by Ben Johnson
Lavenham in Suffolk is widely acknowledged as the best example of a medieval wool town in England.
In Tudor times, Lavenham was said to be the fourteenth wealthiest town in England, despite its small size. Its fine timber-framed buildings and beautiful church, built on the success of the wool trade, make it a fascinating place to explore today.
Although Lavenham goes back to Saxon times, it is best known as a medieval wool town. It was granted its market charter in 1257 and started exporting its famous blue broadcloth as far afield as Russia.
In the 14th century Edward III encouraged the English weaving industry and Lavenham began to prosper. However in the late 16th century Dutch refugees in Colchester began weaving a lighter, cheaper and more fashionable cloth and the woollen trade in Lavenham began to fail.
Most of the buildings in Lavenham today date from the 15th century, many of these were never altered due to the fall of the weaving industry. Consequently the town is still very much on the same scale as it must have been in the 15th century.
The late 15th-century timber-framed Guild Hall overlooks and dominates the town’s market place. The hall was built by the Guild of Corpus Christi, one of three guilds founded in Lavenham to regulate the wool trade. The carving of rampant lions on the doorpost of the hall is the emblem of the Guild. Today there are exhibitions inside on local history, farming and industry, as well as the story of the medieval woollen trade.
As well as its many historic buildings, Lavenham is also blessed with good pubs, fine places to eat and fascinating antique shops to browse around. This part of Suffolk is renowned for its historic houses and pretty villages: Stoke by Nayland, Brent Eleigh, Monks Eleigh, and Chelsworth, for example.
Long Melford, with its many antique shops and associations with the TV series ‘Lovejoy’, is close by. The towns of Sudbury and Bury St. Edmunds are also within easy reach. A little further afield you will find Dedham and Flatford Mill in the heart of Constable country.
View our interactive map of Museums in Britain for details of local galleries and museums.
Try our interactive map of Anglo-Saxon Sites in Britain to browse our database of nearby Saxon sites.
Lavenham is easily accessible by road, please try our UK Travel Guide for further information. The nearest railway station is in Sudbury 7 miles, a local bus service runs from the station to the town.