Half-timbered houses, thatched cottages and fine medieval architecture...
Our county is well known for its elegant towns and pretty villages and we think we have the prettiest Suffolk villages of them all! Names such as Lavenham, East Bergholt, Chelsworth and Eye are instantly recognisable to many people and conjure up images of thatched roof cottages, medieval architecture and quintessentially English village life. Have a browse through the information about our Suffolk towns and villages and discover the fascinating history that lies behind the pretty facades. Please roll your mouse over each image below and click on it for further information.
Some of our villages and towns most definitely do have a history that is significant on a national scale: Sudbury for example, is the birthplace of painter Thomas Gainsborough and his home, Gainsborough's House, is open as a museum, gallery and print workshop. It houses the largest collection of the artist's work, outside of London and is a dynamic and fascinating place to visit.
Along a similar vein, East Bergholt is the birthplace of John Constable and Flatford is the place where he lived and did many of his most well-known paintings, such as the Hay Wain and Willy Lott's Cottage. The area known as 'Constable Country' in the Dedham Vale (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) is known the world over and attracts visitors eager to see the place they know so well from his many paintings that are housed in national and international galleries as well as from placemats that seem to turn up in pubs across the globe! Much of the attraction of 'Constable Country' is that it remains largely unchanged from when the artist lived and worked there.
Lavenham, with over 300 listed buildings, is a medieval gem of a village and is often quoted as being 'one of the finest medieval villages in England'. It certainly is magnificent and the sort of place that makes your jaw drop when you first visit. Full of half-timbered houses, some of them leaning at alarming angles, the stupendous Guildhall of Corpus Christi (owned by the National Trust) and a very grand church, this Suffolk village is definitely one to spend some time in or better still, to base yourself for a few days. Chelsworth, with its annual open garden event, draws visitors to it because it is so pretty and the gardens are so different from each other but all exceptionally beautiful and well-tended and Eye with its castle ruins and nearby Thornham Walks is another gem not to be missed.
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 Suffolk Wool Towns.
There is some debate as to why this area was so ideal for the woollen cloth industry, it's thought its proximity to London may have been a factor but many other pre-conditions 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.
You can download a leaflet about the Suffolk Wool Towns, which was written as part of the Suffolk Threads Project. The brochure also contains the Suffolk Threads Heritage Trail. For a comprehensive accommodation listing for the area, please download a copy of our Heart of Suffolk holiday guide. Below is a list of our towns and villages, please have a browse 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.