Potted History

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THE HISTORY OF LAVENHAM

Lavenham is noted as one of England’s best preserved medieval villages with more than three hundred listed buildings to discover and marvel at.

Its medieval wealth was achieved with hard work, organisation and success of the wool and cloth trade.  It is a fascinating place to explore today, walking along streets which reveal an intriguing story of great wealth to poverty and back again.

LAFA’S HOME / MANORIAL VILLAGE /  WOOL TOWN

The Saxon Manors of Overhall and Netherhall were granted to Alberic De Vere in 11c by William the Conqueror and thus became a manorial village.   It was granted its first market charter in 1257 by Henry 111.  At this early date Lavenham was already making woollen cloth and the new charter enabled it to trade with other areas.  Merchant clothiers were drawn to the area to organise the workers during the 15c and the quality and reputation of Lavenham ‘blew’ broadcloth was soon known far and wide.   By 1524 Lavenham 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.

Old records now refer to Lavenham as a town and its wealth 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.   The main streets of Lavenham were lined with fine timber framed ‘open hall’ houses.

During the reign of Henry VIII, trade sanctions and heavy taxes due to the Imperial campaigns in France led to a loss of the country’s export markets.  In addition, Dutch refugees in nearby Colchester began weaving lighter, cheaper and more fashionable cloths.  The Italian clothiers introduced cottons and silks.  Soon the manufacture of these finer cloths was taken up by the larger towns and the woollen cloth trade in Lavenham began to fail.   It did continue for a time with the preparation of the woollen yarn for the new manufacturers.  400 years of cloth making had come to an end.

What followed was a 200 year period of impoverishment.  Many of the former Merchant’s houses were divided up to provide small homes for large families.  The Guildhall building was used as a workhouse.  By a twist of fortune it was the extreme poverty and neglect that preserved the Lavenham we can enjoy today.  The Market Place and the five streets and one lane leading from it,  together with Water Street, High Street and Church Street, 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 (dismantled 1964) breathed new life into the area, opening it up for trading in coconut matting and horse hair manufacturing.

LAVENHAM TODAY

Lavenham’s size and charm means it is again often referred to as a village.

The wonky houses and jetted buildings provide a fascinating backdrop to a thriving place with a strong community spirit.  It is a hub of unique independent shops, galleries and boutiques.   Award winning 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.  Water Street Lavenham was the setting for Godric’s Hollow in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Lavenham is the perfect base for exploring the other 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 stands alongside the new as the charming and unique historic buildings blend beautifully with contemporary and stylish accommodation.  It is true to say that for Lavenham “in its past lies its present and its future”.