The Swan was built in about 1400 and comprises three houses. The oldest part dates back to the late 14th Century. It is not known when conversion to an Inn took place, but it was well established by 1667, when the then Landlord, John Girling, issued a ‘Trader’s Token’.
The Girling family still live in Lavenham to this day.
From the 14th to the 16th century, Lavenham was at the centre of England’s cloth making industry and it was exporting its famous broadcloth as far as Russia and North Africa. In 1524, it was named the fourteenth wealthiest town in the country, however heavy taxation in the mid 1520s and disrupted export markets through war on the continent brought a rapid decline in the industry. All this helps explain why most timber-framed buildings here date from about 1460 to 1530 since there was no wealth left to build anything of quality later in the century. Many reminders of its industrious past still remain, including the beautiful 16th century Guildhall which dominates the market square. Once a meeting place of wool traders, a prison, workhouse and almshouse, it is now owned by The National Trust and has a beautiful garden where dye plants are grown, including Woad which was used to dye various shades of the famous Lavenham Blue Cloth.
Today, Lavenham is the country’s finest example of a Medieval town. With over 300 listed buildings and a labyrynth of small narrow streets, it has changed little since the 15th century. The Church of St Peter and St Paul, dating back to 1486, dominates the town, with its tower standing at 141ft high. Its significant size reflects the prosperity of Lavenham at the time.
The best way to explore this historic town is by hiring a guided walk or an audio guide from the Chemist in the High Street, just up from The Swan. Alternatively, Lavenham Tourist Office is situated near to the rear entrance of The Swan in Lady Street. For more information, contact 01787 248207. It is open seven days a week from Easter until end of October: 10am - 4:45pm, weekends only in March and November: 11am - 4pm and closed from December until February.