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Lavenham is a village and civil parish in Suffolk, England. It is noted for its 15th century church, half-timbered medieval cottages and circular walk. In the medieval period it was among the 20 wealthiest settlements in England. Currently, it is a popular day-trip destination for British people from across the country and Americans from the air bases of Lakenheath and Mildenhall, along with another historic wool town in the area, Long Melford.

Before the Norman Conquest of England, 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.

Lavenham prospered from the wool trade in the 15th and 16th century, with the town’s blue broadcloth being an export of note. During the 16th century Lavenham 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. The most successful of the cloth making families were the Springs.

The town’s wealth can be seen in the lavishly constructed parish church of St Peter and St Paul which stands on a hill top at the end of the main high street. The church is excessively large for the size of the village and with a tower standing 141 ft (43 m) high it lays claim to being the highest village church tower in Britain. The church is renowned for its Late-Gothic chantries and screens. Other impressive ‘Wool Churches’ nearby include Holy Trinity church in nearby Long Melford.

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, it was being done so without the consent of parliament. In 1525, 10,000 men from Lavenham and the surrounding villages took part in a serious uprising which 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.

The Guildhall of the wool guild of Corpus Christi stands in the centre of the village overlooking the market square. Established in 1529, most of the timber framed building seen today was constructed in the 17th century and is now maintained by The National Trust. One well-known example is the Crooked House, an orange building on High Street which now serves as an art gallery.

In the late eighteenth century, the village was home to poet Jane Taylor, and it was 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.

Like many East Anglian settlements, Lavenham was home to an American Air Force base during World War II.  USAAF Station 137 was manned by the US Army Air Force 487th Bombardment Group between 1944 and 1945. The airfield has since been returned to arable farmland, though some evidence of its structures and buildings remains.

The village is located around five miles north east of the town of Sudbury. Situated in a relatively hilly area, Lavenham is situated 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, whilst the northernmost section is topped by the remains of a windmill. The southernmost valley contains a stream running between the pond at Lavenham Hall and the Brett, though it was covered by a culvert 500 years ago, and the aptly named Water Street built over the top. There have been attempts to give the culverts Scheduled Monument status as a “rare early example of municipal plumbing”. The northernmost valley also contains a small stream as well as being the former route of the abandoned railway line.

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

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

The Church of St Peter and St Paul dominates Lavenham and is evidence of the vast wealth that was concentrated in this area of East Anglia during the Tudor period. The architect is thought to have been John Wastell, who built Great St Mary in Cambridge, which is very similar. The building is late perpendicular in its design and was probably not completed until 1530. The church contains five 15th century misericords featuring imagery such as composite creatures; one, half-woman, half beast playing a viol, and another, half-man with the hindquarters and tail of a beast, mimicking her by playing a pair of bellows with a crutch.

The church is closely connected with the merchant families of the town, who paid for its construction and upkeep for many years. The building is decorated with the coat-of-arms of the Spring and de Vere families, who were the principal donors for the church. A screen in the south aisle was possibly intended as a chantry chapel for the clothier Thomas Spourne, although his remains do not lie here, whilst the parclose screen in the north aisle was to the chantry of the Spring family, later made baronets by Charles I. The Puritan divine, William Gurnall, known for his literary work The Christian in Complete Armour, and also as one of the few Puritans who conformed to the Act of Uniformity 1662, was Rector of St Peter & St Paul from 1644 till his death in 1679.


Historical population of Lavenham
Year 1801 1811 1821 1831 1841 1851 1861 1871 1881 1891
Population 1,776 1,711 1,898 2,107 1,871 1,811 1,823 1,886 1,838 1,908
Year 1901 1911 1921 1931 1951 1961 1971 1981 1991 2001
Population 2,018 1,963 1,620 1,451 1,489 1,305 1,480 1,750

Lavenham is twinned with Rambouillet, France.

Lavenham’s Market Square was a location for the 1968 Vincent Price film Witchfinder General. In 1986 a more contemporary film Playing Away, about a visiting cricket team from Brixton, was also filmed there. The Market Square is the setting of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1970 film Apotheosis. Other filmmakers who have used the village as a location include Stanley Kubrick and Pier Paolo Pasolini. In 2010, under conditions of strict secrecy, scenes from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 and Part 2 were filmed there. Lavenham is also the setting for the final episode of the mid-1990s BBC TV drama, Lovejoy. The episode, which aired in December 1994, was titled ‘Last Tango in Lavenham’.

It is believed that the distorted, or “crooked”, appearance of many of the town’s buildings inspired the poem, “A Crooked Little Man.”

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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