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Listed Buildings
of Ipswich Wolsey's Gate (Grade I)

Newsletter, October 2003 (Issue 153)

Lavenham and Hadleigh

What a blessing that the twin brothers Arthur (the Colonel) and Robert Gayer-Anderson decided to buy the Great House in Lavenham for £600 in the 1920s to house their collection of Egyptian artefacts. For with the house came another building next door. It was covered in ugly pebbledash, with metal window frames and was divided into six occupied tenements.

But the twins saw through this rough exterior and realised that they had a medieval house, The Little Hall. They sold the Great House, gave their Egyptian collection to the Fitzwilliam Museum and used the money to restore their medieval treasure. It was built originally in the 1390s, and in the 16th century as the woollen industry prospered and Lavenham flourished The Little Hall was extended. But when the woollen trade moved from cottage industry to the mills and factories in the 18th century Lavenham became a quiet backwater and The Little Hall fell into disrepair. But the twins had flair and vision. During the 1920s and 1930s as the tenants left they restored the Hall to its Tudor glory. They replaced the windows with Tudor ones, removed the pebbledash to show the lovely timbers, reinstated the fireplaces and imported a Tudor door and a Georgian staircase. They also added many original and personal touches. Drawings of the twins' mother, original bronzes and a splendid oak dresser are all examples of their own handiwork.

There are few relics of the wool trade left now in The Little Hall, but one visiting Kiwi knelt unexpectedly on the floor, sniffed the boards and announced, "I can smell lanolin." And he should know. It was a delightful house, with a beautiful garden where ashes of the remarkable twins are scattered. Be sure not to miss it next time you visit Lavenham.

In Hadleigh, three of the town's finest buildings face each other across the churchyard. The church is of locally gathered flint, the Deanery Gateway is in Hadleigh brick and the Guildhall is a timber frame of (probably) Suffolk oak. [Photo below: Guildhall from Deanery tower]

The red-washed Guildhall houses Hadleigh Town Council, whose modern offices have walls of oaken studwork raised in the mid-15th century to accommodate Hadleigh Market House. It is a complicated building, as is its history. Here it has three storeys, there two. One end was dismantled in 1851 when iron piles were driven through to carry the New Town Hall. The other end was pulled down after severe storm damage in 1884.

In between are rooms showing superb examples of the joiner's craft. In one room, shortly to house an exhibition about the wool trade on which medieval Hadleigh's wealth depended, the roof timbers remain unfinished as until recently they were covered by the original decking. These timbers were not intended to be seen. But in another room of similar construction the beams and crown posts are elegantly and richly carved to show off the prosperity of the town.

Downstairs the Council Chamber boasts a tiny minstrels' gallery, but the musicians must have been agile midgets to climb the ladder. Downstairs again a partition wall has been removed to reveal a medieval doorway and two shop fronts, from which a hitherto unexplained footpath leads at an angle across the churchyard. In the cramped archive department we were shown the only surviving copy of the will of Archdeacon William Pykenham, who built the Gatehouse in Northgate Street Ipswich where our Society's committee meets. Pykenham's Hadleigh Gateway, however, is a much grander affair. Its four storeys were raised in 1495 of the finest locally made red brick. Pykenham intended it to give access to his planned Deanery Palace, but he died before that could be built. Brick was in those days an innovation. The art of bfickmaking had been lost when the Romans left Britain. It was reintroduced from Flanders around the 12th century but only on a small scale. It took the Hampton Court of Wolsey and Henry VIII to bring it into fashion in England. The Gateway Tower is constructed in English bond - alternate courses of "stretchers" (brick laid end to end) and "headers" (side by side). Laid with lime mortar, this style gives the building immense strength while allowing it flexibility to take up any slight movement (it has no foundations) without cracking. Today the brickwork and the interior timbers are as sound as new and will doubtless survive the odd bit of damp. No two handmade bricks are identical so the mortar must be laid to maintain the strict verticals and the spiral pattern.

Inside, a circular staircase leads to the fascinating study of the Dean, not used by the present incumbent, although a door leads through to the adjoining Deanery. In the opposite comer, a bookcase moves aside to reveal the medieval en-suite - a garderobe with a chute to the garden below. We gathered that this is not now used either. Another door leads into the turret housing the oratory, a diminutive circular chapel with an exquisitely moulded brick vaulted ceiling.

The study has its place in ecclesiastical history. In 1553 the Protestant rector, Dr Rowland Taylor, was disturbed while working in this room by the sound of the church bells, unsanctioned by him. Hurrying across into the church he found a Catholic mass in progress, celebrating the accession of Queen Mary 1. He ejected the offending priest but was himself arrested and imprisoned in the Guildhall and two years later was burned at the stake. His monument stands beside the Hadleigh by-pass. In less violent but no less divisive days, another rector, Hugh James-Rose, hosted a meeting in 1833 in this same study to set up the conference that launched the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement, which should perhaps more correctly be called the Hadleigh Movement. We rounded off the day in which we had been guided through three extraordinarily fascinating buildings with an excellent cream tea in the gardens behind the Guildhall. Our thanks to our expert guides and to Lois and Chris Terry for arranging such a successful outing.


    Front cover of issue 153 Cover, issue 153

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