Lavenham Boom and Bust

Little Waldingfield History Society was delighted to welcome Jane Gosling, National Trust Guildhall Manager, to the Parish Room on December 11th.

We learned that Lavenham prospered from the wool trade during the 15th & 16th centuries, the town’s woad dyed blue broadcloth being an export of note, and known as Lavenham Blue.  The cloth was exported far and wide, and its rich merchants funded many of the buildings seen in Lavenham today.

By late c 15th, the town was amongst the richest in the British Isles, paying more in taxation than considerably larger towns such as York and Lincoln. The town’s prosperity at this time is still very evident today in the lavishly constructed wool church of St Peter and St Paul, which stands atop a hill top at the end of the main high street.

During the 16th century, industry was hugely affected by Dutch refugees settling in Colchester, who produced cloth that was both cheaper and lighter, whilst also being more fashionable. Cheaper imports from Europe also hastened the decline, and by 1600 Lavenham had lost its reputation as a major trading town; by 1525 the bubble had burst.

The demise of the cloth trade meant that merchants left, looking for their next new venture, and the local population was unable to maintain the timber-framed buildings, previously funded by the enormous wealth created by the cloth trade, and the timber framed buildings began to crumble. By the c 17th there was a threat of mass demolition; the situation was so severe that the Lord of the Manor took his tenants to court to prevent the destruction.

We also heard that the market was moved, from a site near St Peter and St Paul church to the current market square, apparently just because the then Lord of the Manor wanted it so; Jane then took us on a whistle-stop tour round Lavenham today. She built on the knowledge we had gained at last month’s talk by John Walker, and explained the features of many of the buildings; it would appear that she has been round most of them.

The sudden and dramatic change in Lavenham’s fortune is of course the principal reason why so many medieval and Tudor buildings remain today, essentially unmodified; because, as Jane noted, later generations did not have the wealth to rebuild in the latest styles. Finally we learned that there are over 320 listed buildings of historic significance in Lavenham, which is why it is often seen as the finest medieval town in the country.

It was another fascinating talk, as evidenced by the many questions for Jane at the end.

 

On January 15th 2014, we are putting on a member only art event, featuring a display of fine evocative prints from original paintings by Roger, a local artist who lives in Acton.

Andy Sheppard          14th December 2013

Hope and Glory

Hope and Glory

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