Lavenham Guildhall

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Things to do


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November, 2021

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As the “Lavenham Guildhall”: is only open in Winter from Thursday to Sunday, we just squeezed it in to our mid-week break before we left. Consequently, we were the first customers of the day at 10.30am. The Guildhall has been owned by the National Trust since 1951 and entrance was £8 each, although we took up the offer of paying an extra 60p so we could gift aid our fee.

Bob, the guide in the first room, gave a very comprehensive and interesting overview of the Guildhall and all its functions ranging from when it was literally owned by a Catholic religious guild, through to its time as a prison, workhouse, a family home and through to the present day. There was a great wall map of Lavenham in the 1930s and we were surprised by the extent of the village, which is said today to have a population of around 1,500.

Two ladies were spinning in the next ground floor room and when I suggested Lavenham had been a wool town, I was quickly corrected – it was a woollen town as the fleeces were imported from other counties. However, its prosperity had been affected by Dutch imports of printed materials – it had quickly gone from the 14th wealthiest town in Britain to well down the pecking order in Suffolk.

We took a rather steep flight of stairs where there were several rooms.

In the Bridewell, were thumb screws, wooden stocks and accounts of people incarcerated there. It told of the story of Ann Baker, an 8-year-old who contravened a minor law at the time and who was whipped and kept locked up before being sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia for being ‘an incorrigible rogue’. A menu described what would have been on offer for breakfast, lunch and dinner and let’s just say, there was a lot of bread, cheese and broth and interesting sounding dishes like hasty pudding and frumenty.

The workhouse was depicted through the life of Widow Snell, who ran the 18th-century workhouse and created a host of intriguing and gruesome medicinal recipes to help treat the ailments suffered by the residents. These included adding 20 live woodlice to cough mixture and crab’s eyes to a treatment for catarrh. To ‘soften’ the experience, knitted bunting hung with each triangle dyed a different colour using natural ingredients or plants found in the gardens e.g. onion skins, carrot tops.

One room had a display about the Long Melford to Lavenham railway line which had ceased running in the early 1960s and there were newspaper cuttings about an major accident which had taken place.

Outside we found the grounds for the teashop which would have been lovely in summer. But as we went out, there was a flurry of snow and so our look at the mortuary, Lavenham Cemetery Chapel Bell and lock up was rather cursory.

In the gift shop, as well as the usual things you don’t want, there is a good range of second-hand books.

Helen Jackson

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