EX­PLORE: The Wool Towns

Laven­ham, Long Melford, Hadleigh, Clare and Sud­bury are steeped in the his­tory of the once boom­ing wool trade


Ahand­ful of Suf­folk towns were changed for­ever in the 15th and 16th cen­tury by the wool trade. Laven­ham, Long Melford, Hadleigh, Clare and Sud­bury pro­duced woollen cloth that was in great de­mand as far away as north­ern Rus­sia. As the towns grew richer, grand churches and fine mer­chants’ houses were built, giv­ing the towns their dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter. The wool boom was short lived, but the well pre­served towns have kept their his­tory in­tact and still ex­ude a sense of their for­mer wealth.


In 1524 Laven­ham was the 14th rich­est town in the coun­try, thanks to trade in its cloth, Laven­ham Blewes. The rich mer­chants cre­ated some of its most strik­ing ar­chi­tec­ture, such as the Church of St Peter and Paul, and the Guild­hall. The town has 340 listed build­ings and many now house in­de­pen­dent shops, gal­leries, tea shops and ho­tels.


The town is well named, with its High Street stretch­ing for 2.5 miles framed on ei­ther side by me­dieval half-tim­bered homes. The vil­lage has a spec­tac­u­lar church and two tur­reted Tu­dor stately homes, Melford Hall and moated Tu­dor manor Ken­twell Hall. Long Melford also has some won­der­ful art gal­leries – pop into the Lime Tree Gallery, Fa­mous Old House, Jes­sica Muir Gallery, and Imag­ine Gallery.


Woollen-cloth pro­duc­tion is so linked with Hadleigh its crest fea­tures three wool­packs and a paschal lamb. Wealth from the trade funded its church and Dean­ery tower built in the late 15th cen­tury, as well as the ear­lier Guild­hall, orig­i­nally built as a mar­ket house and wool hall. Its cen­tre, is packed with listed me­dieval build­ings mak­ing it a per­fect place to ex­plore.

TOP RIGHT: Tu­dor times at Ken­twell Hall ABOVE: The Her­itage Lot­tery Fund has awarded £4.5 mil­lion to re­fur­bish and ex­tend Gains­bor­ough’s House

RIGHT: The Sud­bury Row­ing Club an­nual Re­gatta on the River Stour. LEFT: Lick of lime wash for Laven­ham Guild­hall

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