In deepest Suffolk, I’ve found the perfect English village

Long Melford is a quintessentially English village
Long Melford is a quintessentially English village - Alamy

Sitting amid the railwayana of Pullman’s vintage tearoom, sipping from cup-n-saucer and eating a toasted teacake, felt just about right. All very quaint and English. Though with a bit of wheeler-dealering thrown in – the Art Nouveau lamp on my table was for sale, should I have a spare £165. That’s what happens in Long Melford: you get a dose of quintessential village with a side of being sold old things.

Long Melford has history. People roamed this patch of Suffolk in the Mesolithic, it was settled in the Iron Age and occupied by Romans. More latterly, though, it was the antiques capital of East Anglia, and beyond. Lovejoy was filmed here, and when the last series of that lovably roguish TV show was shot 30 years ago, antiques filled virtually every other shop.

Long Melford was featured many times in the show 'Lovejoy'
Long Melford was featured many times in the show 'Lovejoy' - BBC

“People still visit Long Melford on the Lovejoy trail,” Graham Hessell told me. Graham is founder of the Melford Antiques, Interiors & Lifestyle Centre, 16,000 sq ft of collectables, plus Pullman’s café, in the Grade II listed Old Maltings, a building often used by Lovejoy star Ian McShane and crew, and one of the few antiques stores that remains. “Over the last decade or so, many independent dealers have succumbed to the high costs and overheads,” Graham added. But it hasn’t, he reckoned, lessened Long Melford’s appeal: “It’s a lovely, friendly place with a great community spirit, possibly one of England’s most perfect villages.”

Certainly, if one were to devise a list for such things, Long Melford would garner many ticks. It has two manor houses, multiple pubs, an enormous church and – despite the loss of all those antiques emporia – a wealth of independent businesses. There’s even a village museum.

The village's Holy Trinity Church was constructed between 1467 and 1497
The village's Holy Trinity Church was constructed between 1467 and 1497 - Alamy

The biggest mark against it is that – with a population of around 4,000 these days – Long Melford almost isn’t a village. “It’s about as big as you can get before becoming a town,” admitted volunteer church guide Simon Edge. “But that means nobody could conceivably know everybody, so you don’t have that potential small-village poison. It’s never claustrophobic.”

I started my own explorations from the Black Lion, a smart Georgian inn with good rooms, great food and an excellent location by The Green, at the top of the village. From here you can look down what’s purportedly England’s longest high street, at 2.5 miles. But first I turned the other way.

Just above the Black Lion is Holy Trinity, Long Melford’s Perpendicular Gothic behemoth, with one of the country’s longest church naves and an abundance of windows. “It punches way above its weight,” said Simon, who I met for a tour. “Long Melford is now a bit of a backwater. But in the Middle Ages it was in the richest part of the country, due to agriculture and the wool trade. Basically this area was very important, and people were showing off.”

Kentwell Hall is a timeless manor house in Long Melford
Kentwell Hall is a timeless manor house in Long Melford - Alamy

John Clopton, owner of Long Melford’s Kentwell Hall, was on the wrong side of the War of the Roses. He was accused of conspiracy with a group of others; they were all executed in 1461, but Clopton escaped with a pardon. Thanking his lucky stars, he devoted his life to building this mighty church. And if moral debts can be paid in stone and glass, he surely found his way into heaven.

During the Reformation, all graven images were destroyed, and most stained glass in the country is Victorian revival. In Holy Trinity, 10 per cent of its medieval windows survived, a significant amount. “We’re restoring eight bays, which cost £100,000 a pop,” Simon explained, pointing out some of the panes: an exquisite Pietà, various Cloptons, two duchesses of Norfolk, supposedly inspiration for John Tenniel’s Queen of Hearts illustrations in Alice in Wonderland.

Next, I continued on the Clopton trail with a visit to Kentwell, entering along an avenue of limes that, when the hall was requisitioned in the Second World War, hid tanks and artillery. The hall itself is a magnificent moated Tudor pile, ravishing in mellow red brick and rich in backstory.

Our writer stayed in the Black Lion Inn
Our writer stayed in the Black Lion Inn - Emma Cabielles

It’s currently owned by Patrick and Judith Phillips, who bought it in 1971 when it was practically derelict. Their restoration efforts have been heroic, especially in the gardens, now a playground of parkland, cedars of Lebanon, a yew castle, a potager and Pied Piper topiary, which takes Judith a week a year to prune. It was quiet during my winter visit, the gardens opened for a snowdrop trail. But in season the old forge is fired up and the bakehouse oven stoked for immersive re-creation days.

So far, then, several big ticks. But what of the rest of the village? I headed back, to walk the long high street. For starters, there were some fine houses – the average price of those around The Green is now £825,000. How times change: in June 1381, 10,000 poor folk rested here, a phalanx of Wat Tyler’s Peasants’ Revolt.

Long Melford is known as the antiques capital of East Anglia
Long Melford is known as the antiques capital of East Anglia - Alamy

Strolling further into the village, via the National Trust’s Melford Hall and over the Chad Brook, one of the first doorways I passed had a table outside, selling cloth-topped jars of jumbleberry jam in support of the local library. Soon after came the Bull Inn, which was built in the 15th century and has hosted travellers almost ever since, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who bedded-in here in 1969.

It took a while to walk the whole street, my attention drawn by vintage stores and veggie delis, art galleries and tearooms. Even the charity shop looked as smart as a boutique. And of course there are the businesses – the Co-op, the hairdressers – that make the place self-sufficient. Comely and convenient indeed.

Inside the rooms at the Black Lion Inn
Inside the rooms at the Black Lion Inn - Emma Cabielles

“Long Melford has changed so much in the past 20 years,” councillor John Nunn later explained, when I asked how it has managed to thrive when other villages haven’t. “However, people move in because they love the area, and integrate into the Melford way of life quite easily. We now have a plan in place, which we hope will help regulate future development and help Long Melford retain its charm and appeal. We do believe Long Melford has what it takes to be a quintessential English village.”

How to do it

The author was hosted by the Black Lion Inn (01787 312356;, which has B&B doubles from £89pn.

Melford Antiques, Interiors & Lifestyle Centre and Pullmans tearoom are open daily (01787 323626;

Holy Trinity is open daily; guided tours can be booked in advance (

Kentwell Hall is open on various dates, mid-February to October – check website; tickets from £14.10pp (01781 310207;

Long Melford Museum and Heritage Centre is open Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, April-October and is free to visit (01787 313496;