The medieval Suffolk village of Lavenham has more than 300 half-timbered homes and now you can own one of their most photographed buildings — if you don’t mind slanting floors and you can afford the £525,000 price tag.
Everyl Madell once ran the popular Munnings Tea Room on the first floor. Unfortunately, the longtime establishment received a zero rating for cleanliness during its May Food Standards Agency inspection.
There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile. He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile. He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse. And they all lived together in a little crooked house.British Nursery Rhyme
Mrs. Madell, 68, expressed her upset over the rating, saying it was “totally unnecessary”, and has put the business on the market.
She said: “It’s just dented my enthusiasm a little bit, to be honest, and as you get older you think hard about what you really want to do.
“It’s not an easy thing to be in these days. It is tough. It’s expensive rent, expensive rates. I wonder whether it’s all worth it at the end of the day.”
She added: “I don’t think for a minute I deserved that rating. I think it was shocking.”
I visited this storybook town in 1995 while writing my first edition of THE GREAT TEA ROOMS OF BRITAIN. My photographer and I were staying just down the hill at the Swan Hotel, where we photographed one of the most sumptuous afternoon teas I’ve enjoyed in the UK.
Going back through my archives, I found that the Crooked House appears in the background of one of our photos (below).
Twenty-five years later, I still remember our visit to Lavenham. The term ‘dyed in the wool’ originated in this medieval wool town because raw wool was once dyed in woad (plant dye) before being woven into beautiful blue fabric here. This was one of the famous “wool towns.”
The local skyline is dominated by the tower of Lavenham’s parish church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul soaring 141 feet into the English sky. Completed in 1515 with contributions from wealthy wool merchants, the church tower houses the beautiful Lavenham bells, well-known in bell-ringing circles.
The Swan Hotel’s pub is where the church bell ringers once came to practice their change-ringing on a small 13-bell set of English handbells – rather than the huge tower bells – so as not to disturb the peace of the neighboring countryside.
Having once directed a handbell choir, I was delighted to find that the bells still hang directly bar. However, I never allowed my players to practice while downing a pint or two. Handbell playing is hard enough as it is!
First-time visitors expect the coziness of oaken beams and the warmth of a genial host — and in The Swan, they are not disappointed. The three houses from which the hotel has developed are recorded from 1425, and the oldest part of the house bears traces of late fourteenth-century workmanship. Afternoon tea continues to be celebrated in the cozy parlor or in the garden on sunny days.
I wish Mrs. Madell good luck in finding a new occupation in hospitality. However, I think the time might be right for her to consider the joy of retirement.
“I love the Crooked House – to be able to be in a building that’s so iconic and make a mark there,” she said.
“I will miss it, don’t get me wrong, but I won’t miss the stress.”