Author: Barry Eley

Living as I do eight miles from Lavenham, you would think that I would know the village there well, particularly as my osteopath lives and works in one of the very old buildings.  Every time I visit her practice, I find myself trying to lean the opposite way, the wonky stairs want me to lean. Then at the top of the stairs, I invariably bang my head on the top of the doorframe.  Not something, at five foot nine inches tall, I normally have to think about.

On the way into the picture pretty village, I will pass the parish church of St Peter and St Paul. It’s a massive church from the Wool town period in Lavenham’s history. Building started in1486 and was completed thirty nine years later in 1525.  Once passed the church I pull into the public, council run, car park by the Cock Horse Inn.  Park at the front and within a hundred paces you can access the pub or the doctors surgery for the village.  Park at the back and you will find one of the newest buildings in the village, the Lavenham Village Hall and Events Centre, built in 2005. It was funded by a multitude of councils, the lottery fund, as well as many fund raising events. One woman, Elsie Hynard, who started the fund raising 70 years before, finally got to officially open the hall on the 1st July 2005. The Hall is a modern sports hall and library with rooms for hire, a great place for all the sports clubs in the village.  The wedding reception I attended there was great and the hall seemed as if it was purpose built for it. The Farmers Market held there, every fourth Sunday in the month, is brilliant with more than thirty stalls of local produce and crafts.  But it is very popular and the car park fills quickly, so don’t tell everyone about it and then we can keep it to ourselves.

The car park is also the best place to start your walk through the village, as it slopes down to the main street, before you have to walk up hill then down dale to get to the end of the High Street.  At the bottom of the dip into the village, is the Swan Pub. The Swan is a 15th Century inn which is now a Hotel and Spa, very posh.  But the one room I like to visit is the Airman’s bar with the names of the 487th Bombardment Group inscribed on the walls.  It’s full of memorabilia, like the names of some of the airmen who took up the challenge of downing 3.5 pints of ale from a glass boot and how long it took them. The American 487th Bombardment group was stationed at the Lavenham airfield in 1943 and RAF Lavenham or ‘AAF 137 station’ as it was called then.  It was a couple of miles outside of Lavenham village, but many of the men were stationed within the village.  One of its first commanders was Beirne Lay Jr, a co-author and screenwriter of the 1949 Hollywood blockbuster film ‘Twelve O’Clock High’ starring Gregory Peck.  I was in the village last year when they had vintage week and the town was full of people in the uniform and clothes of the 1940’s and the roads were busy with the vehicles of that period as well.  It was a must for any vintage connoisseur.

But the Swan isn’t the centre of the village that is further up the hill and behind the main High Street where Lady Street and Prentice Street meet at the Market Square outside the Guildhall.

The Guildhall is quite large and a must for any visitor particularly as over time it has been used as a meeting place for the very wealthy of the town “ King Henry the VII, fined them for being richer than him”.  As well as being a prison, a workhouse, a pub, a chapel and a social club for US troops stationed nearby during the Second World War.

Outside in the Market Square was a place where bear baiting took place in Tudor times.  Nowadays the only baiting taking place is when a husband won’t let his lady buy all the things she wants in the town, funny how it comes to a head in the market place outside the Angel pub.  Don’t get me wrong this isn’t a spectacle or a blood sport.  It’s a quiet poke in the ribs with the point of an umbrella and with a pout and raised eyes to the skies, by an immovable woman, that most people wouldn’t even notice and yes, I am talking about my wife.  But in my defence I am trying to get into the 15th century ‘Angel pub’ which used to owned by Chef Marco Pierre White and is now owned and run by John Raynes who in collaboration with a local butcher John Coleman has the highly praised ‘John Coleman at the Angel, Grill ‘ within the restaurant.

From the Market Square, which is at the top of a short hill, you can take any road off and wonder at the medieval building that surrounds the square and the roads off of it, like the yellow or is it mustard coloured Tudor building called Little Hall.

It’s also famous for a few things like the time in 1969 when John Lennon and Yoko Ono arrived with their crew to film a piece for Apotheosis, which included having a hot air balloon in the market place.  But added to the chaos was the BBC film crew that was making a documentary on John and Yoko, making a film.  But this wasn’t the only filming to have happened in Lavenham, as the list is relatively large for a small village including, the TV series LoveJoy, the film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows parts one and two. Vincent Price’s, The Witch Finder General and films by others like the director Stanley Kubrick.  But not all the famous were well know, like the 18th century poet Jane Taylor who whilst living in the village in Shilling Street, wrote a poem called Star from which the lyrics for ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ were later taken.

But I have wandered off, which is easy to do in this village, so back on track and wandering through the roads of the High Street, I find the ‘Crooked House’ the more famous crooked house in the village, as its on the High Street.  But venture in to any of the back streets and you’ll find rows of buildings in the same state or even worse.  One of those can be found at the far end of the village, is the little white ‘Hedgehog cottage’ that leans so far backwards, you wonder how it remains standing. Then you ponder how its happened, has it been nudged by the elephant grassing on the lawn outside the building next door, or by the Giant, whose chair is in the porch way of the same building.  But as I am now finding all the walking up hill and down dale around the town thirsty work, I seek out one of the many tearooms that abound in the village and find myself back at Market Square.

Refreshed with coffee and cake, I can now make my way to the Osteopaths.  As I do, the pleasant smell of wood smoke wafts across and up my nose, causing me no alarm, even though I had been a fireman for thirty years.  Looking up, I notice the very modern chimneys at Constable Court, they look like jet aircraft engine nozzles.  Whilst in complete contrast the ‘Old Grammar School’ next door, ‘which could boast of the artist John Constable and poet Jane Taylor being in the same class,’ has ornate Tudor chimneys and is silent. As opposed to the pleasant noise of the village children playing in the playground that drifts down from the new village school, built just a few doors up in the 1850’s.

But it’s time to get my painful back fixed and I walk passed the Market Keepers cottage, whose cobbled stone wall holds memorial plaques to those who have fallen in several wars.  On to the High Street and in to the Osteopath’s, where again I hit my head on the way in and then walk up hill, to get onto the bed, whose legs are adjustable to cope with the sloping floor.

An hour later and I am walking straighter and no longer cursing the wife for buying so much stuff at the last farmers market, that I put my back out lifting it into the boot of my car.  Now I can join the grand children and their Nan, enjoying the adventure type playground on the green at the bottom of Water Street.


This guide was written by:

Barry Eley
Suffolk Writers Group