The colourful 500-year history of Lavenham and the Guildhall has come alive for all to see, touch, smell and hear in the National Trust’s new exhibition.
Our Village Through Time, which opened to the public on Saturday, tells the rich past of the Lavenham Guildhall through the voices and experiences of real-life characters.
Visitors can expect to feel the emotion of each character’s story, from a charitable Sudbury MP, who restored the old hall for the local people, to an eight-year-old girl, who was imprisoned and severely punished for being an ‘incorrigible rouge’.
The transformation of the white timber-framed building, in Lavenham Market Place, has centred around community involvement with consultation among residents who have helped the £160,000 exhibition take shape.
The project has been funded in part by grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Biffa Award and Suffolk County Council.
Robyn Llewellyn, head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England, said: “It’s wonderful to see the transformation of this well-loved historic building.”
Anna Forrest, National Trust curator for the Guildhall, who led the research, explained the building has had many uses – as a religious meeting place, a penitentiary in the 18th century, to a social club for US troops during the Second World War.
“The research threw up a whole host of characters,” she said.
“As you go around, you’ll see their stories and the building as it was in their day.
The site in Lavenham Market Place was granted to the Corpus Christi Guild in 1529, who went on to build a meeting place for an elite group of Catholics.
It was purchased by Liberal politcian and philanthropist Sir William Cuthbert Quilter in 1886, who renovated the building for educational and recreational use.
The exhibition features historicial documents, interactive exhibits, and even film and photographs of the building in the last century. There is also a space for community-led exhibitions, which are set to change each year.
Guildhall manager Jane Gosling said the team were delighted to see the project come to life after four years of extensive research.
“It has just come together so beautifully,” she said.