Lavenham Guildhall

Lavenham Guildhall

Built around 1530, for religious rather than commercial purposes, the Guildhall has seen many changes over the years. Located on the edge of Lavenham's marketplace, the Guildhall is one of the village’s most impressive historic timber-framed buildings. Originally built as a meeting place, it remains at the heart of the village today, a venue for local events and functions.


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 catholic 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, this was happening 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 may have been 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. Colchester and Ongar, both in Essex, also have claims to be the site of composition of the poem.

Like many East Anglian settlements, Lavenham was home to RAF Station Lavenham an American Air Force airfield 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.

Lavenham Guildhall is properly known as the Guildhall of Corpus Christi and is one of the finest timber-framed buildings in England. The building dates from around 1530 built on the back of the boom of the cloth industry in the early 16th Century. Despite the importance of the cloth industry in the village, Lavenham's five recorded guilds weren't concerned with the organisation of trade. Craft guilds did exist in Medieval England and the great majority, including Lavenham's Guildhall, were actually social and religious bodies and were focused on their members' souls, rather than their livelihoods.

Originally built as a religious meeting place for wealthy Catholic merchants, the Guildhall has also been used as a prison, a workhouse, a pub, a chapel and a social club for US troops stationed nearby during the Second World War. The National Trust interpretation shows a journey of discovery over five centuries of history; seen through the eyes of the people who lived and worked here.

Among the real life stories featured in the exhibition is the tale of Ann Baker, who was imprisoned in the Guildhall when it was used as a prison in the 1780's. Aged just 8-years-old, Ann was whipped and kept locked inside with others who had fallen foul of the sometimes harsh laws of the time. She was later sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia, then a penal colony, for being ‘an incorrigible rogue’. She died at just 29.

Others stories include Widow Snell, who ran the 18th-century workhouse and created a host of intriguing – and sometimes gruesome – looking medicinal recipes to help treat the ailments suffered by the residents. These included adding 20 live woodlice to cough mixture and crab’s eyes to a treatment for catarrh!.

The best way to make your way around Lavenham is on foot. An abundance of galleries, places to eat, accommodation, boutiques and antiques shops make for an enjoyable day out. Suffolk Threads is a unique celebration of the history of Suffolk’s wool towns, with a range of events and walks telling their story.

  • Cycling routes. Lavenham is on the National 13 cycling route, which you can pick up in nearby Sudbury, Alpheton or Long Melford - or if you want to go the whole distance start at London's Tower Bridge and finish at Fakenham, Norwich! There are lots of other routes and byways to explore in and around Lavenham which are just as much fun.
  • Ornate medieval carvings. Explore many examples of lavish ornate carvings embellishing the facades of rich Tudor merchants' houses - status symbols and memories of the cloth heritage of the village.
  • Medieval buildings. Lavenham has many fine examples of medieval and Tudor timber-framed buildings. Learn all about their heritage, including the extremely skilled craft of how they were built and why they have survived.
  • The Old Grammar School. The Old Grammar School, open from 1647-1887, is a Grade I listed building whose many pupils have included famous painter John Constable.
  • St Peter & St Paul Church. The church was built at the height of Lavenham's prosperity by Thomas Spring III.
  • De Vere House. The last house in Lavenham to be owned by the Earls of Oxford, also known as the De Vere Hunting Lodge, was one of three properties within the centre of Lavenham, attached to Lavenham Hall.
  • Little Hall. Little Hall, built in the 1390s, was once home to the Causton family. Since then the house has changed a lot from being divided up to house six different families in the 1700s to being restored and used as a museum today.
  • Art and galleries. Lavenham is host to an array of galleries; visitors can find unique examples of local and international arts and crafts. Take a look at the Crooked House Gallery, a building full of 'wonky' charm.
  • Cafés and tearooms. Lavenham is home to a wide choice of tea-rooms and small cafés, where cream teas are part of the regular afternoon menu, including the Guildhall which is a firm favourite with many visitors.
  • Pubs and restaurants. With a selection of fine dining restaurants, including an Indian restaurant, there are plenty of options for everyone. Favourites include The Swan and The Great House, both well known as hotels as well as restaurants.
  • ** – Lavenham woodland walk – **

    An easy walk around the Lavenham Woodland community project, part of the old Lavenham to Long Melford Great Eastern Railway line, and the opportunity to visit the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. Look out for some of the 24 varieties of butterflies that have been seen in the area. Visit their tea shop either prior to or after your walk. An ideal walk for families. Classified as Easy, the walk is 2.8 miles long and should take about one and a half hours, it is a dog friendly walk.

    Start: Lavenham Guildhall.

  • 1. Starting from the Guildhall, walk to your left across Market Square then head down Market Lane to the High Street. Turn right at the bottom and cross the road. Continue along High Street for about 300yd (274m), and over the old railway bridge, ignore the sign on the left to 'The Lavenham Walk'. You're now on Bury Road. A little further up on the left-hand-side of Bury Road is the entrance to Dyehouse Field.
  • Dyehouse Field is known locally as the Lavenham Woodland Project; is locally funded by the villagers and planted with nut trees. Once inside the wood you can use the paths to check for butterflies.
  • 2. Before you start your walk, survey the scene from the bench over to the right of the entrance - it's made entirely from recycled plastic bags.
  • Apart from ladybirds and grasshoppers, twenty-four species of butterfly have been recorded in Dyehouse Field. One of the discoveries is the quite rare, (or perhaps, little observed) brown argus butterfly in an open area of the site, and so the volunteers are working to develop its preferred habitat. Many other species may also be seen along other sections of the walk. Badger, weasel, field vole, muntjac deer, grass snake, common lizard and slow-worm are just some of the other animals that are present.
  • 3. After exploring the Project, proceed down to the more wooded section, along the path with the hedgerow on your right. A short distance later take the right hand fork, and after 100yd (91.5m) go over a small wooden bridge at the boundary and up to the Lavenham Railway Walk, turning right.
  • Many species have been recorded along this disused railway line including common and lesser whitethroat, blackcap, goldcrest, treecreeper, bullfinch, garden warbler and marsh tit, along with records of the unusual, such as pied flycatcher, redstart, whinchat, firecrest, reed warbler, waxwing, little egret, red kite, and this giant snail which is quite rare and lives in the area.
  • 4. Walk along the length of this track, passing through a metal gate at Park Road and through another gate opposite.
  • 5. When you reach the old railway bridge, go under it, then use the path that ascends on the right hand side to get up to the road (the Railway Walk further on from here is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and would take you right through to Long Melford). At the top, turn right and head back over the bridge towards Lavenham village. Be careful as you're now going to walk for a while along Bridge Street Road, which can be a slightly busy road at time.
  • Bridge Street Road affords wonderful views across to Lavenham Church, sometimes accompanied by the type of sky found in Suffolk that inspired John Constable to paint.
  • 6. Using Lavenham Church Tower as a landmark to your left, continue along Bridge Street Road until reaching a stand of small trees on your left and a footpath sign. Follow this footpath on to the lane that loops around the back of the church.
  • The parish church of St Peter and St Paul is well worth a visit if you have time. Built mainly in the 15th-century, it was built with money made from the cloth trade. Its tower is 141ft (43m) high and is one of the tallest in East Anglia.
  • 7. Following this lane will bring you back to Lavenham High Street, almost opposite the Swan Hotel. Turn left back up High Street, cross the road; turn right up Market Lane and then back to the Guildhall, for lunch or tea perhaps.
  • There's a long tradition of bird-recording around Lavenham, and an intriguing warbler found in 2007 became famous for its appearance in the respected British Birds magazine. Known locally as the Lavenham Chiff-chaff, its song was completely wrong for that species and was believed to have Iberian connections. It left everyone quite baffled.
  • End: Lavenham Guildhall.
  • Lavenham Church

    Lavenham Church

    ** – Visiting – **

    ** – Lavenham to Long Melford railway walk – **

    A self-guided walk from Lavenham to Long Melford - through woods and open fields - largely following the route of the old GER Lavenham to Long Melford railway line. See a site of special scientific interest, and the site of an 1891 railway accident. Finish by visiting Melford Hall, home of the Hyde-Parker family, in another well-preserved medieval ‘wool village’.

    The walk provides the opportunity to see wild flowers alongside birds and animal wildlife in their natural habitat. Ideal for adventurer families. Classified as Easy, the walk is about 4 miles long and should take about two hours, it is dog friendly.

    Start: Lavenham Guildhall.

  • 1. Starting from the Guildhall, walk to your left across Market Square, head down Market Lane to the High Street. Turn right at the bottom and cross the road. Continue along High Street for about 300 yards (274m) until reaching a sign for the 'Lavenham Walk' to your left.
  • No visit to Lavenham is complete without going to the Guildhall of Corpus Christi. Before starting your walk, step inside and learn about the changing fortunes of Lavenham - from the boom times of the cloth industry to the poverty of the 19th-century. Don't forget to enjoy some of the treats in our tea-room.
  • 2. To the left of the old railway bridge, follow the FP signs for the Lavenham Walk.
  • Lavenham was on the Long Melford-Bury St Edmunds branch line running between Long Melford on the Stour Valley Railway and Bury St Edmunds on the Ipswich to Ely Line. The line opened on 9 August 1865 and closed to passengers on 10 April 1961; goods trains continued for a little longer. The station buildings at Lavenham are gone.
  • 3. Follow the Lavenham walk until you reach a pair of metal gates, which is the road crossing at Park Road. Continue on until reaching Bridge Street railway bridge.
  • Many species have been recorded along this disused railway line, including common and lesser whitethroat, blackcap, goldcrest, treecreeper, bullfinch, garden warbler and marsh tit - along with records of the unusual, such as pied flycatcher, redstart, whinchat, firecrest, red warbler, waxwing, little egret and red kite. During May and June, this Common Spotted Orchid may be seen in the Sites of Special Scientific Interest section.
  • 4. Shortly after going under the railway bridge at Bridge Street Road, you'll reach a fence, signifying the end of the 'Lavenham Walk' section, leading to an old railway cutting which has now been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
  • This cutting is an area of heavy undergrowth and is invariably found to be muddy and/or waterlogged. Selected areas of the banks of this cutting are being returned to grass and others left as semi-natural woodland. The grassland is mown in late autumn and provides a valuable habitat for insects and wildlife. A rare giant snail is known to live along the end of this section, so watch where you step.
  • 5. At the end of the cutting the path enters an area of woodland (for 400m or so), passing through Lineage Wood to the right and Paradise Wood to the left. When exiting the woodland, you have reached the site of an 1891 railway accident.
  • This is the site of a railway derailment on 17 October 1891. The train was tank engine No.169. From this grainy image, you can see that at least one carriage together with the engine was derailed. A local press report of the time reported of a train being 'thrown' down the embankment. Fortunately there were no fatalities but some severe injuries. The guard was reported as 'having severe injuries to his head and leg...and being unable to sleep at night'.
  • 6. Keeping the treeline to the right, continue for approximately 0.7 miles (1.2km) until eventually reaching another small area of woodland to the left. After a further 200m, the path turns right and crosses through the wood for about 100m.
  • Before reaching St Edmund Way, look very carefully to your left and you should see a Second World War pillbox hidden in the scrub to your left.
  • 7. Exit the wood and turn immediately left, keeping the treeline to the left and ignoring the marker post to the right (St Edmund Way). Continue on for about 500m until reaching the end of the field.
  • 8. When reaching the end of the field, the path heads immediately right - climbing uphill - and eventually reaches the main A134 Sudbury to Bury St Edmunds road.
  • 9. This road is very busy with fast-moving traffic, so carefully cross the road and go through the gate on the opposite side.
  • After approximately 0.7 miles (1.1km) this lane - known locally as Hare Drift - exits opposite Kentwell Hall, through the Cherry Lane Garden Centre and car park. On the early maps, Hare Drift ran from the rail accident site right through to Long Melford. This section is all that remains.
  • 10. Now turn left along the A1092 and follow the footpath for about 600m. The entrance to magnificent Melford Hall will be found on the left. After visiting Melford Hall, head into town to pick up your return bus (Chambers 753) to Lavenham.
  • Home of the Hyde Parker family, the turrets of Melford Hall have long dominated Long Melford's village green. Visit the hall and discover the stories of visits from their relation Beatrix Potter, with her menagerie of animals. Visit the tea-room while you're here.
  • End: Melford Hall car park.
  • ** – Lavenham 'Crooked Houses' walk – **

    Welcome to Lavenham, a medieval village full of quirky hidden gems for the whole family to explore. A backdrop of Tudor timber-framed buildings sets the scene for mysterious carvings, crooked houses, animals and curious characters. Search for hidden carvings, doorways, fairy-tales and wonky lines to create your own heritage trail on this self-guided, downloadable toddle/mini-amble around Lavenham. Using a compass, spot exciting hidden characters and patterns – designed for explorer families, and young children. Children over six will love to spot the hidden characters and find the patterns on this easy one-mile walk. Look out for the 'wonkiest house'; visit the cross in the market place; Molet House, and of course the sweet shop (if allowed!). Visit our tea shop when you have finished.

    Route guide and instructions and the answers for grown-ups are available by clicking here. Collect your compass from the Guildhall (£10 refundable deposit), before you start. The walk is classified as Easy, it has good disabled access, is about one mile long and should take around 30 minutes. It is dog friendly.

    Start: Lavenham Guildhall.

  • 1. Start at the Guildhall front door and walk due North, across the Market Place to the market cross. Can you find out who built it and when?
  • 2. Turn to your right and walk due East across to the wonky yellow building. What is it called? Find an unusual door knocker. What shape is it?
  • 3. Continue walking south until you come to a black-and-white timber building on your right, Molet House. Have a close look at the door to see if you can spot a five-pointed star in the doorway. Draw the doorway of this house. What famous nursery rhyme sings about a star? When you visit the Guildhall you can find out why this rhyme is very important to Lavenham.
  • 4. Further down the hill, still south, is the Old Grammar School on your left. This house has lots of decoration on its woodwork. Can you spot a funny ‘pair’ on the carving by the door? What are they?
  • 5. At the bottom of Barn Street, turn due West. Stand here for a minute and count how many different coloured houses you can see. Draw your favourite building and choose your favourite colour to paint it in.
  • 6. Further up the street, on the other side, is a brick and timber building called De Vere House. It has a very unusual doorway, with a tiny door inside a big one. What do you think the job of the two figures is? Draw your favourite figure and tell us what you think he is there for.
  • 7. Further along on the left there is a really good sweet shop – if you’re lucky you might get to go inside! While you are outside, count how many different building materials you can see in the houses.
  • 8. As you approach the corner at the end, look up at the shapes in the plasterwork above the street sign. Draw what you can see at the back of these pages. What do you think they are?
  • 9. At the end of the road go North 20 degrees East. Above a shop window on a building a little way up, across the road is a man – what do you think he’s doing there? As you walk up High Street, look for all the signs that have animals on them – but be careful of the busy road! How many can you spot?
  • 10. Also in the High Street is one of the wonkiest buildings in Lavenham – what is it called? Can you think of a nursery rhyme that might have been written about this house? Can you spot the ‘Jaws of Hell’ on the wonkiest building in Lavenham?
  • 11. Just inside the first turn on your right, due East. Can you see the building on your left that looks as though it’s going to fall down on you? Why not have your photograph taken holding the building up.
  • 12. When you get to the top carry on heading back to The Guildhall, East 120 degrees and stop at the corner on the end. Look up to find the figure of a man and draw him – what do you think he is holding?
  • 13. What do you think the Market Place was used for? What shops that are still here might you have seen in a 16th-century market? Why not collect a certificate from the Guildhall and look around inside to find out lots more facts about Lavenham and its crooked houses. Don't forget to return your compass to the Guildhall before you leave.
  • End: Lavenham Guildhall.

    ** – Facilities – **


  • • Ploughman's lunches with local bread, regional cheeses and Norfolk ham.
  • • Local gifts, souvenirs, books and plants in the shop.
  • • Free parking (not National Trust) in front of the guildhall.
  • • Tours available, please contact the NT before you visit.
  • • Groups welcome, please contact the NT before you visit.
  • Family

  • • Baby back-carriers admitted.
  • • Hip-carrying infant seats for loan.
  • • Children's quiz/trail.
  • • Childrens dressing-up clothes available.
  • • Family fun days.
  • • Suitable for small school group visits.
  • Accessibility

  • • Drop-off point outside the guildhall on Market Square.
  • • Braille guide.
  • • Sensory experience.
  • • Large print guide.
  • • Partly accessible grounds, some steps.
  • • Adapted toilet in car park (not National Trust), approximately 150 yards.
  • You can read their full access statement (PDF) by clicking here.


    Location : Lavenham Guildhall, Market Place, Lavenham, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 9QZ

    Transport: Sudbury (National Rail) then bus, 7 miles. Bus routes: Chambers 753 Bury St Edmunds to Colchester (passes close Bury St Edmunds train station and Sudbury train station)

    Opening Times : Daily, 11:00 to 17.00.

    Tickets : Adults £6.80;  Children £3.40

    Tel: 01787 247646