[A Collage of Lavenham]

Lavenham Parish Council's Millennium Website

Life in Lavenham 1925 - 1937

I was born in Lavenham in the Georgian-fronted house facing the Swan in 1925. My parents were the local doctors, mother was the first lady doctor that Lavenham had ever had. I lived there till I was 12 when we moved to Kent.

Water Supply

Drinking water had to be carried in pails from a water spout on the south side of Water St near the present printing works. In summer this supply had a habit of drying up, and then water had to be brought in pails from Potlands, north of the Church tower. One tended to carry two pails with a wooden square separator between.

Our washing water was obtained from the pond in our garden which fed the stream which passes under Water St in a culvert. This water was passed through a sand filter bed to a well and was manually pumped up to a tank in the attic.

Around 1937 an artesian well was bored by Green Willows on the Melford Road, but the water was very chalky and was later disused as a supply source. Initially this supplied houses and the stand-pipes in the streets.

Gas Supply

The Gas Works at the foot of Water St was built in 1863 at a cost of £1400. The existing gas holder appears to bear the date 1862. The retort house was in use in my youth and produced non-poisonous gas, there being no carbon monoxide; the gases consisted of methane and the higher hydrocarbons. Expensive, and made a dark deposit on the ceiling. Most of the gas lamps had a pilot jet and I can remember on entering a darkened room groping for the chain hanging from the lamp bracket to pull to allow the pilot to light the main burner.


No mains electricity till c.1938, and then from wires slung from poles down the streets. Unsightly, and after WW II were put underground or at the back.

Sugar Beet Factory

This was on the Lower Road, built 1868 and destroyed by fire 1905, so only the ruins remained in my time. It failed economically twice but was a very early attempt in the UK to get sugar from home-grown beet.


This came to Lavenham in 1865, and I used to travel to London changing at Marks Tey. A good service with steam propulsion. I remember the signal arms being changed from down for line clear to up for line clear. An early example of fail-safe.


No central sewage farm for the village till after 1945. In my youth we had a cesspit by the side of the house in a garden area, and this was emptied at night and carried to Clay Hill.


I do not remember seeing any weaving or mat making. I do remember visiting Roper's Mat Factory off the High St and seeing the area covered with apples being stored.

Mortlock & Sons

This works, built 1925, and the steam ploughing and threshing tackle parked in the surrounding area was of great interest to me. Surprisingly I was allowed to get up on to the seats provided on the tackle. This influenced me to spend 42 years professionally on steam power station plant and its design in the UK and abroad.

Alec Hodsdon

His harpsichord works was on the Bury Rd adjacent to his home which was an old house moved from Washmere Green. He was an analytical chemist, but his wife Margaret's uncle founded the musical instrument museum at Fenton House, Hampstead. His other great interest was steam cars, and I was delighted to go with him one year on the Brighton Run in a 1904 Gardner Serpollet steam car.

Canon A.O. Wintle

He became Rector of Lawshall in 1923, and near the Rectory he set up a factory to overhaul street pianos. At the same time he repinned the barrels to play new tunes. He would bring one along to local fêtes, and I remember being instructed by him on how to turn the handle to give the best musical effect.

Lavenham Church

The tenor bell of the ring of eight, weighing 21 cwt 7 lb, was cast by Miles Graye I of Colchester adjacent to the church. Its birthday used to be commemorated on 21 June. The musical tone is exceptional and is reputed to be about the finest in England. The church clock of 1775 bears the name of Thomas Watts II as the maker. It still strikes the hours and operates the quarter chimes installed in 1887 for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. Unusually there is no external dial.

Local Transport

Mechanised transport was rare in the area in the 1920s. My father had worked during WW I with a Mr Riley, and on coming to Lavenham in 1924 he got in touch with him about purchasing one of his cars, which duly arrived. Mother had to ride a motor cycle with a riveted leather belt drive if she had to see patients at a distance when the car was out. Strict control of the clutch was vital, as the rivets had a habit of breaking. If this happened then a visit to Mr Huffey, the blacksmith, in Water St was required.


Our set had to be battery operated. It had one valve and headphones and was set on a table in the middle of the room by the garden at the back of the house, which was not normally used for anything else. The accumulator had to be taken along to Mr King at the garage adjacent to 3 High St for recharging.

Ranald W.M. Clouston
MIMechE. MIEE. MInst E
Member of Council, Newcomen Society, 1984-7.

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