Friday, August 7, 2015

Lavenham, England: East Anglia’s crooked little village

"There was a crooked man...." Lavenham, England is a quaint former wool merchant's village in East Anglia  (Taylor)
LAVENHAM, ENGLAND Discovery is one of the greatest joys of travel. An anonymous writer once made the observation that, “Every place is undiscovered until you discover it yourself.”  And one of the most delicious of those “discoveries” is found in the tiny leaning village of Lavenham in the East Anglia region of England.

Charming half-timbered houses of Lavenham  (Taylor)
Legend has it that the children’s poem about a “crooked man who walked a crooked mile” originated in the once prosperous wool merchant’s village of Lavenham.  From the moment you arrive in this delightful little burg, located about 70 miles northeast of London, you will know why. 

Throughout town the multicolored half-timbered houses lean at irregular angles and patterns as if they are supporting each other. With its charming narrow, curving streets, Lavenham has become a popular day-trip for Brits and Americans alike, though it rarely appears on maps and still remains largely unknown to most travelers.

During the 15th and first half of the 16th centuries, Lavenham was famous for the blue broadcloth made from its abundance of high quality wool.  Her wealth of the era is clearly visible at the uncommonly large parish church of St. Peter and St. Paul which sits proudly on the hill at the end of High Street.  At 141 feet, the church tower is said to be the highest village church tower in Britain.

The Swan Hotel captures your imagination  (Taylor)
The real appeal of Lavenham however, culminates at the Swan Hotel where, though elegantly renovated, the floors still creak, doorways are low, accentuated by punctuation marks over the beams which remind you to duck, and fireplaces are always crackling.  The Swan is rustic sophistication at its best filled with the character of exposed timbers and comforting subtle lighting that makes guests feel they have stepped back into another century.

The inn consists of four wool merchant’s buildings that have been merged into a stylish, yet cozy, gem of Tudor architecture that thrives in the Suffolk countryside.

The dining room features exquisite cuisine to the delight of the most discriminating palates, but for historic ambience, it is the bar that captures the greatest fascination.  If ever there was a place where the ghosts of the past enjoy their rightful place in history, it is in the pub at the Swan Hotel. 

Not only can you sense the raucous voices of RAF and American flyboys who were frequent visitors during World War II, a glass boot remains in a corner of the room still challenging beer guzzlers to be the fastest to drink it dry. For guidance, the records established decades ago remain etched on the walls for everyone to see.
Lavenham is like traveling to the home of the Pied Piper only better  (Taylor)
Though no longer displayed, handbells from the hillside parish church up the street once stretched across the front of the bar. The bells were replicas of the originals at Peter and Paul’s.  At certain times in history the church choir would rehearse at the pub, and the bells were initially placed there as a reminder of that bygone era.

Whether or not the Mother Goose nursery rhyme written by James Orchard Halliwell in the 1840s about the “crooked man who walked a crooked mile” is real or only a legend is open for speculation. However, Lavenham is a place that puts the Leaning Tower of Pisa to shame, and if it is not the site where the poem originated, there can be  no doubt that it should be.
The Swan is the home of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star  (
Lavenham does, however, lay claim to another verse that has been verified as the place it was written. It was there that a young woman named Jane Taylor wrote a poem that later became a lullaby known throughout the world. First published in 1806, Ms. Taylor simply called it “The Star.” Though the original poem had six verses, only the first has retained its global reputation which most notably goes by the title we know as “ Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”.

Over the years, Jane’s sister Ann was more prolific at the art of poetry than she, but most interesting is the fact that the Taylor family was living in the house that later became the charming crooked little inn known as The Swan mentioned above.

So you see, in a sense, you might even say that “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” eventually became Jane Taylor’s “Swan song.” And it all happened in the quaint unknown leaning village of Lavenham.