History

Lavenham and its Guildhall

Lavenham is one of the best preserved medieval villages in Britain

Lavenham is one of the best preserved medieval villages in Britain

Lavenham has over 320 buildings of historic significance, and Lavenham Guildhall, otherwise known as the Guildhall of Corpus Christi, is possibly one of the best examples of them all.

In the 16th century this picturesque village was the fourteenth wealthiest town in Britain, paying more tax than populous cities such as York and Lincoln, thanks to the quality of its renowned blue woollen cloth, which was in great demand.

However, by 1525 the bubble had burst. The demise of the cloth trade, for which Lavenham was famed, meant that the merchants had left looking for their next new venture. The local population was unable to maintain the timber-framed buildings, which had previously been funded by the enormous wealth created by the cloth trade, and the buildings began to crumble.

By the 17th century there was a threat of mass demolition. The situation was so severe that the Lord of the Manor took his tenants to court to prevent the destruction.

Through the ages

  • 1327 - an industrial town specialising in cloth
  • 16th century - Lavenham's wealth grew disproportionately
  • 1524 - the 14th richest town in Britain
  • 1525 - Lavenham witnessed mass demonstrations by unemployed men
  • 1530 - the Guildhall was probably built
  • 1568 - ranked behind other local towns such as Sudbury and Nayland
  • 1689 - the Guildhall was in use as a jail
  • 1784 - prison reformer John Howard described its disrepair
  • 1787 - closed as a jail, and later used as a workhouse and alms house
  • 1887 - bought by Sir WiIliam Cuthbert Quilter, Baronet and one time MP
  • 1939-1945 - received evacuees and served as a restaurant and nursery
  • 1946 - Quilter's son, Sir William, vested it to the local community
  • 1951 - the Guildhall was passed into the National Trust's care

Lavenham's story

With over 320 buildings of historic significance, Lavenham is well worth exploring.

Find out how and why the timber-framed houses and medieval streets for which Lavenham is famed were built and still exist to this day.

The Guildhall

The Guildhall is one of the most prominent buildings in Lavenham

The Guildhall, also known as the Guildhall of Corpus Christi, was originally one of five guilds in Lavenham.

It was probably the most exclusive of these, holding prime position in the market square.

The woollen trade

Lavenham was renowned for its Lavenham Blue cloth

Lavenham's prosperity was due to its specialised production of woad-dyed broadcloth known as Lavenham Blues.

The cloth was exported far and wide, and its rich merchants funded many buildings you see today.

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