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A woolly tale: The story of the Suffolk wool towns

During the medieval ages, a small group of Suffolk towns rose to prominence: grand churches sprung up in their centres, fine timber-framed houses were built on their streets and their families grew wealthy.


The Swan in the centre of Lavenham

Lavenham, Clare, Long Melford, Sudbury, Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich and Hadleigh: we know them now as the Suffolk Wool Towns, the towns that grew rich – and then fell into decline – with the British wool trade.


To this day, Lavenham remains a perfect example of a Suffolk Wool Town. Once the 14th richest town in the country, Lavenham prospered from the trade of its cloth, Lavenham Blewes, which was famous as far away as Northern Russia. However, the production of cheaper and more fashionable cloth in Colchester and cheap imports from Europe caused a sharp turn in Lavenham’s fortunes. Within a generation, its cloth trade had collapsed.
Since then, ‘England’s Best Preserved Medieval Village’ seems to have been locked in a time capsule, keeping its delicate history in tact in the form of exquisite buildings. Its streets are still lined with charming timber-framed houses, and the famous Guildhall of Corpus Christi, once the centre of trade in Lavenham, still exudes an aura of power and grandeur. Similarly, the enormous and lavish Church of St Peter and St Paul is testament to Lavenham’s awe-inspiring former wealth.
The Guildhall in Lavenham
At Lavenham Guildhall you can see what life was like in Suffolk at the height of the wool trade
Though it may look like it hasn’t changed in 500 years, behind Lavenham’s historic exterior is one of the most exciting towns in Suffolk: a place where you can find exquisite food, enjoy wonderful walks and stay in some of the finest hotels in Britain. You’ll find surprises in Lavenham in the places you least expected, such as The Swan Hotel’s Airman’s bar, where you can raise a glass to old heroes surrounded by an impressive collection of WW2 memorabilia.
You can find out more about Lavenham and all its surprises here, at