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Visiting Lavenham, Suffolk, England and its Guildhall: timbered building dating from the 17th century

Updated on November 14, 2012
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
The Guildhall, Lavenham
The Guildhall, Lavenham | Source
Map location of Suffolk, England
Map location of Suffolk, England | Source

A supposedly idyllic scene from old England

The building known as the Guildhall, in Lavenham, Suffolk, England, was largely built in the 17th century. As a foundation, however, the Guildhall dates from the previous century. The term 'guild' here refers to an association of 16th century wool merchants — the source of much of the village's historic prosperity — founded in 1529 and known as the Guild of Corpus Christi. There were originally five merchant guilds in the village of Lavenham; it is thought that the guild of Corpus Christi was the most prominent.

It is known that in the 14th century, a tax break (in a manner of speaking) on finished cloth had the effect of increasing cloth production locally. There is certainly nothing new about arguments between subsidies and tariffs (1)!

Today, the merchants are long gone, but the National Trust has preserved the building, now a museum, in tribute to the importance of the former Guild in the history of Lavenham.

The Guildhall, and other, nearby timbered buildings (see below), might to many visitors — especially to those from overseas — seem to exemplify a somewhat idyllic scene of old England. The supposedly idyllic nature of English village life in past centuries is doubtless exaggerated and almost a myth, but it is the well preserved nature of the Guildhall which makes it so photogenic, sometimes giving rise to possibly stereotypical thoughts. Indeed, views of the building are often displayed in calendar pages, and in guidebooks.

The National Trust facilities at the Guildhall include a tea shop — a fine, English tradiiton! — and a gift shop. During the summer months, guided walks around the village's main attractions are organized from the Guildhall.

In addition to the now fragile-looking timbers, features of the building include prominent protruding gables, which add to a sense of quaintness.

Suffolk has traditionally been a strongly agricultural county and a part of the Guildhall Museum is dedicated to its history, locally. Within the site, there is a walled garden, in which there may be seen plants which were formerly used in the manufacture of the dyes — blue was a popular colour — used on the wool and cloth formerly produced at Lavenham.

Lavenham's Guildhall is situated at the Market Place, Lavenham, Suffolk.

November 15, 2012


(1) Interestingly, as a symbol of the importance of the wool industry to the economy of England, the Lord Chancellor in the United Kingdom's House of Lords still sits on the Woolsack, and his office is sometimes referred to as such.

Also worth seeing

Lavenham has various, well-preserved timbered buildings; these include the Old Wool Hall, De Vere House, the Old Grammar School and Molet House; its parish church of St Peter and St Paul, with its very tall tower, resembles a cathedral.


How to get there

United Airlines flies from New York Newark Airport to London Heathrow Airport (distance to Lavenham : 163 kilometres), where car rental is available. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. For up to date information, you are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada

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