Lavenham, in Suffolk, is one of Britain's finest medieval villages. With its magnificent timber framed Guildhall and pretty cottages it is the quintessential, picture postcard town. However in 1968, its picturesque Market Place became the film location of one of the most horrific scenes in Vincent Price's Witchfinder General. Last month I was thrilled to attend the Witchfinder General Location Tour with the Vincent Price London Legacy Tour 2015 and Victoria Price, Vincent's daughter.
Two weeks to the day after the tour my dad sadly passed away suddenly. He had enjoyed hearing the details about my day out as he too was a big Vincent Price fan. When I was growing up one of my favourite treats would be to stay up late to watch a horror film, more often than not Vincent Price would feature in it, amongst our favourites were House on Haunted Hill and House of Wax. I would like to dedicate, this my first blog post after my dad's death, with love to him. I hope you enjoy it too.
Market Place, Lavenham
The day started with an early morning coach ride from London to Lavenham, however this not being your average day trip we indulged in some early morning gore with a screening of Witchfinder General, which was followed by a special Q&A session with Victoria Price.
From The Discovery of Witches published by Hopkins (1647) - image is the public domain from Wikimedia Commons
The film Witchfinder General is based on Ronald Bassett's novel, with which it shares the same name, with Vincent Price in the starring role of Matthew Hopkins, who was a real life witch hunter working in East Anglia during the English Civil War (1640s). Hopkins used cruel and vicious methods to investigate those who had been accussed of sorcery, basically if you survived his interigation, aka torture, this was considered "proof" that you were involved in witchcraft and you would end up being executed.
On arrival in Lavenham, Peter Fuller led an enthralling tour of the town, full of tantalising information about the filming of Witchfinder General. He also showed us some fabulous photographs. I know they are planning to repeat this tour in the future so I'm not going to give any of the stories away.
I just loved the photo of Vincent Price dressed in costume outside the former sweet shop with a bag of sweets in both hands. Thanks, or should that be a big hand, to David S, of Spooky London, for holding the photo while I took my picture.
Market Place, Lavenham
We then had some free time to explore the quaint Market Place with its colourful, timber framed houses. During the 1400 - 1500s Lavenham prospered from the wool trade, selling its distinctive Lavenham Blue Woollen Broadcloth all over the world. It was at the time it was the 14th richest town in England, beating both York and Lincoln, and the weathy merchants built timber framed house to convey their wealth and status. In the 1600s the town was badly affected with the introduction of cheaper cloth imports into Britain and today's survival of the magnificent houses is due to later generations not having the money to modernise their homes.
Little Hall, above, featured in Witchfinder General
Market Place, Lavenham
Lavenham's beautiful Market Place and surrounding streets are highly seductive and this somehow makes the witch burning scene filmed here even more horrific.
The infamous witch burning, was just one of a number of gruesome scenes in the film, and at the time it received criticism for its graphic portrayal of violence. While the film uses a degree of poetic licence in the telling of its story, maybe the things that really makes it so repulsive to watch is knowing that thousands of people worldwide have been subjected to physical cruelty and execution in the name of witch hunting.
Guildhall and the Market Place, Lavenham
The Guildhall of Corpus Christi dates from c1530. Originally built as a meeting place for merchants, however when the town's fortunes from the wool trade declined, the building served as a jail, workhouse and almshouse. Today it is in the care of the National Trust.
Lavenham Guildhall - note the Lavenham Blue cushions on the settle
The group was welcomed into the Guildhall with an introductory talk before exploring this fascinating, historic building, full of character with its timber frame and uneven flooring.
Lavenham Guildhall - spinning wheels
Upstairs there's a small but fascinating museum about the history of the building and the town.
Lavenham Guildhall - weaving loom
Lavenham Guildhall - garden
There is also charming small garden with out buildings which have previously been used as a lock up and mortuary.
Lavenham Guildhall - hearse
Kentwell Hall - Long Melford
We then continued on to Kentwell Hall, the attractive red brick, moated Tudor house, for a private tour by Patrick Phillips, the owner.
Only the exterior of the house featured in Witchfinder General.
The scene is where the alleged witches are submerged into the moat. If they drown then they are considered innocent and if they float they are considered guilty and will therefore be executed. Either way they will all die.
Kentwell Hall - peacock
Kentwell Hall - kitchen
The tour of this beautiful home started with a visit to the kitchen complete with its huge fireplace, stoves and ovens, its an impressive and rare survivor from the Tudor period.
Kentwell Hall - Panelled Bedchamber
Kentwell Hall - Jacobethan Dining Room
Kentwell Hall - Great Hall with Minstrels' Gallery
Kentwell Hall - Parlour
Kentwell Hall - upside down view of the Parlour's Breughel Style Four Seasons ceiling painted by Paul Dufficey
The day ended with a delicious late lunch in the private function room of The Hare, a traditional country pub, in Long Melford. On the coach journey back to London Jon Kaneko-James, enthralled us by sharing his expertise with a fascinating talk about medieval witchcraft.
The day was just perfect, it was fascinating to hear more about the legendary Vincent Price and his daughter Victoria was very generous in sharing her personal recollections, and it's always good to be amongst like minded souls and everyone was very friendly. It was sheer joy to visit Lavenham with its impressive Guildhall and the splendid Kentwell Hall and I would like to say a huge thank you to all involved in creating such a very delightful and special day.
Practical Information & Website Links
For more information about medieval witchcraft, please visit Jon Kaneko James
For information about Spooky London, please visit their website
For more information on Kentwell Hall, please visit their website
Sorry I was unable to find a website link for The Hare in Long Melford
The author of this blog is a qualified City of London and City of Westminster Tour Guide who leads guided walks combining world famous landmarks with hidden treasures often missed by the crowds.