Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lavenham - A Medieval Suffolk Town Part 2

Part 2 - The Town

In the Medieval period Lavenham was one of the wealthiest towns in England, richer even than cities like Lincoln and York.This wealth all came from the production of woollen cloth especially the broadcloth known as Lavenham blue. The phrase 'dyed in the wool' originates from the practice of dying the wool before it was woven and Lavenham blue was the result of dyeing with woad. In the early Middle Ages English wool was exported to Flanders and woven into cloth there then re-imported but in the 14th century Flemish weavers came to England and some settled in Lavenham and that is when things really took off. The famous Lavenham blue broadcloth was exported all over Europe.
The photo above is of the Guildhall of the Guild of Corpus Christi built in the 1520s and the only survivor of the four original Guildhalls in Lavenham. It was where the Merchant Clothiers met and governed every part of the local wool trade. When the Guilds were dissolved at the Reformation the Guildhall became the Town Hall for the next 100 years and then had an even more chequered history as a prison, a workhouse, an almshouse and a wool store. In WW2 it housed evacuees and served as the 'Welcome Club' for members of the US Air Force stationed in and around Lavenham. Now it is run by the National Trust as a tea room and museum.

The Wool Hall is also a former Guild Hall but it was dismantled in 1911. It was eventually saved by a local clergyman and re-erected in its original position and now forms part of The Swan Inn. So I suppose that strictly speaking there are two surviving Guild Halls but because of all the messing about it doesn't quite count for me.

Attached to one end of the Guildhall next to the entrance to the present day tearooms is this rare example of an original Tudor shop. Goods would be traded through the two arched windows (which I suspect would have been unglazed at that time) and at night the wooden shutters would be closed to secure the shop. Both the bottom shutters are still there but only one remains at the top.

At the back of the Guildhall is a lovely, tranquil little Dye Garden which I had entirely to myself the day I was there. I suspect a lot of people don't even realise that it exists.

This board shows all the dye plants that are grown in the garden, it's a fascinating place.

The back of the Guildhall holds still more intriguing sights for those who explore - this is the 19th century parish lock-up.....

.....and the parish mortuary!

The increasing prosperity of the wool trade brought more and more people to Lavenham and almost all the timbered buildings in the town date from between 1450 and 1500. They are crammed in all over the place and are all shapes and sizes. This is the High Street which is the main road through Lavenham.

The Angel Inn was first licensed in 1420, the original inn has been added to over the centuries and the outside was plastered over in the 18th century.

Until the mid-18th Century there was a weekly market held in the Market Place and four times a year there was a fair which I imagine drew people from miles around and a jolly good time was had by all. This is the Market Cross put up in 1501 with money left by a local merchant called William Jacob. Behind it stands the market toll-keepers cottage all by itself in the middle of the square - it is now an Estate Agents!

Everywhere you look there are the most beautiful old buildings. I love this one, I think it's the de Vere house which presumably belonged to the de Vere family who were the local Lords of the Manor. Whoever had it built was certainly very wealthy as it has a brick infill done in a herringbone pattern rather than the usual wattle and daub.

In Lavenham we are not just talking about one or two ancient houses but streets and streets of them, it is known as the finest medieval town in England.

This is Water Street, 500 years ago the stream that still runs under here was culverted and the houses built over the top.

Finally this lovely weather vane with a beautiful Suffolk Punch horse on it. The Suffolk Punches are wonderful, wonderful horses, huge, powerful and gentle and, sadly, an endangered breed now. Of all the heavy horse breeds these are my favourites.
Clicking on any of the photographs will enlarge them and some, like the de Vere house are worth looking at more closely. Lavenham is a fascinating place and well worth a visit if you ever get the chance. I certainly intend going again.


Lynda (Granny K) said...

What a fascinating place! I would love to visit Lavenham. Your 'Lark Ascending' is the perfect accompaniment Rowan!

Rosie said...

It must be over 20 years since I visited Lavenham, it is a wonderful place steeped in history and so many of its fine buildings still there for us to appreciate. I remember going into the Guildhall whilst we were visiting and the church too. The Dye Garden looks wonderful. I've really enjoyed both your posts on Lavenham and am inspired to go back and visit again. Love Vaughan Williams - especially 'Lark Ascending' and 'Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis' which I think is my absolute favourite.

Gracie said...

An amazing place. Thanks for bringing me there with you for a visit. I can't wait for the next part.....
Gracie at

Amongst The Oaks said...

Fascinating post as usual. Oh I do wish I could come visit you and go to some of these places with you. Your knowledge of the countryside is amazing.
Hugs, Laura

Piecefulafternoon said...

What a lovely tour - I am enjoying the trips so much - almost like being there - and the history I'm learning. Thank you.

Ragged Roses said...

I have just spent a very enjoyable few minutes catching up on all your news! Congratulations on your new granddaughter, what wonderful news!
You always visit the most interesting places and I have loved reading about your trip to Lavenham, the dye garden sounds very interesting and well worth a visit if I ever get to Suffolk, which is another place on my list.

Thimbleanna said...

Oh Rowan, it's just beautiful! I LOVE reading about all the little old villages that you visit. Thank you so much for sharing with us and taking such lovely pictures. (And you're right -- the de Vere house definitely needs an extra look -- such beautiful detail!)

thelma said...

Rowan that was a lovely read, it looks a fabulous piece of old England - Lavenham. Then I went and read your Lark Rise to Candleford blog - sad that its gone now... but your photos showed a slightly different landscape to how it was depicted in the tv show.
Thelma x

Derrick said...

Hello Rowan,

I, too, have enjoyed this second installment and it's true that Vaughn Williams' music couldn't be a better match.

I have also pinched your "LinkWithin" widget, which I noticed last night and I see another fiend, Willow, also has it!

Derrick said...

Oh!,and Rowan, I keep meaning to say how much I like your header photograph!

thesnailgarden said...

Lovely photos of a beautiful place. They brought back memories of when my OH and I visited Lavenham many years ago. Best wishes, Pj x

Sheila said...

My godparents were from Suffolk, and lived in Ipswich. I visited there as a child but don't think we were taken to Lavenham. What lovely old buildings, the de Vere house especially. The carvings either side of the front door are wonderful. It's nice to think that it has stayed unspoiled for over 500 hundred years.

hippymummy said...

Such a beautiful place! I would love to visit at some point. I have always loved medieval houses, they have a beauty and individuality missing from most of the houses thrown up today. once again Rowan, thankyou xXx