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