Wanderer at Large: Essex & Suffolk – Lavenham

A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.

Sponsored by Your London Tours.

This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.

Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.

In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.

This week, the area north-east of London that includes the counties of Essex and Suffolk.

St Peter & Paul Church, Lavenham


The historic town of Lavenham is so authentically medieval looking, it looks unreal, like a set from a film. Indeed, many a location scout has given the place the thumbs-up for movies such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Godrick’s Hollow – Harry’s parent’s house) and the 1960’s horror, Witchfinder General starring Vincent Price.

The best approach to Lavenham is from Monks Eleigh. a drive through the tranquil countryside of Suffolk which gently transforms into a line of half-timbered cottages.

Lavenham made its wealth from the wool history. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Dutch immigrants set their weaving skills to work on the local broadcloth and the town boomed. However, the industry declined in the 17th century and a rivalry with Dutch cloth makers caused a crash in the market. The now poorer townspeople could not afford to build new houses, so the place got stuck in an architectural time-warp.

The magnificent St Peter & St Paul Church was built between 1475-1500. The highlight here is the De Vere family tombs. Back in the late 11th century, William the Conqueror gave the manor around Lavenham to the De Vere family who later took the title of the Earls of Oxford. Some believe the 17th Earls of Oxford was the true writer of Shakespeare’s plays.

Another place to visit is the Guildhall. It is built of wattle & daub. Wattle is essentially wooden sticks and daub is basically clay. The structural beams are made from oak which are limewashed to protect the wood. Inside, there are exhibits of wool-making crafts and displays of coppicing (horn and hazel fencing). The upstairs fireplace has witch-marks, a ‘daisy wheel’ and a mummified cat to ward off evil spirits. To the rear is a dye garden, where colours for the weaving industry were traditionally produced. Also nearby is Littlehall, a family home dating back to the 1390s. Built of cob, wood and thatch, it was restored in the early 20th century. There is a tourist information centre near the Guildhall.

There are plenty for options for a pleasant lunch in Lavenham. The Swan Inn is excellent. The Angel pub once won the UK pub of the year, and the Guildhall serves a good tea.

Lavenham is truly the jewel in the crown of the Suffolk countryside.

Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.

For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com

*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:

  1. London
  2. Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
  3. Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
  4. Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
  5. Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
  6. South coast (Hants/Dorset)
  7. Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
  8. South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
  9. Wales (north & south)
  10. Welsh Borders (Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
  11. Western Midlands (Brum/Worcs/Warks/Staffs)
  12. Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland/Hunts)
  13. Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
  14. East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
  15. Yorks (all ridings)
  16. North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
  17. North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
  18. Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
  19. Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
  20. Ireland (Northern/Southern)

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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