The construction of main trunk roads and motorway systems across England has made journeys between major conurbations much easier. But travelling this way means that places of cultural and historic interested are nearly always bypassed.
The last time I visited Suffolk, I drove to Ipswich along the A14 trunk road that links the industrial Midlands to the port of Felixtowe. Some of the most beautiful towns in the county were simply names on road signs along the way.
The paintings of Thomas Gainsborough (born in Sudbury in 1727) and John Constable (born in East Bergholt in 1776) drew inspiration from the wonderful landscape to be found in their home county. Visitors to Suffolk today will find a countryside little changed from when these gifted artists were putting paint to canvas.
We chose the historic town of Lavenham as our base during a recent visit.
The area around the town has been continuously occupied for thousands of years but the first settlement dates to Saxon times.
Through the 14th to 16th Centuries the town prospered as a result of the growth of the wool trade, especially dyeing and weaving.
Wode, used by the Iceni tribe of Ancient Britons to cover their bodies, was now the key ingredient in the dyeing process that produced various shades Lavenham Blue Wool that was then woven into the famous Lavenham Blue Broadcloth. Much sought after, it was exported all over Europe making the ruling families in the town very rich.
During the 16th century the wool trade in the town declined as a result of the introduction of cheaper, lighter and more fashionable imports.
When Henry VIII, introduced a new tax, not sanctioned by Parliament, to pay for the war with France, thousands of men from the town, and the surrounding villages, took part in an uprising in protest and demanded more pay. When the revolt threatened to extend to other areas it was brutally suppressed.
After this event the wool trade in Lavenham went into terminal decline. By the time of the visit of Elizabeth 1 in 1578, much of the town’s wealth and trade had moved elsewhere.
The pace of this change of fortune resulted in many of the towns medieval and Tudor buildings remaining in their original form. There was not the money available to remodel or rebuild them in the latest styles.
The misfortunes of the 16th century inhabitants has ensured that Lavenham is now regarded as one of the country’s finest examples of a medieval town. There are over 300 listed buildings and its small narrow streets are a magnet for tourists.
Read more …