With its crooked Tudor houses leaning into its little high street and a heritage dating back to William the Conqueror, Lavenham, Suffolk is Britain’s history in the flesh. It’s even the birthplace of Dumbledore and Harry Potter!
England’s long history gives visitors so much to explore that it’s almost overwhelming. From the biggest city to the smallest hamlet, you can find evidence of the incredible things that have happened here over the millennia.
Visitors to the UK often head straight to London – to the epicentre – for their taste of England, which makes perfect sense.
But little tucked-away towns like Lavenham, deep in the Suffolk countryside, give us concentrated pockets of Medieval and Tudor England that bring history to life. If you want a real taste of England, it’s towns like this that have the most flavour. Indeed, Lavenham could well be the most English village you’ll find.
You get the feeling things don’t change very quickly here. In fact, according to the regional district census, even Lavenham’s population figures of around 1,700 haven’t changed much in the last 200 years.
But the village’s number of half-wooden Tudor buildings make it even more evident that change comes blissfully slowly to Lavenham.
Thanks to the village’s cloth and wool trade, and its guilds, Lavenham was once one of the top 15 richest towns in England, which is probably why you can see such a wealth of examples of this kind of architecture. They had the money to build.
Things to see in Lavenham
Market Square and Guildhall
Lavenham’s market square was once one of the busiest, most important places for business in the country. In the early 1500s, sales of its valued blue woollen fabric boosted Lavenham to the 14th wealthiest town in Britain.
To protect the town and its industry, the guildhalls were built around the square, which is what you can see today. These surprisingly brightly coloured wooden frame buildings stand out from the usual black and white or grey Tudor and half-timber medieval styles you normally see.
This square represents the heart of Lavenham and even on quiet days, you can still feel its significance. It was also the set for a John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s short film Apotheosis in 1969.
The De Vere House
Lavenham, a gift from William the Conqueror to his brother-in-law Alberic de Vere shortly after the 1066 invasion, stayed in the De Vere family until 1703.
The family home on Water Street – De Vere House – still exists and was the CGI set for Harry Potter’s (and the Dumbledores’) family home in The Deathly Hallows Parts I. There were a few other streets used in the film, and it’s fun to try and spot them.
On the High Street, this antiques shop looks like a regular, normal sized store in a small village. However, as you push through the door and start exploring, you realise how wrong your assumptions were.
This place is enormous, and packed full of all kinds of treasures. The creaking, uneven floors and old, low ceilings make this long shop, which stretches back over 40m, even bigger. It feels like you’re exploring an undiscovered treasure haul from some crazy kleptomaniac pirate. It’s wonderful.
The Crooked House
Over the centuries, the ancient houses along Lavenham’s streets have all started to droop. It adds to the incredible aesthetic of the village, but it also makes you wonder how some of them are still standing.
Some are buckled, some are twisted. Some loom over you like an angry school teacher. But there’s one in particular that leans more than the rest.
Much like the Tower of Pisa, this wood framed Tudor house is iconic in its wobbliness. Seemingly propped up by its neighbours, its pitched roof looking almost jaunty with the upper floor’s listing angle, the Crooked House defies gravity.
But best of all, you can go in…
Where to eat in Lavenham
Housed within the tilted timbers of the Crooked House, Munnings Tea Rooms is one of our favourite places to go for lunch. Our only warning: arrive hungry.
Owner and chef Everyl Madell turns out the best ploughman’s you’ll ever have, sandwiches that are as filling as they are delicious, cheese scones worth their weight in gold (and these beauties are heavy) and a proprietary blend of tea that makes this so very English you’ll want another pot.
The tea rooms are decorated with an antique feel that fits the town like a glove. Exposed wooden beams, cute little lamps, lace, china, tea cosies and photos in old frames – it’s like you’re having lunch in someone’s home.
There’s also an unhealthy amount of horse-related pictures and ornaments owing to Everyl’s devotion to racing. Get her talking about the form and she’ll be your friend for life!
Make sure you call ahead as there are only 5-6 tables. Upstairs, where the floor leans with the warps in the timber frame, there is a gorgeous table set for dinner, which you can book for events. There’s also a four-poster bed in the bedroom next door.
Munnings also operates as a B&B – I can only imagine what breakfast would be like. Everyl’s qualifications as a chef would surely shine through as they do at lunch.
If you don’t have any luck booking a table at Munnings or you fancy a beer with lunch, the Angel Hotel Village Pub and Restaurant on the corner of the Market Square is your aim.
Matching Munnings for its charm and authenticity, the Angel has kept its original features of exposed beams and beautiful fireplace by the bar. The food here is homely yet skilfully made and the beer – most importantly – is kept well.
There are also 8 lovely looking en-suite rooms available here, each with homely touches perfect for a short stay.
If you’re looking for a take-away option, you have to check out Lavenham Butchers’ delicatessen. Their counter is full of home-made (yes, they make them) sausage rolls, pies, scotch eggs and other pastry wonders. No to mention a good selection of cured meats, antipasti and cheese.
If you’ve got cooking facilities nearby, even better. Their sausages are superb, all made in house with free-range meat, they even source local wild venison of the season and don’t get me started on their bacon.
If you’re in the mood for something sweet, make your way to Hadley’s Ice Cream Parlour. This place is impressive. Everything’s handmade and locally sourced, from the Maldon sea salt and Essex honeycomb to elderflowers from their own hedgerows and the cream from their dairy farm.
What started out as a passion project for owner Jane Hadley has turned into a full-blown operation. And my goodness the ice cream’s good.
By the way, can you spot my mum and dad there? Aren’t they cute?
And if you’re looking for more things to eat, you’re not far from one of our other favourite Suffolk towns: Sudbury. Here’s our guide on where to eat in Sudbury.
Where to stay in Lavenham
Although Lavenham is under a two-hour drive from London and well worth a daytrip, there are also quite a few places to stay here. You could really get to know this incredible place with its history and beautiful buildings – not to mention its friendly locals.
Here are our recommendations:
This cosy two-bedroom cottage, with its little walled and hedged garden, is right in the middle of the Market Square and overlooks the Guildhall. For all the creature comforts you could wish for in a stay in the country, the Market Keeper’s Cottage has it covered.
Every detail – from a welcome hamper and the complimentary decanted whisky to the complete kitchen and wood fire – is there to make your stay in Suffolk the way you want it.
Directly opposite the De Vere House of Harry Potter fame, Hour Cottage on Water Street is set up for a very comfortable stay. Though this two-bedroom redbrick Grade II listed building is full of history, it’s also completely modern in its facilities.
The private tiered back garden makes for the perfect spot to relax for a morning coffee or watch the sun slowly go down on those wonderful long summer nights.
For real luxury in one of the most stunning period buildings in Lavenham, The Swan at Lavenham is your go-to. Apart from its full-service high-quality hotel, The Swan also serves fine-dining options and a day spa to really make the most of your time in this beautiful part of England.
All of these options would make a trip to what’s surely Britain’s finest Medieval village.