We didn’t drive far today – just a few miles up the road to the historic town of Lavenham to meet friends for lunch
I took a few photos of charming houses on the way. My favourite form of photography is landscape photography but this area is so flat, there isn’t really many long distance landscape views to see. It’s not like Wales, for example, where there is a stunning view around every corner.
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 were built on the success of the wool trade and make it a fascinating place to visit 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 the same 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.
There seems to be some debate as to the purpose of these buildings. I always thought that the Guild Hall was the meeting place for a group of workers of a certain trade (guild). However, Wikipedia tells me that In the United Kingdom, a guildhall was usually a town hall. The guildhalls have rarely served as the meeting place of any specific guild. Their name comes from the Anglo Saxon “gild”, or “payment”; the guildhall being mostly where citizens came to pay their rates. The one in Lavenham was built in the 1500’s and is an excellent example of this type of building.
However, given the dominance of the cloth and wool trade, the guildhall here seems to have functioned as Lavenham’s principal meeting place and centre of business. It is situated on the town’s thriving market place. With the decline of the wool trade and Lavenham’s prosperity, this guildhall’s role changed. By 1689, and until 1787, the guildhall was in use as the Bridewell (Reform School) , and was then used as the workhouse for the poor.
It was really good to meet up with our friends, David and Barbara again, We first met them, by chance, on a rainy day in London when they sat next to us in a tiny cafe in Kensington whilst on their way to a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. They recognised our Australian accents and asked us for some information for their forthcoming trip to Australia. We laid out an itinerary for them to follow when they visited the Great Ocean Road and we also gave them a tour of the city when their cruise ship was in port in Melbourne for a day. They later reciprocated and showed us some sights around Essex when we on previous trip here.
We all enjoyed a very nice lunch at the Swan Hotel in Lavenham. Its was well after 3pm when we left. We had lunch there together about five years ago (even at the same table) and we decided to have another lunch in this delightful pub.
The Swan Hotel began in the 1500’s as a coaching hotel and when you stand in the courtyard, you can easily imagine the coaches pulling in and the passengers eagerly entering the bar and accommodation areas for a rest. Now, it is a four-star hotel with a very nice restaurant, spa and accommodation.
It’s easy to see by looking at this building and others around it, that the spirit-level had not been invented when they were built!
Today, many gardens in the county were open on public display. Church halls were homes to flower shows and many open spaces in the villages were being used for parking. Lots of people were wandering around Lavenham with guides and some of the buildings had numbers on the gateposts creating a route for people to follow. If the colours in the gardens were as good as the little garden at the hotel, they would have been wonderful sights to see.
On the way back to our hotel we saw a tourist sign pointing to a Railway Museum. We diverted along the road, but never found the museum. However, we had an interesting find at one of the intersections we came across. There in a line of traffic were two very interesting vehicles. I have always thought that Britain had invented and used some really up-to-date technology, and what we saw just proved it!