Lavenham is a village, civil parish and electoral ward in the Babergh district, in the county of Suffolk, England. It is noted for its Guildhall, Little Hall, 15th-century church, half-timbered medieval cottages and circular walks. In the medieval period it was among the twenty wealthiest settlements in England.[2]


High Street, Lavenham
Location within Suffolk
Population1,722 (2011)[1]
OS grid referenceTL915491
 London76.3 miles
Civil parish
  • Lavenham
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townSUDBURY
Postcode districtCO10
Dialling code01787
AmbulanceEast of England
UK Parliament
  • South Suffolk
The church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Lavenham


Before the Norman conquest, the manor of Lavenham had been held by the thegn Ulwin or Wulwine. In 1086 the estate was in the possession of Aubrey de Vere I, ancestor of the Earls of Oxford. He had already had a vineyard planted there. The Vere family continued to hold the estate until 1604, when it was sold to Sir Thomas Skinner.[3]

Lavenham prospered from the wool trade in the 15th and 16th centuries, with the town's blue broadcloth being an export of note. By the late 15th century, the town was among the richest in the British Isles, paying more in taxation than considerably larger towns such as York and Lincoln.[4] Several merchant families emerged, the most successful of which was the Spring family.

The town's prosperity at this time can be seen in the lavishly constructed wool church of St Peter and St Paul, which stands on a hill at the top end of the main high street. The church, completed in 1525, is excessively large for the size of the village and with a tower standing 138 feet[5] (42 m) high it lays claim to being the highest village church tower in Britain. Other buildings also demonstrate the town's medieval wealth. Lavenham Wool Hall was completed in 1464.

The Guildhall of the catholic guild of Corpus Christi was built in 1529 and stands in the centre of the village overlooking the market square. When visiting the town in 1487, Henry VII fined several Lavenham families for displaying too much wealth. However, during the 16th century Lavenham's industry was badly affected by Dutch refugees settled in Colchester, who produced cloth that was cheaper and lighter than Lavenham's, and also more fashionable.[2] Cheaper imports from Europe also aided the settlement's decline, and by 1600 it had lost its reputation as a major trading town. This sudden and dramatic change to the town's fortune is the principal reason for so many medieval and Tudor buildings remaining unmodified in Lavenham, as subsequent generations of citizens did not have the wealth required to rebuild in the latest styles.

The Little Hall is a late 14th-century hall house on the main square. First built in the 1390s as a family house and workplace, it was enlarged and modernised in the mid-1550s, and greatly extended later. By the 1700s it was home to six families. It was restored in the 1920s/30s. In the 1960s and 70s it was an outpost of Kingston (Surrey) College of Art. In 1975 Surrey County Council offered it to the Suffolk Building Preservation Trust, who restored it. It now contains the Gayer-Anderson collection of pictures and artefacts, including a copy of the Gayer-Anderson cat, and operates as a museum.

During the reign of Henry VIII, Lavenham was the scene of serious resistance to Wolsey's ‘Amicable Grant’, a tax being raised in England to pay for war with France. However, this was happening without the consent of parliament. In 1525, 10,000 men from Lavenham and the surrounding villages took part in a serious uprising that threatened to spread to the nearby counties of Essex and Cambridgeshire. However, the revolt was suppressed for the King by the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, with the aid of local families.[6] Elizabeth I visited the town during a Royal Progress of East Anglia in 1578.

Like most of East Anglia, Lavenham was staunchly Parliamentarian throughout the Civil Wars of the 1640s. Most local landowners, such as Sir Nathaniel Barnardiston, Sir Philip Parker and Sir William Spring, were strong advocates of the Parliamentarian cause. There is no record of the town ever being directly involved in the conflict, although the townspeople did provide a troop of soldiers to aid in Parliament's Siege of Colchester in 1648. A grammar school opened in the town in 1647. The settlement was struck by plague in 1666 and 1699. Small pox struck in 1712 and 1713, killing over one in six of Lavenham's residents.

In the late 18th century, the village was home to poet Jane Taylor, and it may have been while living in Shilling Street that she wrote the poem The Star, from which the lyrics for the nursery rhyme Twinkle Twinkle Little Star are taken. Colchester and Ongar, both in Essex, also have claims to be the site of composition of the poem.

Like many East Anglian settlements, Lavenham was home to an airfield in the Second World War II – Air Force Station Lavenham, an American Air Force airfield.[7] USAAF Station 137 was manned by the US Army Air Force 487th Bombardment Group between 1944 and 1945. The airfield, actually located a few miles away in Alpheton, has since been returned to arable farmland, though some evidence of its structures and buildings remains, including the control tower.

In the 1960s, a new area of council housing was built in the north of the village, centred on Spring Street, Spring Close and Spring Lane. In 1980 the marijuana smuggler Howard Marks was arrested in the bar of the Swan Hotel.[8]

John Lennon and Yoko Ono filmed their experimental film Apotheosis with a hot-air balloon in Lavenham's Market Place in December 1969.[9]


The village is around five miles northeast of the town of Sudbury. Situated in a relatively hilly area, Lavenham is on a ridge on the western bank of the River Brett. The ridge is intersected by two small valleys, breaking it into three parts; the church is located atop the southernmost section, the marketplace on the central part, while the northernmost section is topped by the remains of a windmill.

The southernmost valley contains a brook running between the pond at Lavenham Hall and the River Brett, though it was covered by a culvert 500 years ago, and Water Street built over the top.[10] There have been attempts to give the culverts Scheduled Monument status as a "rare early example of municipal plumbing".[10] The northernmost valley also contains a small stream as well as being the former route of the abandoned railway line.


Lavenham is on the A1141, the main road between Hadleigh and Bury St Edmunds. HGV traffic has been an issue for the village's narrow streets.[11]

The village formerly had a railway station on the Long Melford–Bury St Edmunds branch line, which was opened on 9 August 1865.[12] There were plans for the Hadleigh branch line to be extended to Lavenham, but they never came to fruition.[13] The line was an important goods route during the Second World War and was guarded by numerous Type 22 pillboxes, most of which are still visible in the surrounding farmland. The railway station was closed to passengers on 10 April 1961, with a goods service surviving until April 1965.[12] Today the disused line is used as a public footpath and is a designated nature reserve.[14]


The village is served by Lavenham Community Primary School, which currently caters for pupils aged 5–11.[15] The school feeds into Thomas Gainsborough School.[16]


Historical population

Historical population of Lavenham
Source: Census: Regional District 1801–1971[17]

Notable residents

  • Richard of Lavenham (fl. 1380), an English Carmelite, known as a scholastic philosopher[18]
  • Thomas Cooke (unknown, but in Lavenham – 1478), an English merchant and Lord Mayor of London[19]
  • Thomas Spring of Lavenham (ca.1474 – 1523), an English cloth merchant, buried in Lavenham
  • John Spring of Lavenham (unknown – 1547), an English merchant and politician
  • Thomas Spring of Castlemaine (unknown, but in Lavenham – 1597), an English Protestant soldier and landowner
  • William Spring of Lavenham (unknown – 1599), an English politician and landowner.
  • George Ruggle (1575–1622), author of Ignoramus, a college farce; brought up in Lavenham
  • William Gurnall (1616–1679), puritan rector of Lavenham church (1644–1679), author of The Christian in Complete Armour[20]
  • Peregrine Branwhite (1745 in Lavenham – ca.1795), an English poet[21]
  • Isaac Taylor (1759–1829), an English engraver and writer of books for the young, lived in Lavenham[22]
  • William Blair (1766 in Lavenham – 1822), an English surgeon, interested in ciphers and stenography[23]
  • Jane Taylor (1783–1824), an English poet and novelist, wrote the words to the song Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, lived in Lavenham[24]
  • Sir William Shelford KCMG (1834 in Lavenham – 1905), an English civil engineer
  • Robert Langton Douglas (1864 in Lavenham – 1951), a British art critic, lecturer and author
  • Sir Francis Meynell (1891–1975), a British poet and printer at The Nonesuch Press, lived in Lavenham.
  • Dame Alix Kilroy (1903–1999), civil and public servant, lived in Lavenham.
  • John Millar Watt (1895–1975), artist, illustrator and comics artist: creator of 'Pop' cartoon (1921–1949), lived in Lavenham.
  • Sir Stephen Spender CBE (1909–1995), an English poet, novelist and essayist[25]
  • Sir Clive Rose GCMG (1921–2019), a British diplomat, retired to Lavenham
  • Roy Turner Durrant (1925 in Lavenham – 1998), an English abstract artist
  • Eamon Boland (born 1947), an English actor
The Lavenham Guildhall, was established in 1529

Parts of Market Square were included in the 1968 Vincent Price film Witchfinder General. The witch burning scenes were staged in front of the Guildhall.[26]

In 1969 some filming was done in Lavenham for The Thirteen Chairs, also known as Twelve Plus One. This was actress Sharon Tate's last movie before her murder.[27] In 1971, part of The Canterbury Tales were recorded here, with the village representing medieval London.[28]

The 1975 Stanley Kubrick film Barry Lyndon included the Guildhall.[26]

In 1980, some sequences in the TV advertisement for the launch of the new Austin Metro were filmed in the village, primarily on the market square, as well as in neighbouring Kersey.

In 1986, the film Playing Away, about a visiting cricket team from Brixton, was also filmed in the village.[29] The Market Square is the setting of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1970 film Apotheosis.[30] In 2010, under conditions of strict secrecy, scenes from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 were filmed there.[31] The village's De Vere House represented sections of Godric's Hollow, as backgrounds, since the cast members did not actually visit Lavenham.[32]

Lavenham is also the setting for many scenes in the mid-1990s BBC TV drama Lovejoy.[33] An episode aired in December 1994, was titled "Last Tango in Lavenham".[34]

Other productions that have used Lavenham as a location include Lowland Village a 1943 British Council release[35] and an episode of Treasure Hunt from February 1988.[36]

One legend suggests that the distorted, or "crooked", appearance of many of the town's buildings inspired the poem "A Crooked Little Man".[37]

One discussion of the town provides these specifics as to the reason the houses are crooked.[38]

The town grew so fast that many of the houses were built in haste with green timber. As the wood dried, the timbers warped causing the houses to bend at unexpected angles. Unfortunately, Lavenham's good times didn't last long. When Dutch refugees settled in Colchester began producing cloth that was cheaper, lighter and more fashionable than Lavenham's, the town's cloth industry went bust. By the time the dried timber started twisting, Lavenham's families had lost its wealth and with no money to rebuild their homes, Lavenham’s crooked houses were left as they were.

The Crooked House, 7 High Street

The best-known crooked house, at 7 High Street (defined as 11 Hall Road in some reviews),[39] was built in the 14th century as part of a Hall House.[40] It has been Grade II listed since 1958 as part of 7–9 High Street. The listing description indicates that 7–9 High Street were divided into two tenements prior to 1958, and that the orange building (originally "the south cross wing") was "very much altered in the C18 and C19" and was "restored with the timber-framing exposed".[41] One report indicates that 7 High Street was originally the medieval hall's servants' quarters. In 2005 and for some time after, the building was an art gallery.[42] The property began operating as tea rooms in 2013 but the business was expected to close after December 2019. In February 2020, the building was listed for sale;[43][44] the description indicated that a two-bedroom residential flat occupies the upper floor.[40]

Lavenham pictures


  1. "Parish/Ward population 2011". Retrieved 12 September 2015.
  2. Roper, Corinne. "Lavenham: The man-made wonder of Suffolk". BBC Suffolk. Retrieved 28 January 2008.
  3. Copinger, The Manors of Suffolk, vol. I, pp. 117–118.
  4. "History of Lavenham Guildhall". National Trust. Retrieved 7 June 2017.
  5. Flannery, Julian (2016). Fifty English Steeples: The Finest Medieval Parish Church Towers and Spires in England. New York: Thames and Hudson. pp. 412–419. ISBN 978-0500343142.
  6. McClenaghan, Barbara (1924). The Springs of Lavenham. Ipswich: W.E. Harrison. OCLC 778306615.
  7. "Lavenham Airfield". Retrieved 28 January 2008.
  8. Dean, Will (19 February 2018). "From friendly locals to Harry Potter's house: a brief guide to Lavenham". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  9. Barnes, Johnathan (7 December 2010). "When John Lennon brought a lot of hot air to Suffolk". East Anglia Daily Times. Retrieved 25 September 2018.
  10. "Sewers – Suffolk's answer to Stonehenge". East Anglian Daily Times. 19 November 2007.
  11. "Satellite lorries blight Lavenham". BBC News. 15 November 2004.
  12. "Lavenham". Disused Stations.
  13. "The story of Hadleigh's railway". Archived from the original on 10 April 2010.
  14. "Lavenham Railway Walk". Suffolk County Council. Archived from the original on 6 July 2008.
  15. "Lavenham Community Primary School". Retrieved 29 July 2018.
  16. Thomas Gainsborough School. "Admissions Policy for September 2018" (PDF). Retrieved 29 July 2018.
  17. "Lavenham, Suffolk – Population Statistics". Vision of Britain. Retrieved 10 April 2009.
  18. Kingsford, Charles Lethbridge (1892). "Lavenham, Richard" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 32. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  19. Welch, Charles (1887). "Cooke, Thomas (d.1478)" . In Stephen, Leslie (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 12. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  20. Hamilton, Thomas (1890). "Gurnall, William" . In Stephen, Leslie; Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 23. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  21. Cooper, Thompson (1886). "Branwhite, Peregrine" . In Stephen, Leslie (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 6. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  22. Seccombe, Thomas (1898). "Taylor, Isaac (1759-1829)" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 55. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  23. Cooper, Thompson (1886). "Blair, William (1766-1822)" . In Stephen, Leslie (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 5. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  24. Seccombe, Thomas (1898). "Taylor, Jane" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 55. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  25. Sutherland, John (2005). Stephen Spender: A Literary Life. Oxford University Press. p. 241. ISBN 9780195346381.
  26. "Lavenham: A Harry Potter Film Location". The Swan at Lavenham.
  27. "Thirteen Chairs, The". Modcinema.
  28. Cooper, Ian (2014). Witchfinder General. Columbia University Press. p. 44. ISBN 9781906733940.
  29. "Playing Away (1986)". Screenonline. British Film Institute.
  30. "A Century of Artists' Film in Great Britain". Tate Britain. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
  31. Wright, Will (25 March 2010). "Harry Potter scenes filmed in Lavenham". Suffolk Free Press. Archived from the original on 28 March 2010.
  32. "Lavenham, a Harry Potter Film Set!". Suffolk Secrets. 25 July 2019.
  33. "Memories of Lovejoy, the man who put East Anglia on the map". East Anglian Daily Times. 1 February 2015.
  34. "BBC One – Lovejoy, Series 6, Last Tango in Lavenham". BBC. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  35. "Lowland Village". British Council. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  36. "Suffolk: Episode 6.2, 1988". Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  37. Taylor, Bob (12 September 2011). "Lavenham, England: Part one of four great little places". The Washington Times. Archived from the original on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  38. Miss Cellania (1 March 2015). "The Crooked Houses of Lavenham". Neatorama.
  39. Sthanakiya, Sima. "Things to do in Lavenham". The Curious Pixie.
  40. Keel, Toby (6 May 2020). "Five irresistible properties for sale in East Anglia, with space, stables and stories to tell". Country Life.
  41. "7–9 High Street". British Listed Buildings.
  42. "Visiting Lavenham for The Guided Walk". Hazle Ceramics Guide.
  43. "2 bedroom terraced house". OnTheMarket.
  44. Potter, Tom (9 December 2019). "Tearoom inspection found mouldy food 'unfit for human consumption". East Anglian Daily Times.
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