Lavenham is the most famous of the Suffolk wool towns. The wool towns are so named as many hundreds of years ago in the 14th, 15th and 16th century their residents became very wealthy because of the success of the wool trade, when cloth woven in the towns was exported across the country and to Europe.
Lavenham is full of timber-framed Medieval buildings, built by the wealthy wool merchants. It’s a beautiful village to visit at any time of the year, but especially on a sunny spring or summer day, when the colours of the plaster fronted houses are so strong and vibrant against the blue of the sky. There are over 200 listed buildings in Lavenham, many of them Grade 1 status.
Lavenham is a very popular tourist destination, and has many visitors arriving by coach and car all year around. But it never feels crowded – although there are quite a lot of cars parked on the High Street, but there is a good size car park at the top end of the village behind the The Cock Horse Inn.
You can easily spend an hour or two strolling around the village admiring the houses, wondering about their history and who has lived in them over the centuries. But be warned – it’s surprisingly hilly, never believe that the whole of East Anglia is flat – Suffolk countryside is quite “rolling” in places
The majority of the houses are still in private ownership, and so can’t be visited, however two buildings that are open to visitors are the Lavenham Guildhall which is owned by the National Trust and Little Hall, now in the ownership of the Suffolk Preservation Trust.
The Guildhall, as with so many National Trust properties has a gift shop and a tearoom, and there’s also a number of other tearooms around the village, including Sweetmeats on Water Street, and Lavender Blue on the Market Square, – they’ve all been tried and tested by friends and colleagues over the years, and are very popular. As well as the The Cock Horse pub, there’s also the Greyhound which serves food, and if you want to go quite up market for a special day out there is The Swan Hotel. Both are on the High Street. The Swan as well as having a restaurant, bars and very comfortable rooms, has a spa – very different from it’s original life as a village pub, where British soldiers and American airmen drank during the Second World War. There’s a number of other tearooms along the High Street worth seeking out, along with a variety of independent shops, including clothes shops and an antiques shop.
The parish church of St. Peter and St. Paul is one of the great Suffolk wool churches, I can never make up my mind whether it’s my favourite or whether Holy Trinity in nearby Long Melford is. I’ll have to plan another trip to Long Melford to make a final decision.
There are some lovely walks around Lavenham, I particularly enjoy a short walk that takes you through the churchyard and along the lane in to the village, Suffolk County Council has produced a good guide to walks around Lavenham which you can see here.
You can find out more about Lavenham and the other Suffolk wool towns here.