Lavenham is rich in history and in its characters. Obviously there are the links with the de Vere family but several other families leave their names and their mark on the village in street and house names:
John Constable was born in East Bergholt. His father was a wealthy corn merchant, owner of Flatford Mill in East Bergholt and, later, Dedham Mill in Essex. Golding Constable owned a small ship, The Telegraph, which he moored at Mistley on the Stour estuary, and used to transport corn to London. Although Constable was his parents’ second son, his older brother had no “head for business” and John was expected to succeed his father in the business. After a brief period at a boarding school in Lavenham, during which he went on trips around Suffolk, sketching, he was enrolled in a day school in Dedham. The school is now two dwelling houses: The Old Grammar School and Constable Court.
The Spring family
“Item. I leave to the building of the bell-tower of the parish church of Lavenham aforesaid 300 marks” (Thomas Spring’s bequest, 1486).
The Spring family came across to England in advance of the Norman Conquest (responding to an invitation by Edward the Confessor), seeking to settle in Yorkshire. The first recorded mention is of Sir Henry Spring, Lord of the Manor of Houghton le Spring in 1311. They became wealthy through the wool trade and their support of the de Vere and Waldegrave families, were Lancastrian and Tudor supporters and rewarded for this by the Tudors, became High Sheriff of Suffolk and the 7th richest clothier family in Europe. Their main residences were Cockfield Hall, which they built, and Newe House, bought in 1648 by the Parliamentarian Sir William Spring off the Royalist Bright family.
But Lavenham also benefitted from their huge wealth and donations to our church and our five guild houses. The Springs then married into the de Vere family at the height of both families’ wealth and power in the 16th C. Apart from the very many examples of the Spring shield found across the village, and the magnificent monument of the church tower, the Spring family is also remembered in a street name in the village.
The Copinger, Copinge or Esturmy family
The Copinge family appeared in Suffolk in the time of King Alfred, having come over in the Danish fleet in 860, headed by Inguar and Hubba. This company of Danes was permitted by the Saxon King of East Anglia to camp in two places during the winter. Traces of these camps can still be seen where the meadows slope down to the river, hop grounds, and nursery garden near Woolpit and bear the name of The Dane Croft.
A village in the adjoining Hundred, on the same line of road is called Ratles-Dane or Rates-Dane, now pronounced Rattlesden. The river Brett was then navigable up to near Rattlesden (much of the stone used in building the abbey at Bury was brought by water from Caen in Normandy to Ipswich, and then to Rattlesden, where it was landed).
After continuously losing battles against the eastern Danes, King Alfred decided to convert them and proposed to Guthrum, the Danish governor of Suffolk, that he should become a Christian, which Guthrum agreed to provided he kept his soldiers, lordship and control of Suffolk. As part of this agreement, Guthrum was permitted to divide the lands of those Saxons slain among the Danes.
When William invaded, the Danes sided with the Normans and thus Harold found little support from Suffolk. Those Saxons that did follow Harold, such as Laffa, were left dead on the battle field, their bodies flung into the sea, their families slaughtered or flung out of their homes and made destitute; Saxon Suffolk disappeared over night.
The Copinge family by contrast prospered under Norman rule, marrying with the last descendant of the Norman Esturmy family. First records of the use of the Copinger name are Warinus Copin and Copin de St Edmunds in 1190 (in the reign of Richard the Lionheart).
Sir Roger Sturmyn, anciently Esturmy, was Lord of Buxhall in Stow Hundred, in the reign of Henry III (1216-1272) whom had five sons, all knights, living into the reign of Edward II (1307-1327) but in the reign of Edward III (1327-1377) the Esturmy family left only a great grand daughter, Rhoisia whom married William Clements, they had a sole daughter Emma, whom married Cakestreet and they left a sole daughter and heir, Alice, who married John Sorrell, whose sole daughter and heir, Katherine married John Coppinger and with her came Buxhall Hall (in around 1413). By 1441, there were Copingers established in Lavenham, Woolpit, Rattlesden and Cockfield and Lady Street in Lavenham, that runs behind the Swan, was known as Esturmy after the name of the Copinger Manor on that street before it was named Hockvil Street then Lady Street after the Guild Hall of Our Lady
By 1490, in their wills, the Copingers are referring to themselves as clothmakers. In 1507, John de Vere appointed William Copinger a Sheriff and in 1512 Sir William Copinger of Buxhall became Lord Mayor of London, being knighted by Henry VIII on the day he was appointed mayor. By the reign of Henry VIII, the Copingers were established in Farcing Hall in Buxhall as well as rectors of Buxhall.
Henry Copinger of Lavenham was then a fellow of Cambridge University, chaplain to the earl of Warwick, made Master of Magdalan, a close friend of Revd George Ruggle (see below), they both lived on Water Street. He was sixth son of Henry Copinger of Buxhall, brother of Sir William Copinger, Lord Mayor of London and by John de Vere, earl of Oxford, was invited to become the Rector of Lavenham, believed to live in what is now part of Lavenham Priory.
Henry died in 1622 after 44 years. In that time he was granted by the 16th Earl of Oxford the lands and common lands attached to the former Earls Priory Farm, without tithe, being described as “the largest estate in the village”, and as “half of the parish” now the gardens of Lavenham Priory, De Vere House, Blaise house, the Rectory, White Gates, the Village Hall and Quakers Yard as far as the flint wall that bounds the east of the Priory. He had however to fight the 17th Earl of Oxford for the same title: “it afterwards cost Master Copinger sixteen hundred pounds in keeping his questioned and recovering his detained rights, in suit with the agent for the next (minor) Earl of Oxford.” (Edward de Vere up to his old tricks again)
Henry’s monument in the chancel of Lavenham Church was paid for by his wife Ann Copinger.
Several letters exist in the Bodleian Library Oxford sent from Henry Copinger to his patron, Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford, showing their intense friendship, including during the latter’s incarceration in the Tower of London and his exile to Venice. Copinger died 3 years before the earl was killed in battle.
A document in 1637 refers to his son as the “blacke Henry Copinger of Lavenham”, no reason given but we learn from the will of 1625 that:
“I give to my son Robert and his heirs my meadow called David’s Meadow, lying in Lavenham, which I bought of one John Longworthe, Doctor of Divinity [whose descendant paid hearth tax in Water Street in 1688]
I give also to my son Robert and his heirs the plot and parcel of land surrounded by river in the occupancy of John Harman of Lavenham [being the playing fields and common land opposite the Salvation Army]
I give and bequeath to my son Henry Copinger, and his heirs, all my freehold lands lying in Lavenham with the houses, tenements, barns, and all other appurtenances except for those given to my son Robert [three houses in the village (two on the High Street), Priory Barns and the land of Lavenham Priory but also Esturmy and its lands, including the tentings between Lady Street and Barn Street that include the White House today]
I give to the said Henry and his heirs all my lands and tenements, free and copyhold, lying in Woolpit, Elmswell, and Drinxton (purchased from my brother Edward Copinger and his wife, my wife’s daughter), lying in the County of Suffolk aforesaid, to have and to hold to the said Henry, my son, and his heirs forever.”
Henry the younger or “blacke Henry” then bequeathed Esturmy on Hockvil Street to his son Thomas, the rest of the estate to his widow Susannah and a life tenancy to the widow Girling in 1674, with the residual estate going to his daughter Elizabeth, widow of Thomas Cranshaw of Hartest. From this point, the largest estate in Lavenham, once de Vere then Copinger, begins to be broken up. In the manorial records of 1702, we see the de Vere and Copinger lands parcelled up into eighteen lettings and by the early 19th C these are no longer tenements but freehold.
The Taylor family lived in Ongar, Colchester and Shilling Grange, Lavenham. It is thought that she wrote the poem Twinkle Twinkle Little Star inspired by the many carved stars in Lavenham. In 1806 Jane Taylor, her mother, several friends and O Keefe published a collection of poems: “Original Poems for Infant Minds by several young persons” including The Star by Jane herself. She also published several books to popular acclaim but died just 40 of breast cancer.
The Golding family
Although principally associated with Glemsford and Belchamp St Paul, Margery Golding married the 16th earl of Oxford and owned (in her own right as Countess) the Manor, Lodge and Hall houses of the de Vere family in Lavenham. Two of her brothers became the stewards of the de Vere family estate, while her half brother, Arthur, was the tutor of Edward de Vere and (while being so) translated Ovid’s Metamorphosis, said to be Shakespeare’s inspiration for his plays. For more information see The House of Golding by Harris and Ranzetta
The Bolton family
Originally thought from the Domesday Book entry to have been a Saxon family settled in the north of England with two possible derivations for their name: land with a windy valley or lord of the manor of a hall and settlement: “bodl tun” that became Bodeltone in the Domesday Book. The first sign of Bolton being used as a surname is in Warwickshire in 1262 by a Norman knight.
By the 16th C they were an Ipswich family, settled around Boyton near Woodbridge, whom were attracted to the cloth trade in Lavenham and by 1520 were one of the 100 wealthiest clothiers in Europe, making a bequest towards the refurbishment of Lavenham Church in 1486. In 1440, John Bolton left “Branstons” and “the Downs” in Lavenham (pastures and meadows running out to Clay Hill) for the settlement of his debts.
John Parles (a barker or entertainer at the market fair in the village) in his will of 1446 confirms that Boltone Street was so named as early as the mid 15th C and refers to John Sweyn’s gate at one end that became Swainsgate at one time, until demolished.
“I will have a cross made of my perpetual cost that shall be set upon the market hill in the village of Lavenham” (William Jacob 1500)
William Jacob was the tenth wealthiest clothier and businessman in England, making an annual profit of 67 marks and with a gross turnover of 223 whole cloths (a gross turnover of £12m in today’s money, around 400 marks). On his death he paid for the erection of the market cross that is still there 520 years later. He did not branch into “straites” or “narrow cloths” and within 25 years of his death the cheaper narrow cloth was dominating the market and Jacob’s family were seeking other work.
The Turner family are still in the village and have been part of its history for centuries, bedrocks of its football and cricket teams, at the heart of its village activities and school. In 1447 John Turnour son of Thomas Turnour is recorded as living in Lavenham. Since then we have records of Turners as Marine Store dealers, bakers, chandlers, cutters, sawyers, bricklayers, gamekeepers and flour millers. Among the very many families they married, Ranson and Girling stand out proudly as linked to the past and recent history of the village for their records of our history. Members of the Turner family can be seen in some of our oldest village photographs of the Market square.
Howe and Howlett
The Howe family have lived in the village since 1702 records and probably before. Since 1757 through to the 21st Century there has been a Dicky Howe in the village for every generation. They married (among other families) into the Howlett family (recorded back in the 19th C as wool gatherers).
The Clopton family
Sir William de Cloptone of Long Melford was one of a number of retainers of the de Vere family whom fought alongside them successfully in the Hundred Years War, becoming wealthy in the process. His son, John Clopton, became the prime benefactor for the building of Holy Trinity Church in nearby Luton (now Melford), the church building being completed by his son and grandson in time for the coronation and progress of Henry VII. One of Edward de Vere’s poems then sits carved around one of the pillars of the church.
The Clopton family descend from Guillaume Pecce from near Ver in Normandy. They arrived in England at the time of the Norman Conquest, when Guillaume’s son William de Clophunne joined Aubrey de Vere at Hastings. William and Aubrey then were granted neighbouring Saxon estates at Lavenham and Long Melford. William’s son Walter took the name de Cloptunne around 1100, his grandson took the name de Cloptone, and during the 14th C (c1320), Walter de Cloptone was knighted and became Lord of Chapperly Manor, Wickhambrook, dying in 1327. Sir Walter of Chapperly married Alice FitzHugh and their son became the first knight and lord of the manor of Kentwell near Long Melford on marrying Katherine Meld of Meldford, the last of the de Valance line.
Thomas then came to live at the de Valence hall, Luton Hall, in Long Meld ford. Katherine and Thomas’ grandson John Clopton then built the current magnificent Kentwell Hall in or around 1490 and finished the church, for the hall using Hedingham bricks (as found at Oxburgh Hall and in a couple of other fine houses of the same period such as de Vere House).
John Clopton came close to being executed on the day Aubrey and John de Vere, 12 earl of Oxford were executed for their joint rebellion against King Edward IV in 1461. His son fought for John de Vere at Edgcote, Barnet, St Michaels Mount, Hammes, Bosworth and Stoke Field and was one of only 8 Lancastrians whom held St Michaels Mount for 8 months against an army of 6000 (with artillery and a naval blockade) in 1472-1473. Anne Clopton inherited Kentwell on the death of her half brother William Lord Tracy then married Simonds d’Ewes (see below).
The Simonds d’Ewes family
The family began as each of the Clopton, Simonds and d’Ewes family and intermarried. The connection with the village includes marrying here, the baby brass left after the death of one of their children, and they became Lords of the Manor of nearby Luton Hall outside Long Melford, the adjoining estate to Lavenham Hall Park
Simonds d’Ewes was a historian, the recorder of the Parliamentary debates at the time of the English Civil War, born on 18 December 1602 in Milden, the eldest son of Paul d’Ewes and Cecelia Simonds, the heiress of Sir Richard Simonds, great great grandchild of the marriage of d’Ewes of Lavenham and Alice de Munnines of Lavenham. He was knighted in 1626 by Charles I to make him a suitable match for his wife, Alice Clopton.
He inherited a fortune from his maternal grandfather while still young; his other grandfather was a printer. After some early private teaching, including time at the school of Henry Reynolds, he was sent to the grammar school at Bury St Edmunds studied at Cambridge then was admitted to the Middle Temple in 1611, and in 1623 was called to the Bar. He did not pursue a legal career, preferring instead to follow up antiquarian interests, which took him to the records department in the Tower of London.
In 1626 he married Anne Clopton, heiress to Sir William Clopton of Luton’s Hall (also known as Kentwell Hall) near Long Melford, Suffolk (see above).
The Munnings family
They began as the de Munnines family from Poitiers and Viennes in Charente, France, relocated to Nedging near Lavenham (when the family were taken as hostage on the death of Gilbert de Munnines from wounds at the Battle of Crecy) in 1346. Gilbert de Munnines (the son) married a local girl, Charlotte, and their son was named Anthony, anglicised to Munnings. By 1500, the Munnings family were living not just in Nedging Hall but also in Lavenham, Alice de Munnines (Munnings) marrying Richard Simonds at Lavenham Church in 1500, Alfred Munnings inheriting Oxford House, Water Street from his father in 1702, having been conveyed to his father by Mary de Vere at some point between 1688 and 1702.
The Munnings family have then traced their ancestry back to Henry de Vere, 4th earl of Oxford and to King Charlemagne through the de Vere line and that of Alice de Clare, Henry’s wife, and were considered a cadet branch of the de Vere family by the 19th and 20th earls whom corresponded with Alfred Munnings.
The Prentyz or Prentice family
There is reputed to be a will of John Prentice (Prentyz), an extremely wealthy Wool Merchant of Lavenham who died in 1440, leaving money for the “Guildhouse in Lavenham” (which of the five in Lavenham is not known). Three of the five Guild halls in Lavenham are still standing today along with John Prentice’s house on Prentice Street. However, it is also possible that the “prentice” referred to in the street of that name were the apprentices who would gather at the Guild House on Prentice Street, now the car park of the Angel.
Nonetheless, the current belief is that Prentice Street is named after John Prentice (the great grandson of John Prentyz the Elder) and whom is recorded as being both a wealthy clothier and merchant.
The Prentice family then married into the Golding family of Lavenham, members of whom can still be found in the village.
The Prentice family were based in London (Kingston), Bristol, Essex and West Suffolk (Bury St Edmunds, Sudbury, Lavenham and Walsham) and certainly had connections with the village of Lavenham in the 14th Century (including at least one attempt at robbing the village).
In 1316 John Prentice the Elder was brought before the Court of Chancery for attempting to burn down the Abbot’s House in Bury St Edmunds. John Prentice the Younger, his son, became involved in a Peasants Revolt in the 1320s and was then outlawed for robbing the Abbot’s House in Bury St Edmunds in 1328 (a cross stolen by him was taken by the Golding/Prentice family to America and is now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York). In 1341 he successfully petitioned for the return of his lands after fighting in the company of the Thomas de Vere, Earl of Oxford, at the Battle of Sluys as recorded in the Copinger history of Suffolk. In 1342 he came before Edward de Vere in the Court of Local Assize in Lavenham Overhall (thought to be in de Vere House) for his attempted theft of Edward de Vere’s goods in Lavenham.
Various Prentices are then mentioned in the manorial rolls of Sudbury and Assington, holding land including in Horkesley, Boxford and Bures, whilst one of the children of John Prentice the Younger is named in honour of Gilbert de Clare of Clare. So although the family name is most often connected with the wealthy merchants in Bristol, there is clear evidence of a Prentice family connection to the villages of west Suffolk and the Essex borders.
The Schilling or Shillinge family
The Shillinge family are mainly from Faversham and Throwley in Kent, but Edward Shillinge moved to Ipswich and there met and married Elizabeth Swan, the descendants of the Swan family through Thomazin Swan daughter of Thomas and her marriage to Barnaby (whom took the name Swan). Thomas Swan was chaplain at Lavenham in 1446. At one time the Swan family owned part of what is now The Lavenham Swan.
Shilling Street and Shilling Grange may refer to the Shillinge family but also used to mean rented ie a street of tenements and a large tenemented Grange building. The origin of “Grange” is a tenemented farm or large building with tithe barns attached belonging to a feudal overlord or a monastery (similar to Lavenham Priory building and barns). For the period 1067-1602 that overlord would have been the de Vere family, whom also inherited the monasteries to which local land was attached after the reformation, but by the 17th C (with the exception of de Vere House, 10 Downing Street, Earls Colne Priory and Stratford Hall) most of the de Vere property had been sold off to pay for the hosting of plays.
The Copton family
Not to be confused with Clopton and Compton. Originated from Ipswich as merchants and shoemakers. Agnes Copton of Lavenham married John Chaucer of Ipswich, and they had several children of whom **Geoffrey Chaucer**, English poet, writer and scientist, is the most famous. Hamo de Copton was a moneyer or coin maker at the Tower of London and from him the Copton/Chaucer family inherited a huge estate of 24 properties.
They had previously seen some wealth as retainers of the Earl of Oxford at the battle of Agincourt (from ransoms) which had established the family in rich merchant houses in Ipswich, Lavenham and on the edge of Lavenham Park. Chaucer’s granddaughter married William de la Pole first duke of Suffolk. John de la Pole, heir to the throne of England, was defeated and slain by John de Vere in 1487 at the battle of Stoke Fields. The Copton family were still paying hearth tax in Water Street and on the High Street as late as 1688
The Pinchbeck family
Lived on Water Street from 15th to 18th C, their name came from Old English meaning “by small stream”, often associated with the village in Lincolnshire, but also found in medieval Bury St Edmunds and of course a family name associated with the stream that ran down Water Street. Wealthy wool merchants, the Pinchbecks were also lords of the manor in Hawkedon, and the first recorded Lavenham Pinchbeck, Kathrine, was the granddaughter of Baroness of Scrope, the great grandmother of Elizabeth Scrope, Countess of oxford, wife of John de Vere whom lived in Lavenham, Wivenhoe, Colchester and London, and was married in Lavenham’s Church.
The Scrope family
The Lincolnshire Scrope family became associated with the village through Elizabeth Scrope whom married John de Vere’s best friend and then John de Vere himself: an adventuress, accused and found guilty of witchcraft, whom was held under house arrest for her rebellion against King Edward IV and Richard III, became the favourite of both Henry VII and Henry VIII, deemed by Henry VIII the most beautiful woman of his acquaintance, buried in Wivenhoe. Her grandchildren included Edward de Vere, thought to have written some of Shakespeare’s plays, the fighting de Veres, buried in Westminster Abbey, her great grandchildren included the compilers and publishers of the first portfolio of Shakespeare’s plays, her great great grandchild drafted the Bill of Rights and founded the Blues Regiment of the Household Cavalry. She was the first Countess of Oxford to take residence in 10 Downing Street (when built then owned by the De Vere family), Oxford Street in London is named after her son.
The Pinchbecks of Lavenham (see above) are then descended from Baroness Margaret Scrope nee Talboys daughter of Baron Kyme, a branch of the de Scale family originally from Hepple and Framlingham, whom married into the de Vere family at Lavenham church in the 14th C.
Theodore Mayerne and Paul de Loubell
They were Royal physicians associated with the Henry Howard spy ring of the early 17th Century, also connected with the murders of Thomas Overbury in 1613, the poisoning of Robert Devereux, earl of Essex 1611-1614, the murder of Henry, Prince of Wales, James I’s eldest son, in 1612 and the murder of the young herald and courtier, Alphonsino d’Este, in Lavenham in 1612. They met at Cambridge, lived on Water Street.
The Hammant or Hammond family
John Hammant or Hammond was another Royal Physician accused of the murder of Henry Prince of Wales. His brother was the Governor of Carisbrooke Castle whom held Charles I prisoner. The Hammant family also lived on Water Street, Lavenham. John met Overbury and Marlow at Cambridge and joined their network of Elizabethan spies.
The author of the play Ignoramus, first performed at Clare College Cambridge, a 1615 academic play, written in Latin (with passages in English and French), that gives us the word ignoramus (meaning an idiot) today; a close friend of Henry Copinger and also his neighbour on Water Street. His descendants were paying hearth tax on Water Street in 1688.
Thomas Cook or Cooke. Lord Mayor of London
Thomas Cooke was born in Lavenham in 1422, a wealthy wool merchant, was appointed as a Suffolk MP by John de Vere, 12th earl of Oxford, moved to Little Stanningfield to work in London, married Elizabeth from Middlesex in 1454 after which they both established their home in Giddy Park Hall (Gidea Park Hall). In 1462 he was appointed Lord Mayor of London; he died in Lavenham in 1478 and was buried in the Augustinian Friary in Middlesex in the same year.
Brownsmith, Herry, Risby, Pulkoo, Flegge, Crytott and Wyllmot
The Suffolk wool trade was the first example in England of mass population engagement in a single industry with over a third of the population of Lavenham, heading up clothiers, far more involved in weaving, dying, fulling and working for the clothiers. Lavenham produced more broad and narrow cloth wool (1460-1520) than anywhere else in Europe with 74 wool “millionaires” in the village.
Among these were people like Risby whom had one of only two broadmills in the country; then we see Herry leave the money in his will to build the road to Brent Eleigh and Hadleigh from Lavenham (still used today as the A1141); Pulkoo (left 10 marks by his brother in 1447) had a colleague in the village named Rokell). Pulkoo and Risby of Lavenham were weavers known across Europe and as far afield as Russia and the Ottoman Empire (two of four English weavers of international reputation); Lavenham wool was sent to its great collecting house of Blackwell Hall in London and its sister house in Colchester and then on to “Esteland, Russia, Spaine, Barbary, France, and Turkey, and other places”.
Note Rokell died in 1447 leaving Henry Pukloo with the entire weaving business of Pukloo’s brother, but granting his barns and the Weavers Cottages on Water Street to his sons, said to be next to the barn owned by Herry (now Swan staff residences on Water Street). An army of assistant Flemish (sometimes mistakenly called Italian) weavers sat in the Weavers Cottages on Water Street.
The Flegge brothers on Church Street then did all the negotiation for half of the Lavenham clothiers with the merchant fleets in London and with Blackwell Hall. The second biggest gather hall for wool sat in Colchester, where John de Vere negotiated with the local merchants on behalf of the village. The largest fleets sat in Colchester, London, Dunwich and Kings Lynn, with the de Vere family as admirals of the fleet with complete control over dues, customs and taxes in all ports. Oxford Street in London was named after the de Vere family around the 16th C and formed their trading base for their merchant navy and wool trade as well as their London residence until they built 10 Downing Street. Both Thomas Spring and William Jacob had London agents and offices.
Crytott was one of three dyers in Lavenham, Wyllmott one of two fullers, both on Water Street, with the river Brett diverted down a fast running culvert along Water Street to provide the water for fulling, weaving, dying and for napping. The Brownsmith family were one of 26 families in Lavenham that were among the 100 wealthiest in the country but their main clothier business was in Hadleigh. The only brother of the wealthy John Brownsmith of Hadleigh lived on Water Street in Lavenham and by 1688, the family had relocated to Lavenham.
Of the ten wealthiest clothiers in the country, two were in Lavenham, eight sat outside of Lavenham: the first and 5th wealthiest were in Bildeston, six of the ten wealthiest in Hadleigh, Spring made number 7, Jacob number ten. Of the top 100 wealthiest clothiers in Europe, 26 lived in Lavenham, making Lavenham by far the most productive producer of both broadcloth and straites in Europe in the 15th and 16th C.
What distinguished Lavenham (and Nayland to a lesser degree) was how equitable and widespread the industry was within the village: the whole community benefitted, with only families such as Spring, Bolton, Jacob and de Vere benefitting more greatly than others. In Bildeston there were just two clothiers making a fortune out of the rest of their community; in Lavenham over 120 out of 280 households shared the proceeds from wool making, others then were farmers, or blacksmiths. 36.9% of households in Lavenham declared a taxable income from cloth making in excess of £1m per annum at today’s prices. This is reflected in the many beautiful properties found in Lavenham and is a distribution of wealth that is unique to this village and Nayland in the medieval and Tudor period.
All went downhill after 1520. Many reasons have been given but the main was that Thomas Wolsey introduced a new tax regime that increased the tax paid by Lavenham’s clothiers by 1800% overnight resulting in a strike of 5000 in our market square and that saw work taken away from the village in response.
“For upon these taxations
The clothiers all, not able to maintain
The many to them ‘longing, have put off
The spinsters, carders, fullers, weavers, who
Unfit for other life, compelled by hunger
And lack of other means, in desperate manner
Daring the event to the teeth, are all in uproar,
And danger walks among them”
(Henry VIII, Shakespeare)
Christopher Bullock. “The Suffolk Wonder”
Christopher Bullock was born in Lavenham in 1755. A clock and watchmaker by trade, he earned notoriety for his height and width: he was just three foot six tall yet had a girth of seven feet (86 inches) and became known as the Suffolk Wonder. [At the same time, the shortest woman in England was also recorded as being in Suffolk, Miss Butcher of Diss, at two foot eleven inches tall]. A woodcut etching of Mr Bullock can be found in the British Museum. Christopher was one of the sons of Harriet Bullock whom performed on the London stage as Miss Russell, grandson of the famous William Bullock (actor) and great grandson of Christopher Bullock Junior (actor and stage director of Restoration comedy for Charles II, accounted “the best actor of the part of a fop in the world”). They are part of the Bullock family of Essex which includes Sir Christopher Bullock, the youngest man to hold the position of the head of a civil service when appointed at just 38.
And so to today
Inevitably I have missed important families and links: this is the beginning of trying to capture in one place the little we know of our village and its people history. Please let me know of other families so that I can add to the growing list.
Today there are many families still with us whom have been part not just of its former glory but also of its modern revival through their work with the Parish Council, Lavenham Forum, Lavenham Community Council and its many societies: Baker, Busby, Casey, Cornwall, Deacon, De’ath, Faiers, Garrard, Gurling, Harrison, Heak, Heald, Holland, Howe, Kemp, Marszal, Norman, Pattrick, Paul, Ranson, Reeve, Rose, Shepherd, Schofield, Sparling, Spring, Turner, Twitchett, Walton, Warner and Whitworth to name but a few, names of which future generations will ask what prompted them to dedicate so much of their time to the legacy of our village, working behind the scenes to make Lavenham the stunning place and thriving community it remains.