This part of Suffolk has a fascinating heritage and much of the fine architecture of the houses and churches, owe their grandeur to the wealth generated by the manufacture in the 13th century, of woollen cloth. This was a major industrial area several hundred years and included the bigger towns of Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Sudbury as well as the small, outlying villages, which are known as the Suffolk Wool Towns.
There is some debate as to why this area was so ideal for the woollen cloth industry, it is thought its proximity to London may have been a factor but many other preconditions would have existed to enable the industry to flourish as it did.
During the reign of Henry VIII Lavenham was listed as being England’s 14th richest town. However, by the mid 16th century, the woollen cloth industry was in decline as the demand for lighter, finer fabrics increased.
Some Suffolk wool towns and villages were hit very hard by this change, especially places like Lavenham and Nayland, where around 70% of residents were involved in the woollen cloth industry.
Other industries had to be developed and for some villages, agriculture took over as the main source of employment. Sudbury had a more diverse economy and was robust enough to withstand the collapse of the woollen cloth trade. Here, silk weaving took over and by the late 18th century, this industry was well-established and still continues today in four existing silk factories in the town. Sudbury has become known as England’s Silk Capital and regular guided walks take place in the town, which explore the silk weaving history as well as the town’s connections with artist Thomas Gainsborough.
Suffolk Wool Towns Walking Trails
Below are five walking trail leaflets to download, which have been produced by Visit Suffolk about the Suffolk Wool Towns. These are pdf files, all less than 400kb in size.
Further information on the Suffolk Wool Towns is also available on the Visit Suffolk website.
Please have a browse of our Heart of Suffolk towns and villages and let us know if you need any further information. Our tourist information centres have many walks leaflets and other information that may be of interest.