Lavenham is the kind of village that even we who live in Britain don’t expect to find anymore. It’s a chocolate-box beautiful spot – it’s an historic drama-set-worthy location and it’s hard to imagine how it has remained in such original condition. This is the real thing! This is the genuine article. This is almost-lost England; and The Swan Hotel is just as perfect as Lavenham itself!
Lavenham sits in the gentle Suffolk countryside. There is evidence that the area was actually inhabited by the Romans with their farming settlements. However, it wasn’t until the mid-13th century that Lavenham gained official recognition as a settlement. Henry III granted the village ‘market status’, which heralded the most prosperous era for Lavenham. By 1524 the famous Lavenham Blue cloth and wool trade had made Lavenham one of the top 20 richest towns in the country. It is considered to be one of England’s finest medieval wool villages.
Lavenham has a wealth of historic charm, with three hundred listed buildings: characterful streets, thatched cottages and timber-framed houses, and its 15th century church. In the late 18th century, the village was home to poet Jane Taylor. One might not know the name but it is she who wrote the poem The Star, from which the lyrics for the nursery rhyme Twinkle Twinkle Little Star are taken.
Today, Lavenham enjoys its evident popularity and offers the visitor not only those historic façades but also art galleries, cafés and restaurants, and a high street with independent shops. One finds The Guildhall of Corpus Christi at the centre of the village. That is a must-visit building which tells the story of Lavenham through the ages. Lavenham’s five recorded guilds weren’t concerned with the management of trade; they were social and religious organisations and were focused on their members’ moral and spiritual well-being. The Guildhall was originally built as a meeting place for wealthy Catholic merchants; it was used as a prison, an 18th-century workhouse, a pub, a chapel and a social club for US troops during WWII.
Location for Harry Potter
There is a delightful courtyard garden planted with dye plants including woad, which was used to make that blue cloth. A fact that might have younger tourists enthusing over the village is that in 2010 Lavenham’s Market Square was a location used for filming scenes from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
The Swan at Lavenham is a gem in every regard. You will likely be smiling before you even cross the threshold. It played an important part in the area’s medieval wool trade. It oozes history, and to say it offers many original features would be a considerable understatement. The Swan isn’t ‘themed’ – it actually is as old as it looks. There are wooden beams, carved chests and wall-hangings adding ancient accents to this well-appointed hotel. Dark wood and panels are a feature but this is a restful spot rather than being gloomy.
This must surely be one of the most striking hotels in the UK. The main ground floor is a large and rambling space but there are numerous cosy corners in which to enjoy a cup of tea and a good book. There are ample sofas and comfy armchairs and the open fires will be welcome when the weather isn’t so kind.
The most memorable breakfast
There is a casual brasserie and a more formal restaurant (see my review of the Gallery restaurant here) which offers dinner and breakfast. Kippers and a vegetarian Garden Breakfast make a delicious start to the day and, served in a beamed great hall, this is likely to be the most memorable breakfast you will ever have. There is a tranquil mature garden terrace which is ideal for al fresco dining and drinks on warm evenings. It’s also used for weddings as it’s surrounded by the hotel’s historic building, providing a marvellous outside private venue for small events and celebrations.
The Airmen’s bar was once the pub of choice of the local American servicemen stationed nearby in World War II. There are signatures on the walls to testify to those young men who were so far from home.
Our room looked out over a small courtyard. Its impressive four-poster was almost impossible to leave, with its pure linen sheets and feather pillows in which to sink. The bathroom was modern with bath and shower over. The fluffy bath robes and slippers are handy for in-room and for the spa. The separate dressing area was a bonus but this is a Grade II* listed building so all the rooms will be different in shape and ambiance. Wifi is available along with the usual modern conveniences such as tea and coffee facilities and flat-screen TV, but The Swan invites its guests to step away from Twitter and the 6 o’clock news and completely unwind.
Brace of relaxation suites
Weavers’ House Spa is part of The Swan’s facilities and it’s just next door. It boasts half a dozen treatment rooms including one for couples, a brace of relaxation suites (although your room will do the same job, I suspect), hot stone sauna, steam room, manicure and pedicure, private outdoor terrace and a vitality pool. Hotel guests enjoy complimentary use of the sauna, relaxation suites and vitality pool.
The Swan at Lavenham is a hotel but it’s also an experience. It is totally unique, and steeped in history but it has the advantage of being so well located for village walks, as well as being a base from which to discover the rest of Suffolk. But the element which will assure a return is the warm hospitality. Staff are attentive and friendly and the food here is outstanding. Superlatives abound, as does the joy of finding such a lovely hotel which is so quintessentially English!
The Swan at Lavenham – Hotel and Spa
Suffolk CO10 9QA
Phone: 01787 247477
Hotel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018