Suffolk Villages and Towns mainly reflect the county’s rich history as a centre for the wool industry in the Middle Ages and Tudor times – here you’ll find timber framed houses, magnificent Guildhalls and opulent stately houses as well as the humble pretty thatched cottages Suffolk is well known for.
Where better to start a tour of Suffolk Villages and Towns than in Lavenham where the streets are timber-framed Avenues, and walking through the village itself is like walking through a Medieval world, one that is better preserved than anywhere else in England.
Lavenham was one of the centres of the wool trade in Suffolk in the Middle Ages, exporting its materials via Ipswich to Holland and Spain. Very successful it was too – in Henry V111’s reign, Lavenham was the fourteenth wealthiest town in England. The stunning Guildhall in the centre of Lavenham was built c1520 by the Guild of Corpus Christi, one of the town’s four medieval guilds, and is today maintained by the National Trust.
Close by is another weaver village – Long Melford and this is also well worth a visit. ‘Melford’ is derived from ‘mill’ and ‘ford’, and ‘Long’ doesn’t need explaining to anyone who has attempted to walk the main street in Long Melford – all 2 ½ miles of it! The longest in England. There are many interesting sights in Long Melford, starting at the Holy Trinity Church at one end of the village overlooking a substantial green (see below), where there is a Tudor mansion in close proximity – Melford Hall, built in 1450.
In Long Melford there’s plenty to see and do, with numerous antique shops and pubs, several boutiques, restaurants and cafes, and a growing hub of Art Galleries including The Jessica Muir Gallery, Lime Tree Gallery. Just behind the High Street are the water meadows of Long Melford – bring your whellies as these attractive fields are a joy to splash about in, especially if you have a dog with you!
Nearby Cavendish has probably won the best kept Village competition more times than most of us have had hot dinners! The reason for this is clear to anyone who has visited this picture-postcard village. With an impressive village green, surrounded by pink thatched cottages, pubs and a Church on the hill, Cavendish is the archetypal Suffolk village. Until recently the HQ for the Sue Ryder charity was based here, since the charity’s foundation in 1953. One important feature to be sought out is the tiny village shop – appropriately named ‘Duck or Grouse’.
Just along the River Stour lies Clare, a little town with a great past. Clare College, Cambridge, has its roots here as it was founded by Elizabeth de Clare, daughter of the 9th Earl. The Clare Priory, founded in 1248 by Richard de Clare, is the first Augustinian house in England, and is still run by Augustinians. Unfortunately not much remains of the Clare Castle except a few dramatic walls on a hilltop in the Country Park, but this is still worth a climb to the top for the stunning views of the surrounding countryside. The Ancient House in Clare does remain though and is well worth a tour – see Clare Ancient House for opening details.
Clare is a thriving little town with its own website – so check out the Clare website to find out what’s on.
Kersey too was well known for cloth-making – so well known that it is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labours Lost. Kersey was famous for a rough, ribbed cloth which was especially suitable for hosiery. Today Kersey is yet another picturesque Suffolk village, probably best known for pottery and right in the centre, a road that fords River Brett, where once the cloth-makers used to soak their materials.
The town of Hadleigh hasn’t changed much over the years and here you’ll find lots of independent shops along the High Street. Hadleigh is a fine example of the mix of architecture seen in Suffolk throughout the ages – varying roof heights and facades, some brick buildings and some timber framed, some tiled and others thatched, with an odd assortment of medieval buildings in the centre of town. The impressive church is flint, the Guildhall timber-framed and the Deanery Tower is Tudor red brick. In 1748 the Rector of Hadleigh, Thomas Tanner, commissioned a local young artist to paint a piece for the Deanery. Gainsborough’s picture shows the parsons residency and place of work, and it seems that very little has changed since then.
Gainsborough was born in Sudbury, on the River Stour and just 12 miles from East Bergholt, Constable’s birthplace. In addition to Gainsborough’s House, which is the only house in England in which an artist was born and is still open to the public – there is much to see and do in Sudbury. This was the largest of all the old wool towns, and it still has three highly specialised textile mills (spinning silk good enough for Ralph Lauren and Princess Anne’s (first) wedding dress!).
When Gainsborough failed to get the commissions he was hoping for in Sudbury, he left the town in 1752 and moved to Ipswich for 7 years. The town was founded by Anglo-Saxon settlers around AD600, and with its naturally protected port on the upper course of the Orwell, it developed during the Middle Ages into an important trading town. Queen Elizabeth 1 visited in 1561, and in 1741 the great actor David Garrick made his debut here.
Thomas Wolsey, the son of an Ipswich butcher, was born here in 1471 and went on to become the Cardinal Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor to Henry V111. Still in the town today as a symbol of his affection for his birthplace, lies the creation known commonly as Wolsey’s Gateway. Not much of old Ipswich remains but the town is enjoying an impressive regeneration, particularly around the docks.
Another Suffolk town that built up around its docks in Victorian times is Felixstowe. It is still the largest container port in the UK and one of the largest in Europe. More interestingly to tourists though the resort became very fashionable in the Victorian era and there are many interesting buildings that remain in the town as a result. There is also a nature reserve and bird observatory at Landguard Fort, and a Golf Club which is amongst the oldest in the UK, having been established in 1881. The Rt. Hon. Arthur Balfour Captain of the Golf Club in 1889, became Captain of the R&A in 1894 and British Prime Minister from 1902-1908.
Felixstowe has a pebbly beach extending from the port at Landguard Fort to Felixstowe Ferry, an old fishing hamlet on the River Deben. A promenade runs along part of the beach, from the nature reserve in the south-west to Cobbolds Point (Maybush Avenue in east), with traditional beach huts along most of that length. Mannings Amusement arcade with snooker halls and food outlets can be found at the southern end of the prom. The pier also has a cafe and amusement arcade. Read our guide to Felixstowe here.
Back inland, Walsham Le Willows lies a few miles away from Bury St Edmunds, between Ixworth and Finningham. It’s a large village and encompasses an estate that was owned by a former partner of the Whitbread Brewery.
Richard Martineau made the purchase in the mid 1800s. It was his family line which is alleged to have made big differences to the community – creating homes and livelihoods for local people. There are a number of features around the village today, many of which have all been provided by the Martineau family.
Fressingfield is one of those lovely Suffolk villages typical of the county, with a great sense of community spirit. The village is in high Suffolk, close to Diss and just 40 minutes drive from the coast at Southwold. It has a population of over 900, a mixture of long established local families, who have lived here for generations, and also a substantial number of people who have moved into the area from London and the home counties since electrification of the Norwich to Liverpool Street line in the 1980s.
The village is compact, but has everything you could possibly need, including 2 shops, churches, excellent sports facilities, a garage, a pub, a top restaurant, a medical centre and a modern primary school all within easy walking distance. The village is predominantly an agricultural community, now mainly arable, pig and poultry farming.
There is a real village community in Fressingfield, with a wide range of activities for all ages and interests. These range from a preschool group, brownies, beavers, cubs and scouts, alongside the Women’s Institute, Mothers’ Union, Royal British Legion and over-50s Luncheon Club amongst others. All welcome new members! Come and spend some time in this lovely village and get a sense of country life at its best. There are several accommodation options and lots of activities throughout the year, including the Fressingfield Garden Festival in June.