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A living example of medieval wealth


Medieval Buildings
Parish Church
Farmer's Market
In the 16th century, when the Tudor family ruled England, houses were traditionally contructed with black timber on white plaster, creating designs of striking contrast. Plenty of these buildings are still standing, all across the country, but there are more in Lavenham than almost anywhere else. Altogether there are 340 listed buildings, including huge shops and tiny cottages. With such an extensive collection, Lavenham deserves its reputation as "the most complete Medieval town in Britain".

One of many pretty streets in Lavenham
Photo amandabhslater
The pride and joy of this architectural display is the Guildhall. Its timbers are white rather than black, giving the building a bright, friendly appearance. On the other hand, it has been used as a prison, and its inmates presumably didn't notice that friendliness. This is just one of the many purposes that the Guildhall has served. It was a meeting hall, and wool store and a workhouse. It accommodated evacuees in World War II. Today, it's a history museum, covering all eras of Lavenham's past. There are demonstrations of cloth-making, and period costumes you can try on. The strangest exhibit is probably Ramesses, a mummified cat discovered in a nearby roof.

Lavenham Guildhall of Corpus Christi
Photo Andrew Stawarz
The wool industry benefitted all of Suffolk, and beyond. The biggest examples of this prosperity are the huge churches that sprang up in even small towns. Lavenham thrived more than most settlements, so its place of worship is especially impressive. The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul is covered in detailed carvings, inside and out. They would have taken an age - and cost a fortune - to complete. The tower is over 40 metres high, making it taller than any other village church in the entire country. The architect made bold use of straight lines and right angles, which was unusual at the time. The tower and parapets bear the insignia of the various rich businessmen that helped pay the church's massive building costs.

Lavenham Church
Photo scott1723

Inside the church
Photo Martin Pettitt
Despite Lavenham's affluent past, it didn't expand like some places did. Its population has never been above 2000 people, even when it was among the top 20 richest settlements in the country. The town is still centered around the same market square, with its same market cross. Years ago, this was the venue for public events like bear baitings and executions. Even Queen Elizabeth I made a visit to see them. Her entourage contained more people than the entire population of the village.

Little Hall in the main square
Photo Peter2010
Bears or monarchs are rare sights in Lavenham now. Still, the local-owned shops and businesses provide more welcome reminders of the past. There's a family-run bakery, and a hand-made knitwear shop. "The Swan at Lavenham" pub dates back to the 15th century, but its most interesting feature is the large wall of signatures and messages, left by British and American airmen during the First World War. They were based close by at Lavenham Airfield.

The Swan at Lavenham
Photo Andrew Stawarz
On the fourth Sunday of the month, the town square is taken over by a farmer's market. It's considered as the best in the region, with over 30 traders showing off their locally-cultivated wares. The event's success has earned Lavenham a second nickname. As well as being Britain's most complete Medieval town, this is also "the food capital of Suffolk".
Visitor Information
Lavenham Tourist Information Centre, Lady Street, Lavenham, CO10 9RA. Tel: 01787 248 207
Lavenham Guildhall (NT) is open to visitors daily, April to October, 11am to 5pm (plus weekends during the winter months). Entry costs around £4.50 for adults, £1.90 child. Market Place, Lavenham, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 9QZ. Tel: 01787 247646

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