Photos of a lovely town with wonky pastel coloured buildings and wooden beams kept appearing on my instagram feed. And when I realised that Lavenham was (sort of) on the way to our glamping minibreak in Norfolk, we decided to made an unscheduled stop. And it was well worth the detour. Full of crooked houses, cute tea rooms and half-timbered buildings worthy of a blockbuster movie, it’s easy to fall in love with lovely Lavenham.
This quaint picturesque village in the heart of rural Suffolk has quite the history. It’s one of the best preserved medieval villages in the UK, and in Tudor times Lavenham was one of the wealthiest towns in England. And then it suffered quite the fall from grace.
As the epicentre of the wool trade in the 1500’s, the home owners got cocky, displaying their wealth via ostentatious half-timber framing. Many used green timber, which warped as it dried, causing the houses to lean and to protrude, giving the building their famous crooked appearance.
However, the demand for lighter fabrics increased, and wool was falling out of favour. Many of the residents were involved in the industry and could no longer afford to maintain or upgrade their timber homes which continued to warp and twist. Lavenham is now home to 321 listed (and listing) buildings – including the village phone box.
Lavenham is small and therefore perfectly walkable. There’s a large free car park near the church (next to the Cock Horse Inn) and it’s just a short stroll down the High Street to the prettiest sights of the village. We turn off down Water Street, past cute little gift shops filled with treasure, and head for De Vere House. Mr Fletche is nonplussed as to why I want lots of photos of this particular building.
“It’s Godric’s Hollow!”
Mr Fletche: Blank face.
“From Harry Potter?”
Mr Fletche: Blank face.
“Where Dumbledore grew up? Where James & Lily Potter lived? The place where He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named murdered Harry’s parents?”
Mr Fletche has already disappeared to check out the next pretty building. He doesn’t share my excitement. Others do however. It’s little wonder that this has been declared the 2nd most photographed door in the UK (after 10 Downing Street).
We weave our way up and down the streets, marvelling at how some of the buildings continue to stay erect despite bulging precariously. I have a photo taken in front of a house with a “For Sale” sign, which I jokingly post on Facebook with the caption “Welcome to Our New Home”. Which I quickly have to edit after lots of people start congratulating me on our impending house move.
If there’s a centre of the village, then Market Square is it. The Guildhall is located here, now owned by the National Trust and housing a local history museum and tearoom. I can’t resist a photo opportunity in front of the ochre-coloured 14th century Little Hall.
We return to the car park via the High Street, passing more picturesque buildings, cafes and shops with enticing exterior stalls cascading with fresh fruit and veg. On this occasion we didn’t have time to walk up to the Church of St Peter and St Paul, but in another example of Lavenham showoffery, the 141 foot tower is thought to be the highest village church tower in Britain.
The area played host to a number of American airbases during WWII and there are nods to this history all around Lavenham. Not least in the Airman’s Bar at the Swan Hotel. The bar even memorialises W H Culling, who holds the auspicious record of drinking three and a half pints of ale in 40 seconds from a glass boot.
If you find yourself in Shilling Street, then you’re at the birthplace of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. The famous nursery rhyme was adapted from the poem ‘The Star’ by Lavenham poet Jane Taylor. Jane went to school with another famous local, the painter John Constable.
Lots of the building fascias have intricate detail and quirky adornments. Look out for unusual shaped door knockers, interesting carvings and even doors within doors.
Lavenham is a hub for independent boutiques, gift shops, galleries and restaurants. A legacy of it’s wool trade history is the number of craft shops and boutiques selling hand made knitted goods. There’s also a monthly farmers market at the Village Hall, selling quality produce from local traders.
We were in the mood for tea and cake. On the recommendation of the lovely Kerry from Kerry Life and Loves we headed to The Lavenham Blue Vintage Tea Rooms. The cute antique curios are a treat for the eyes, and the huge slab of cake is definitely a treat for the waistline.
The Swan, a medieval timber-framed luxury hotel and spa, is the flagship accommodation in Lavenham. I had a peak through the leaded windows into the oak-beamed interior and it looked wonderfully grand. You can find out more here. Of course, if you prefer a self-catering option – then how about an Airbnb? I particularly like the look of this 2-bedroom Victorian Cottage.
Fancy an Airbnb stay? If you’re a first time booker, you can get money off your first trip here!
Lavenham is a quintessentially English, chocolate-box village. It’s quirky history and architecture has lent itself to becoming a top tourist destination and the perfect filming location.
Have you been to Lavenham? Are there any other medieval villages we should explore?