Flatford Mill, leased by John Constable's father in 1765, is administered today by the National Trust.

Stour Valley, Suffolk


11th - 13th March 2011

After breakfast Sunday morning, I truly felt that rushing off home seemed pointless and that I would rather enjoy another walk, albeit a sort one. The obvious choice was to head off up the estuary on the Stour and Orwell Walk forming part of the Stour Valley Path, towards Cattawade, as Martin and Maeve's group had done the day before. Martin, who was also off on the same walk we had done though with a relatively small group, indicated that I would enjoy the architecture of Flatford Mill. And he was right! Armed with the Ordnance Survey maps lent to me, I set off along the estuary path, crossing the railway line near Marsh Farm, turning left almost immediately, as the path continues through the industrial part of the town past the sewage works. On the other side of Cattawade, it continues alongside the road leading to East Bergholt for a short distance, before one is able to head off away from it towards the estuary. Much the wetland from the A137 towards Flatford Mill is fenced off from the hiking path to protect it, though it is accessible to twitchers.  At Flatford Mill, I met Gordon Farquhar, who had driven there from the bunkhouse at Brantham Hall. I joined him for lunch at Flatford Bridge Cottage, before returning to the mill to continue taking photographs.







Flatford Mill, East Bergholt, built in 1733.


The 16th century Flatford Bridge Cottage, home to the National Trust, which houses a permanent exhibition of some of Constable's work.


View of Flatford Mill with Willy Lott's cottage on the left.


Hay Wain (1821), painted by John Constable, with Willy Lott's cottage to the left.


John Constable (1776 – 1837) was an English Romantic painter. Born in East Bergholt, a village on the River Stour in Suffolk, he is known principally for his landscape of Dedham Vale, the area surrounding his home—now known as "Constable Country"—which he invested with an intensity of affection. "I should paint my own places best", he wrote to his friend John Fisher in 1821, "painting is but another word for feeling". His most famous paintings include Dedham Vale of 1802 and The Hay Wain of 1821. Although his paintings are now among the most popular and valuable in British art, he was never financially successful and did not become a member of the establishment until he was elected to the Royal Academy at the age of 52. He sold more paintings in France than in his native England. His father was a wealthy corn merchant, owner of Flatford Mill in East Bergholt and, later, Dedham Mill. Golding Constable also owned his own small ship, The Telegraph, which he moored at Mistley on the Stour estuary and used to transport corn to London. He was a cousin of the London tea merchant, Abram Newman. In his youth, Constable embarked on amateur sketching trips in the surrounding Suffolk countryside that was to become the subject of a large proportion of his art. These scenes, in his own words, "made me a painter, and I am grateful"; "the sound of water escaping from mill dams etc., willows, old rotten planks, slimy posts, and brickwork, I love such things." 

The Hay Wain was finished in 1821 and shows a hay wain (a type of horse-drawn, load-carrying vehicle, used for agricultural purposes rather than transporting people) near Flatford Mill on the River Stour in Suffolk, though because the Stour forms the border of two counties, it depicts Willy Lott's Cottage in Suffolk on the left bank and the Essex landscape on the right bank. The Mill was owned by Constable's father, and the house on the left side belonged to a neighbour, Willy Lott (a tenant farmer), who was said to have been born in the house and never to have left it for more than four days in his lifetime. Willy Lott’s Cottage has survived to this day practically unaltered, but none of the original trees in the painting exist today. The water level is also higher, as that area of East Anglia has sunk into the sea by one foot (30 cm) since Constable's time.


Willy Lott's cottage, Flatford Mill, depicted in the Hay Wain painting by John Constable.





Flatford Mill


Flatford Mill, built in 1733, is a Grade I listed building along with Willy Lott's cottage, the 17th century cottage attached to the mill. The mill and cottage, along with the neighbouring Valley Farm, are leased to the Field Studies Council, an environmental education charity committed to helping people understand and be inspired by the natural world. I set off for the return walk by attempting to find a path further inland to the Stour and Orwell Walk path, cutting along Touchy's Lane through Warren's Wood north of the road from Cattawade. Reaching the A137 in Brantham via Brookland Farm, I headed down a lane to Church Farm, passing St Michael's Church in the town, where I picked up a path that led directly down to the railway line, crossing at the footbridge Marsh Farm, as I had done earlier. The walk had taken longer than planned, not least due my usual photographic excesses. It was around 15h00 that I got back to my car and set off on the highway towards Hertfordshire, via Ipswich. Before reaching Bury St Edmonds, it had begun to rain heavily however I was pleased that I had managed to achieve walks both on the Saturday and the Sunday. Though I wouldn't necessarily consider the landscape particularly spectacular, I believe the wetlands of Norfolk and Suffolk offer something unique to the visitor.



Wetlands along the Stour and Orwell Walk in East Bergholt.


Warren Wood in East Bergholt.


St Michael's Church, Brantham.


Along the Stour and Orwell Walk near Marsh Farm

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