are built. Larvik significance as a seafaring and industrial town within the absolute monarchy grows
1735 – Laurvig Hospital is founded, one of Norway’s first social institutions
1747 – The first extension of the town limits
1750 – The naval base Fredriksvern was established
1792 – The first major town fire
1805 – The county was taken over by the Danish king
1820 – The suburbs of Langestrand and Torstrand were included in Larvik town
1821 – The countship of Larvik was dissolved and Laurvig and Jarlsberg county was established
1837 – The Danish lawyer and nobleman Willum Frederik Treschow took over the county’s estates and urban properties
1874 – New extension of the town limits
1880’s – Larvik Spa facility was established, early phase of stone industry, telephone service, railway 1881, major fire 1884
1902 – Major fire
1920 – Urban plan for port- and railway development
1937 – Permanent ferry connection with Denmark
1948 – New extension of the town limits
1951 – Urban plan
1988 – Larvik city, Stavern town and the rural districts Hedrum, Tjølling og Brunlanes are joined together in Larvik municipality
Religious and secular institutions
Larvik church (The church of the Trinity) stood at the eastern end of the town, while the vicarage – built, as was the church, in stone – was adjacent to the Count’s residence. The church was consecrated in 1677 and the Larvik hospital which was an institution for the worthy poor and needy in the county was completed in 1760. Both buildings were owned by the Count.
Larvik did not have a regular city council until the 1830’s, therefore the town never had its own town hall during the counts’ era. In 1821 the town bought the Count’s residence for use as town hall, school and other functions.
In 1670, the issue of Larvik’s new owner was to gain economic and political control, and his form of urban planning was to divide the city into zones. The city limits were determined according to the statutes for the countship issued on 27 February 1692. Anyone wishing to engage in commercial activity within the town, had to live on the land that was the Nanset estate ‘and which is Laurvig proper’. Tenant farmers, workers at the sawmills and iron foundry, sailors and fishermen were required to make their homes in the suburbs of Langestrand and Torstrand.
An important result of this new status for Larvik was the construction of the Count's residence, a large timber building with a sizeable garden and tree-lined avenue down towards the sea. The magnificent architecture along with its location behind the city administration area created an immediate impression of power.
The first extension of the town’s limits was in 1747, and the next in 1821. Modern urban planning with regular blocks and infrastructure was introduced in the 1850s.
Monuments of architecture
The buildings and urban structure of the Count’s era is still the most important architectural monuments in the city together with other buildings in the Tollerodden area.
Among all the Nordic countries, Larvik is the city with the greatest amount of wooden houses. It is evident from the registration prepared in 1972 in connection with an ICOMOS congress about the Nordic wooden towns. Only in the neighborhoods of Langestrand and Torstrand 1115 such buildings were registered. Even today the areas with remnants of wooden architecture from 18th and 19th century are valuable heritage.
Edited by: Aina Aske