The small town of Clare (population 2,200) is steeped in history, with 135 listed buildings including a 13th century Augustinian Priory, a grand medieval church and the Ancient House Museum. Clare boasts a wide range of independent shops encompassing books, antiques, gifts, homeware and clothes shops, as well as a butchers, artisan bakers and choice of cafes and pubs.
Despite its diminutive size, a number of factors have combined to ensure that Clare has punched above its weight for over a thousand years. In the Middle Ages, the Clare lords were among the greatest in the country and Clare was administrative centre of a great collection of manors in Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and elsewhere. Gilbert of Clare was one of 25 barons to oversee the Magna Carta in 1215. The de Clare family married into royalty, with the Clare lands passing to the Crown at the end of the fifteenth century.
Clare also grew wealthy with the Suffolk wool trade and many of the fine buildings that visitors see today were built on the back of this. By the end of the 17th century the wool trade was declining, but Clare continued to prosper as an agricultural centre and market town. By 1841 the population of 1700 included 4 attorneys, 2 surgeons, 3 chemists, 3 butchers, 4 grocers, 7 drapers, 12 shoe makers, 4 watch makers and 8 milliners.
The agricultural depressions that followed, along with the opening up of larger markets with the advent of the railway, led to a slow decline in Clare’s prosperity. By 1901 the population was just 1582 and falling, and it has only been in the last half century or so that Clare has again grown and prospered. Today it is a service centre for the local area and a destination for visitors drawn both by its rich history and character and the attractive villages and countryside surrounding it.
The town trail consists of 7 information posts and 21 pavement markers around Clare. The accompanying booklet provides an excellent guide to the history of the town’s buildings, along with information about the Park, Priory and parish church. Copies are available from the Park’s visitor centre, as well as from the library, book shop, Blue Dog and newsagents. There is also an audio version which gives additional information and this can be listened to below.
The visitor centre also houses a fascinating video of the history of the Park and railway at Clare, voiced by Clare residents including those who travelled on and worked at the station. Take a look at our visitor centre information for more details and a link to the video.
The trail introduces visitors to many of Clare’s most interesting buildings, focusing on the built heritage. These range from the Castle in the 11th century to timber framed buildings from the 15th to 17th centuries and others with Georgian or Regency facades. The trail begins in the inner bailey of the castle and takes visitors through the Park and town centre, down Clare’s grandest street, across the Stour on a very early iron bridge and back into the Park along one of the railway walks beside the river. We highly recommend allowing the 1 – 1.5 hours to walk the town trail when you visit the Park.
The atmospheric Priory adjoining the Park, mother house of the Augustinians in England, is well worth a visit in its own right. Founded in 1248, it remains a religious house today as well as the local Catholic church. It is the final resting place of a number of prominent nobles, including Joan of Acre, daughter of Edward I. Visitors who are respectful of the site are very welcome to experience its historic buildings and serene atmosphere, and to visit the church and shrine.
For more about Clare see www.visit-clare.co.uk