PUBLISHED: 11:23 23 January 2017 | UPDATED: 11:23 23 January 2017
Lavenham is a fine medieval town for the modern age
Lavenham is a simply magical place to visit, one of the few that can truly call itself unique. It’s regarded as the finest surviving example of a medieval town in the UK, with its impressive church, numerous timber framed houses and cottages that line the streets and market place.
So much timber – some of it rather more quaintly crooked than it was when the houses were first built – is a clue to Lavenham’s affluent past. The town has over 300 buildings listed as being of architectural and historical interest. They’re the enduring legacy of the wool trade and the wealthy clothiers who made the town their home and a place of business in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Most you can admire by wandering around the streets, but a few of the town’s most important buildings are open to the public, several house shops, pubs, restaurants and galleries, and if you stay awhile you could find yourself sleeping under ancient timber beams in a cosy B&B.
The Guildhall is a spectacular timber-framed building built around 1530 by the religious Guild of Corpus Christi, but over the centuries it has served the community of Lavenham in many ways. Set in the Market Place, it has recently been renovated and now has exhibitions telling the stories of Lavenham’s fortunes.
Learn about Ann Baker, the child locked up here when the Guildhall was a prison, or Widow Snell, the workhouse keeper with a talent for using strange ingredients in her medicinal cures. The Guildhall has a National Trust gift shop and a lovely tearoom selling light lunches and home-made cakes.
Market Place, Lavenham, CO10 9QZ
Little Hall is a late 14th century hall house on the Market Place. It was first built in the 1390s as the home and work place of the Causton family. Enlarged, improved and modernised in the mid 1550s, it later underwent further extensions, but by the 1700s its fortunes had declined and it was divided to provide homes to six families.
Little Hall was restored by the Gayer Anderson twins in the 1920s/30s, and it now provides a fascinating timeline of architectural and cultural history. Visitors can also stroll round the gardens, which feature the Millennium knot-garden and the rose garden that inspired Yvonne Skargon, designer of the 1991 Royal Mail Rose Stamps.
Opening times: March - October, Monday mornings 10am to 1pm
Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons 2pm to 5.30pm. Last admission 4.30pm
Bank Holidays (except special events) 11am – 5.30pm
Adults £3.10, accompanied children free.
Groups: Adults £3, schools 50p. Guided tours available and illustrated talks about the house and its history at group meetings.
Information and bookings 01440 783378 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Access: the house has uneven floors, changes of level, narrow stairs and low beams. Wheelchair access is difficult but limited access to users with small or folding chairs is possible.
Market Place, Lavenham CO10 9QZ
Set magnificently on a hill overlooking the town, Lavenham’s church is a notable wool church and regarded as the finest example of Late Perpendicular Gothic architecture in England. Thanks to the booming wool trade, the 14th century church was added to and modified several times in order to convey the new wealth of its religious community.
The reconstruction of the church took place mainly between 1485 and 1525. The architect is thought to have been John Wastell, who built the Church of St Mary the Great, Cambridge. The huge cost of the work was paid for by local merchant families, who had become among the wealthiest in England.
The same families continued to pay for the upkeep of the building, in some cases for centuries after its completion. The two principal donors for were the 13th Earl of Oxford and the cloth merchant, Thomas Spring of Lavenham, which is why the building is decorated with the coat-of-arms of the Spring and de Vere families. The church hosts events and concerts throughout the year.
For foodies . . .
Lavenham holds a farmers market on the fourth Sunday of every month in the Village Hall, with over 30 local traders selling some of the region’s highest quality, local produce – fresh fruit and vegetables, home baked cakes and pies, local pork and beef, Suffolk apple juice, jams and preserves, fresh pesto, plants and cut flowers, and locally brewed ales and wines.
The Farmers’ Cafe serves delicious homemade soup, freshly baked cakes, farmers’ breakfasts and good quality coffee using local products direct from the market traders.
Lavenham Village Hall, Church St, Lavenham, CO10 9QT
Free entry, free parking, 10am until 1.30pm.
Coming up . . .
January 28, 6.30pm
Lavenham Village Hall, Church Street, Lavenham CO10 9QT
Burns Supper with haggis and piper. Dancing with The Caledonian Reelers and caller. Tickets from Angel Gallery, Market Place, Lavenham and at Village Hall. £22. No alcohol to brought on to the premises. 01787 248417 for more information.
Where to find out more
Lavenham Tourist Information Centre
2 Lady Street, Lavenham CO10 9RA
Opening times: March - November 10am to 4.45pm, every day. November - Christmas 11am to 3pm, every day. January and February: 11am to 3pm, weekends only.
Call 01787 248207, or email email@example.com
Lots of information from knowledgeable guides about accommodation, attractions and more. You can also book a guided walk around the town, which is well worth doing.