Visit to Little Hall, Lavenham

Reporter: Anne Grimshaw

On a beautiful morning in late June, Sudbury Society members enjoyed a private visit to Little Hall in Lavenham. One of the village’s show places it is set just off the square around the corner from the Guildhall – and it’s yellow ochre – you can’t miss it!

Our guide, Graham, knew the place and its history inside out. The earliest part is the front wall of the north wing which dates back to 1400 with additions from 1450. A long, two-storied wing was added in the 17th century. The timbers are wonderful: not just the studwork but the rafters, the jetties, the crown post and the wide floorboards. The windows have had some mullions replaced but overall the place has a warm, homely feel.

Originally likely to have belonged to the Causton family of clothiers, the building was both a home and a work place when the wool industry was at its peak in East Anglia. Gradually the wool trade dwindled and ‘modernisation’ of the house ceased so that by the 19th century it had been subdivided into six self-contained cottages.

Help was at hand in 1924 when the Great House next door and Little Hall were bought by the Gayer-Andersons, twin brothers who converted Little Hall into single family home. Completed in 1940 it was here they lived and housed their collections of treasures brought home from their travels mostly in the Middle East while they were in the army.

During the Second World War one of the rooms became a dormitory for five evacuee boys from London. Washbasins were neatly hidden in cupboards with Sevres porcelain plates acting as splashbacks!

The brothers bequeathed Little Hall to Surrey County Council as a hostel for art students under the wardenship of the brothers’ friend, artist Reginald Brill who died in 1974. The building then passed to the Suffolk Building Preservation Trust which now has its headquarters here.

The brothers were artists in their own right and their works hang on the walls. Amongst the artefacts is a bronze Egyptian cat, a cast of which is in the British Museum. The brothers’ own (real) cat is buried in the herbaceous border in the garden – his name and dates on his gravestone. There is also a delightful knot garden – what bliss to sit there in the sunshine and look up to the undulating rooftops, the sharp pointed gables, the centuries’ old timbering, red roof tiles, lattice windows – so very, very English…

 

Anne Grimshaw