Clare is fortunate in its historic buildings. Over 130 English Heritage listings include six that are Grade I, and 11 that are Grade II*. The most interesting are from the 15th and 16th centuries owing their size and interest to the cloth trade when it was vibrant. Exterior exposed beams and jettied upper floors characterize these timber-framed buildings, although a number of jetties have been filled out, or the buildings have been refronted in the 18th century, so that their original exteriors are no longer readily visible. Many also have exposed beams on the inside, often with ornamental carving in the running-leaf pattern. It is debated whether some had come from the Castle once it began to delapidate at the early 16th century. Exterior carvings include heraldic carving at the Ancient House, with perhaps the most interesting at The Swan on High Street. Its nine-foot oak ‘pub sign’ was once probably the sill to an oriel window in the Castle. Its heraldry relates to the marriage in 1405 of the parents of Richard, 3rd Duke of York, whose mother descended from the de Clares and father from King Edward III. Richard was the father of Edward IV and Richard III. The relationship of Richard III to the de Clares is commemorated in the ruins of Clare Priory, the burial place of some de Clares.
Clare’s timber-framed buildings provide the visitor with interesting architectural details–Tudor brick chimneys, carriage entrances, and abundant examples of pargeting, the 16th/17th-century technique of decorative plastering. Clare Ancient House is one of Suffolk’s most frequently photographed pargeted buildings; its timber-framing is only visible inside when the Museum it houses is open. Structurally, many buildings are ‘hall houses’, sometimes with cross-wings at the left and right. Saddler’s Cottage at the southern end of Market Hill is a good example. The Old Library on Callis Street now has only its southern cross-wing, after the rest of a very large mansion fell down some time ago. Every house in Clare has its story, and most have had several different uses over the centuries.