Suffolk CO10 9QZ
Sitting on a ridge in the middle of rural Suffolk, east England, is the delightful medieval village of Lavenham.
Colour washed 15th & 16th century timber framed houses
Its narrow streets are lined with twisted, timber-framed houses colour-washed in pastel pinks, apricots and creams. It is every tourist’s idea of what Old England should look like, but without the thatched roofs.
Many of the 15th and 16th century houses were built of green timber which has twisted and shifted over the centuries adding to the charm of the streetscape. The Crooked House Gallery in the High Street is a perfect example.
Many of the houses have a plaster render which has been attractively colour-washed. As well, some of these old houses display pargeting – a form of decoration pressed into the plaster while still wet.
The magnificent Parish Church of St Peter & St Paul
In Church Street is the impressive parish church of St Peter & St Paul, Lavenham. This magnificent church is a reminder that it was wool and the cloth trade that made Lavenham such a prosperous town in The Middle Ages. At this time it was one of the 20 wealthiest towns in England.
14th Century Woollen Industry
By the early 14th century the manufacture of woollen broadcloth was the main industry of the village. The raw fleeces were brought in from other counties for carding, teasing and spinning, dyeing and weaving. Gradually the individual artisans were organised into an effective workforce by the Clothiers who took charge of each stage of the process, paying the craftsmen and taking a cut for each transaction.
The Clothiers were originally independent weavers who became wealthy enough to abandon their looms to become employers of other weavers. They became very rich but returned much of their wealth back to the community by endowing the church and sponsoring schools. The richest local family apart from the nobility was the Spryngs.
Lavenham blue broadcloth was an important export until the 16th century when Dutch refugees settled in Colchester and started producing cheaper, lighter and more fashionable cloth.
The rise of the Guilds
Guilds were originally groups of like-minded rich individuals who formed a sort of club to look after their religious well-being. They paid a fee to belong and met in a member’s home. The funds raised mainly funded priests to say masses for their souls.
Later the Guilds became more concerned with crafts and trade. They built special halls in which to meet, and started organising the craftsmen. They controlled the wages paid to the Spinners, Dyers, Weavers, Fullers and Shearmen, and the employment of apprentices in these trades. Prentice Street is where the apprentices lived and worked, often with their Apprentice Master.
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At one time the village had four Guildhalls but the only one that remains is the wonderful Lavenham Guildhall in Market Place. It appears that the Guild of Corpus Christi built the hall to accommodate its elite merchant members and provide storage for their wool and cloth. It is now owned by the community and in the care of the National Trust - it is a great place to discover all about this historic village and the cloth trade.
15th Century Market Cross
Outside the front of the Guildhall is an old cross. As long ago as the 13th century the town was granted a Royal Charter to hold a market. The market cross dates from 1501 and was the gift of a local merchant, William Jacob. The purpose of the cross was to remind traders that God was watching and that they should trade honestly!
14th Century Little Hall
Also in Market Place is Little Hall, a late 14th century Hall House which is open to the public. This is a golden opportunity to get a look inside one of these lovely old timber-framed homes.
There is a lot to see and enjoy in the village so it is well worth visiting the Lavenham TIC in Lady Street. They can organise a guided walk around the interesting buildings and accommodation if you can manage a longer stay.
Shopping, Restaurants & Old Pubs
The village has an abundance of interesting and varied independent shops, tea-shops and restaurants as well as some great old pubs.
Disused Railway Line Footpath
As well as wandering the lovely old streets, visitors can walk along the disused railway line which is now a public footpath and a designated nature reserve. During the Second World War the line was an important freight route. It was guarded by numerous Type 22 Pillboxes, most of which are still visible in the surrounding farmland.
The village is located on the A1141 between Hadleight and Bury St Edmunds. It is 65 miles (108 km) from London and 35 miles (56 km) east of Cambridge.
Google Map - Lavenham