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THE HISTORY OF LAVENHAM

Lavenham is one of the United Kingdom’s best preserved medieval villages with more than three hundred listed buildings to discover and marvel at.

Its fine timber-framed buildings and beautiful church, built on the success of the wool trade, make it a fascinating place to explore today.  It is an intriguing story of great wealth to terrible poverty and back again.

A WOOL TOWN

Although Lavenham dates back to Saxon times, it is best known as a medieval wool town.  It was granted its market charter in 1257 and started exported its woven cloth as a far afield as Russia.  By 1524, largely thanks to its wool making, specifically its blue broadcloth, the town was ranked as 14th richest in the country despite its small size.  It paid more tax than even the big cities of the time such as Lincoln and York.

The wealth of the town was flaunted with the construction of magnificent buildings such as the lavish perpendicular gothic style church of St Peter and St Paul with its 141-foot tower.

During the reign of Henry VIII, trade sanctions and heavy taxes due to the imperial campaigns in France led to a decline in prosperity for the town and its people.  In addition, Dutch refugees in nearby Colchester began weaving a lighter, cheaper and more fashionable cloth and the woollen trade in Lavenham began to fail.

What followed was a 300-year period of impoverishment.  The villagers who inherited the expensive oak-framed houses were unable to upgrade them to brick or stone.  Many of the buildings were not updated or modernised which consequently led to its preservation.  The town is still very much on the same scale as it would have been in the 15th century.

There was a period of revival in the early 19th century when the railway (since defunct) breathed new life into the area, opening it up for trading in coconut matting and horse hair manufacturing.

LAVENHAM TODAY

Although officially a town, Lavenham’s size and charm means it is more often referred to as a village.

Today, the wonky houses and jettied buildings provide a fascinating backdrop to a thriving town with a strong community spirit.  It is a hub of unique independent shops, galleries and boutiques, with fantastic restaurants and hotels, charming holiday cottages, cafes and pubs and a busy events calendar for the benefit of locals and visitors alike.

The village is also popular with film makers, providing the perfect medieval film set.  Lavenham provided the inspiration for the Harry potter village of Godric’s Hollow.

Lavenham is the perfect base for exploring the Suffolk wool towns, as well as nearby Bury St Edmunds, Newmarket, Cambridge, Ipswich and the Suffolk coastline.  It is a haven for countryside enthusiasts with walks, cycle routes and woodlands.

The old meets the new as the charming and unique historic buildings blend beautifully with contemporary and stylish accommodation and lifestyle shops and boutiques. It is true to say that for Lavenham, “in its past lies its future”.