High Street, Lavenham
Lavenham shown within Suffolk
|OS grid reference|
|– London||76.3 miles|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Ambulance||East of England|
|EU Parliament||East of England|
|UK Parliament||South Suffolk|
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Lavenham is a village, civil parish and electoral ward 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. Today, it is a popular day-trip destination for people from across the country along with another historic wool town in the area, Long Melford.
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.
Lavenham prospered from the wool trade in the 15th and 16th century, 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. 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 top at the 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 141 ft (43 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 wool 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. 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.
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 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. 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 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 the Second World War. 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.
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, 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. 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.
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 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 as part of the Beeching Axe, with a goods service surviving until April 1965. Today the disused line is used as a public footpath and is a designated nature reserve.
|Historical population of Lavenham|
Census: Regional District 1801–1971
Notable residents of Lavenham have included Lord Mayor of London Thomas Cooke, author George Ruggle, art critic Robert Langton Douglas, poet Stephen Spender, actor Eamon Boland and artist Roy Turner Durrant.
Lavenham in popular culture
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 Guildhall established by one of three wool guilds in Lavenham in 1529.
The church of St Peter and St Paul at night.
Lavenham Wool Hall, built in 1464
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- Daily Mail, 19 September 2010.
- Sewers - Suffolk's answer to Stonehenge East Anglian Daily Times, 19 November 2007
- Satellite lorries blight Lavenham BBC News, 15 November 2004
- Lavenham Disused Stations
- The story of Hadleigh's railway Hadleigh.org.uk
- Lavenham Railway Walk Suffolk County Council
- Lavenham CP School Suffolk County Council
- Stoke-by-Nayland Middle School Suffolk County Council
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- 'Stephen Spender: A Literary Life' by John Sutherland
- screenonline: Playing Away (1986)
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- Suffolk Free Press
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