Time to take a break from Honeymoon content to tell you about a little trip we took last month to the Suffolk countryside. We were staying with some lovely friends of ours in Bury St Edmunds, when they announced they would be taking us to a small nearby village called Lavenham. It was only en route that we were told this was in fact Godric’s Hollow.
Lavenham Village, Suffolk
Lavenham is a village in Suffolk famous for its wonky half-timbered medieval cottages, its stunning Guildhall, and the massive 16th-century church. The striking architecture makes it a popular filming location, most recently for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. The scene was filmed without actors, under absolute secrecy in 2010, so that the CGI team could build the wizarding village of Godric’s Hollow.
If you’re visiting Lavenham for the day, the Prentice Street car park is the perfect arrival point (not least because it’s free, and it has electric chargers). Head down the path to Spring Street and you’ll find yourself at the top of the High Street, ideal for admiring all the medieval cottages. Fun fact – they originally would have been painted block colours, it was the Victorians who came in and exposed the timbers.
Why is Lavenham so higgledy-piggledy? In the medieval period it got super rich super fast because of its thriving wool trade. When visiting the town in 1487, Henry VII actually fined several Lavenham families for displaying too much wealth. Over the period, so many merchants arrived and set up shop that they had to do a rushed job of constructing houses. They used green timber as a shortcut. When the wood dried, the timbers warped, and that’s why the houses are all bent at such strange angles.
Unfortunately, Lavenham’s good times didn’t last very long. Colchester began producing cloth that was cheaper, lighter and more fashionable, and so the local cloth industry went bust. By the time the dried timber started twisting, Lavenham’s families had lost their wealth and couldn’t afford to modernise. With no money to rebuild their homes, Lavenham’s crooked houses were left as they were.
Harry Potter is not Lavenham’s only claim to fame by any means. In the late 18th century, the poet Jane Taylor, who was living in Shilling Street, wrote the poem The Star. This later morphed into the nursery rhyme Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. In 1968, the witch burning scenes from Witchfinder General were staged in front of the Guildhall. In 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono filmed their experimental film Apotheosis with a hot-air balloon in Lavenham’s Market Place. It’s also been used as the backdrop for many episodes of TV shows, including Lowland Village (1943), Treasure Hunt (1988), and Lovejoy (mid-90s).
Cottages stood on either side of the narrow road… A short way ahead a golden glow of streetlights indicated the centre of the village… Behind the church, row upon row of snowy tombstones protruded from a blanket of pale blue that was flecked with dazzling red, gold, and green wherever the reflections from the stained glass hit the snow.Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
For the few of you who don’t know what Godric’s Hollow is – it’s the wizarding village in Harry Potter famous for being the home of the Gryffindors, the Pevrills, the Bagshotts, the Dumbledores and the Potters themselves. All of the above are buried in the graveyard of the village church. It’s also where Voldemort murdered Harry’s parents, and then was killed himself after his spell to finish off baby Harry backfired. In the films, it appears in all the flashbacks of Harry’s parents’ death. Most notably, it is where Harry and Hermione visit in the last book. Harry is drawn there by his past, but claims only to want to talk to Bathilda Bagshot, writer of A History of Magic and long time friend of Albus Dumbledore, so they can find out more about The Deathly Hallows.
It’s obviously a very mixed and emotional visit for Harry, who sees his parents’ gravestone for the first time, as well as the ruined shell of his childhood home. In the book this scene is extremely emotional, something I don’t think they quite do justice in the film, but I digress.
De Vere House
“The crew arrived without actors and filmed both the front and the back in the height of summer. They used parts of the house like pieces of a massive three-dimensional jigsaw, cutting and pasting them to form the streets of Godric’s Hollow. They even made the final result a snow scene in the winter, with a Christmas tree in our front window and carol singing coming from within the house.”Tony Ranzetta, the owner of De Vere House at that time.
De Vere House is the location in Lavenham that most heavily influenced the aesthetic of Godric’s Hollow. As soon as you spot it on your walk down Water Street, you recognise it instantly. It has very unique windows and the overall vibe is much more muted than the other brightly painted homes in the village.
The Godric’s Hollow you see in Deathly Hallows Part 1 (or as they say in the CGI team on the Special Features disc “HP 7a”) uses a combination of captured film and a constructed set to piece together the full wizarding village. Most similar to De Vere House is this fake house overlooking the graveyard, which was apparently very visible in the cinema-release of the film but has been edited out of the DVD release. The end result you can see in the film is definitely recognisable, even though they’ve made lots of changes to the shape and size of the house.
Back in 2012, De Vere House went on the market, causing a lot of chat in the press about how you could “buy the cottage where Harry Potter was born” (example). The is wrong for so many reasons, not least because Lily and James Potter’s house in the films is actually based on the Lavenham Guildhall (never fear, the guildhall is yet to come).
The Swan at Lavenham
The Swan is a beautiful 15th century inn, now a 4 star hotel, sprawled across one side of the High Street on the corner of Water Street. Fun fact: In 1980 the marijuana smuggler Howard Marks was arrested in its bar.
When Harry and Hermione arrive in Godric’s Hollow, you can recognise a smaller version of the pub behind them, lit up with fairy lights. You can even see the sign, although not well enough to read.
Lavenham Market Place
The Guildhall of the catholic guild of Corpus Christi was built in 1529 and stands in the centre of the village overlooking the market square.
Filming in Lavenham took place in secret in January 2010. Lavenham Guildhall was transformed into Harry Potter’s parents’ derelict house and in the film, Harry visits his parents’ graves and their house in Godric’s Hollow. There was a plan to introduce fake snow but luckily for the filmmakers, they didn’t need to bother faking it, as it snowed anyway!The Swan At Lavenham
As previously mentioned, De Vere House is obviously not the Potter’s home, and therefore not where baby Harry defeated Voldemort and became The Boy Who Lived. According to the local info, as quoted above, the Guildhall on Market Place was used for the Potter’s home. There’s another building in the square that is the same shape as the Potter’s home – perhaps it was a combination of the Guildhall (left) and Angel Gallery (right).
Other sights in Lavenham
Once you’re in Lavenham, there’s so much more to see than the film locations. The country side around the village is classic Suffolk fare, with rolling hills and many circular walks.
The Lavenham wool church of St Peter and St Paul
This incredible 16th century church is just massive for the size of the village. It was built at the height of Lavenham’s prosperity, financed by the Earl of Oxford and a number of wealthy cloth merchants. As you can see it is covered in gorgeous stained glass windows. Together with the 138ft tall tower, it makes for an impressive sight. Indeed, it’s the highest village church tower in Britain.
Lavenham Hall Gallery & Sculpture Garden
Next to the church is Lavenham Hall, a gallery and 7 acre sculpture garden displaying the work of Kate Denton. It’s also where the artist herself lives, with her husband Anthony Faulkner. According to the National Open Garden Scheme, much of the garden was originally set out in the 1880s by William Biddell, but the family money dried up and the place slowly fell into disrepair. The ruins of Lavenham Hall are in the garden, their footprint in front of the house informing the layout of four long herbaceous beds that were cut from what was a field about 15 years ago.
The Crooked House
One of Lavenham’s most famous landmarks, this slanted house at 7 High Street is a true icon of the village. Built in the 14th century as the servants’ quarters of Hall House, it has been Grade II listed since 1958. Warped timbers have caused the upper floor to look distinctly crooked, hence the famous name.
From 2005 to 2013, The Crooked House was an art gallery. Then it was a tea room, until it was sold off in February 2020. Now it’s an antique showroom, open by prior appointment.
Things to do nearby
There are so many picturesque towns and villages near Lavenham. If you’re looking for some lunch, head to The Crown in Hartest, where you can also enjoy some walks and more brightly painted cottages. Bury St Edmunds is a little drive away, with loads of restaurants and a beautiful Cathedral and abbey gardens (look out for a blog post on that soon).
Lavenham is such a wonderful day out, especially if you’re a Harry Potter fan. I personally loved all the buildings, not just the ones used in the film, and I would love to come back and eat at the Swan Inn, go inside the church and do one of the larger walks. This is definitely up there with Freshwater West in my Harry Potter travels.