The Crooked House in Lavenham is open to the public

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile,

He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked threshold;

He bought a crooked cat and it caught a crooked mouse.

And they all lived together in a small, crooked house.

It’s a dark, cold December afternoon, 2018. Alex Khalil Martin is walking a mile or two around Lavenham, enjoying a weekend in Suffolk, away from the hustle and bustle of London, when he imagines a warm cup of tea. He comes to The Crooked House, a charming tea room on Main Street, steps inside… and falls in love.

The multi-beamed medieval merchant’s house, with its twisted timbers, brick fireplaces, wonky attic and pointed gable, is his fantasy. The tea and cake are delicious, but his mind is elsewhere. He imagines living there, trading his hometown for life in the heart of Lavenham. He leaves and dreams of one day owning the crooked house.

The Great British Life: Crooked Men... Alex and Ollie dressed as Tudors.  Image: The crooked houseTwisted Men… Alex and Ollie dressed as Tudors. Image: The crooked house

Two years have passed. Next, Alex is excited to discover that The Crooked House is for sale. Could it be him? He would give up everything just to own it and live the rest of his life in Lavenham. But reality imposes itself. he is busy; There’s his job in marketing and advertising, his friends, his acquaintances… well, maybe he’ll get another chance, in another couple of decades.

Then Covid-19 hits and no one goes anywhere. The world is online; Alex meets Ollie, who works in the investment world… and falls in love again. They talk about their hopes and dreams for a life together. Alex tells Ollie about the Crooked House. It’s his dream to live there, and what better home for these two “con men”? Small, one-bedroom, it exudes charm and historic character, with plenty of space and potential for a creative enterprise, especially as remote working has become an accepted lifestyle. And…it’s still for sale.

But not for much longer; The house cooked has been sold. But the sale fails! Alex and Ollie take a surprise trip to Lavenham; Their offer was accepted (I suspect it was more than a crooked sixpence, even allowing for inflation, but it would be rude to ask that). The Crooked House – their dream, their eternal home – is theirs.

Alex and Oli moved into Crooked House in early 2021. Like their romance (they married just 18 months after meeting) it’s all been a whirlwind. Their ambition from the beginning was to share the eccentric 600-year-old building with others; They share the belief, held by many lucky enough to own fine old properties, that they are just two in a long line of guardians. Something that’s been around for a long time – albeit “on huh” – will be around for many years to come. He is the keeper of so much history worth sharing.

The Great British Life: Inside the House Quirky with Entertainment Inside The Crooked House with a recreation of ‘Elizabeth’. Image: The crooked house

The couple wasted no time renovating the house, doing most of the work themselves. When I knock on the wooden door (there’s a cast-iron knocker depicting a crooked cat catching a crooked mouse), I’m not quite sure what to expect. Inside, it’s a revelation. Despite its size, The Crooked House isn’t dainty or inviting, but it is big.

It was built in 1395 for one of Lavenham’s first successful wool merchants, making it one of the oldest properties in the village. Lavenham was already on its way to prosperity. By Tudor times, wool – especially Lavenham’s famous blue cloth – had made it the 14th wealthiest town in England, whose legacy is a fine church, the magnificent Guildhall and many timber-framed houses. Wool merchants with a lot of money were able to purchase the large oak beams needed for grand buildings in key locations.

The crooked house is, in fact, part of a house that originally included its neighbor on the right and the house behind it. Enter The Crooked House and you stand in what was originally a kitchen and butcher room with a huge fireplace. On the top floor there was a weavers’ workshop. Nearby was the great double-height hall of the estate, and next to it were the merchant’s private quarters, consisting of a hall downstairs and a solarium (private sleeping quarters) upstairs.

Of course, the Crooked House wasn’t always crooked. In the medieval building boom, wood was not always seasoned, and as the frame of the warp house dried out over time, it became twisted and warped. But at the time, Lavenham’s wool industry was in decline, the merchants had gone and there was no money to rebuild, so the house remained twisted and divided, leaving us both a whimsy of history and a modern icon.

The Great British Life: Ollie and Alex Outside the Crooked House.  Image: The crooked houseOllie and Alex outside the Crooked House. Image: The crooked house

Alex and Ollie live in one of the most photographed homes in the country. I wonder if they mind people showing up with cameras and phones, or groups of tourists on guided tours stopping at their doorstep. Not a little. “We love it,” Alex says. “We are proud to live here and it was always our intention to share it. It is a wonderful home and its story needs to be told.

Alex and Oli reimagined The Crooked House as a Tudor-style residence, a nod to Elizabeth I’s 1578 royal advance into East Anglia when she passed through Lavenham, but it was never locked. Within its historical context they have created a modern living space. “Tapestry” line the walls, large wall hangings of pastoral scenes like a Renaissance-style photographic backdrop. There are art treasures collected from all over the world, some of which are for sale because part of their project deals in works of art and antiques. Alex’s abstract works are on display, while a modern portrait of Elizabeth I hangs above the fireplace. Neon “flames” flickered in the huge open fireplace. It’s stylish, comfortable and has a sophisticated club vibe.

The Great British Life: Guests at the Quirky Club Dinner.  Photo: Photography by James DavidsonGuests at the Crooked Club dinner. Photo: Photography by James Davidson

It turns out that this was intentional. Alex and Oli plan an event-driven future in The Crooked House. Historical tours, guided by quirky men, will evoke medieval and Tudor life. ‘Crooked Life’ experiences include a tour of the house, followed by a tour of Lavenham and afternoon tea. Black-tie ‘Crooked Club’ dinners are cooked in house and hosted by the Crooked Men, who love nothing more than to welcome their guests in authentic Tudor costumes, which they specially designed and made from black wool, a status symbol for it. Era.

Dinners were held in the room upstairs, where the weavers produced Lavenham Blue. Eighteen guests share company and food around a large dining table. This is the wonky part of the house, of course, and Alex points out the modern wood floor, suspended above the original sloping version, which ensures people and furniture stay level. They have already hosted some events that have been a huge hit with people from Suffolk and beyond.

Ollie, who learned the art of hospitality by helping out at frequent dinner parties hosted by his parents, does most of the cooking. He uses local, seasonal ingredients that evoke the flavors and aromas of food from the Tudor era, although his dishes are modern interpretations better suited to 21st-century tastes. He says they are very lucky to have local suppliers like Lavenham Butchers and Giffords Hall vineyards on their doorstep.

The Great British Life: The place to go for Crooked Club dinners.  Photo: Photography by James DavidsonSetting up for the Crooked Club dinner. Photo: Photography by James Davidson

Up the winding staircase is the house’s one bedroom, which has a four-poster bed and a fireplace where Alex and Oli put a cat; Not a real cat, of course, but a black, furry cat to ward off witches and other evil spirits. After all, in its 600 years, The Crooked House has collected its share of troubled souls, and Alex and Oli live with seven ghosts, the most famous of which is Mrs. Carter.

Mrs. Carter first lived in The Crooked House in the 1960s. Her father was an Anglican priest in St. Petersburg during the reign of the last Tsar. When the revolution broke out, he was arrested, and the young woman, Catherine Carter, and her mother fled to England. In her later years, Mrs. Carter moved to Lavenham, bought The Crooked House, and never seemed to leave. Residents and visitors reported smelling Russian incense and hearing knocking on the front window. That was where Mrs. Carter used to sit, watching the tourists go by…

Alex and Oli have achieved a lot in The Crooked House in a short space of time, but they are full of ideas and energy. They both still work their jobs, although Alex is now self-employed, which means they need to spend a day or two a week in London. They are always happy to come back to Lavenham at the end of the day.

There is still a lot of work to be done to restore the house. An important task is to renovate the rear of the property, where a concrete layer applied about 60 years ago has trapped moisture, damaging the original fabric of the walls. This will be expensive to remedy, and that’s where the income from The Crooked House events comes in. And it will all be put back into the care of this wonderful, wonky, and much-loved home.

The Great British Life: Alex (upstairs) and Ollie (on the doorstep) at The Crooked House.  Image: The crooked houseAlex (upstairs) and Ollie (on the doorstep) at The Crooked House. Image: The crooked house

Rhyme and reason

Does the crooked man rhyme belong to the crooked house of Lavenham? Perhaps, although another explanation says the crooked man was the 17th century Scottish general Sir Alexander Leslie, who signed a charter guaranteeing religious and political freedom for Scotland. The poem refers to the English and Scots finally coming to an agreement, and they had to live with each other because of their common border, the “crooked pattern”. The great recoinage of around 1696 meant that sixpence coins were made of very thin silver and were easy to bend. But Lavenham can certainly lay claim to it in the 21st century…

For more information and to book Crooked House tours and black-tie dinners this fall through 2024, visit

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