John Constable was an English painter, famous for his landscapes of the countryside along the Suffolk- Essex border where he lived in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The area has become known as “Constable Country” and my wife S and I were keen to pay a visit as we were staying nearby.
Our first call was to Flatford Mill on the River Stour. The mill was owned by Constable’s father and provided the location of one of John’s most famous paintings “The Hay Wain”. The site is now owned and looked after by the National Trust. After walking down a country lane, we arrived at a small building housing an exhibition on the artist and a copy of the painting. The original hangs at the National Gallery in London. The building also housed other works Constable painted of the area and told us something of his life.
The young Constable was expected to take over the family business and it took some persuading to convince his father to provide him with an allowance to enable him to become a painter. Like many artists, Constable was not commercially successful in his lifetime but became greatly appreciated afterwards. He spent time in London, the Lake District and on the south coast, but it was this region that inspired his best works.
We viewed “The Hay Wain”, before continuing further down the lane to the actual Flatford Mill. The area around smacks of bucolic English countryside and it was easy to see how Constable was inspired to paint.
However, the view shown in the painting has changed considerably in the last 200 years, not by human development but by the growth of vegetation as can be seen below.
We skipped the National Trust tea room as we were planning to visit Dedham. Normally there are boat trips between the 2 locations, but they were not running on the day we were there. We could have walked the 4 mile return journey, following a similar route to Constable himself when he hiked to school there. However, we opted for the car.
We arrived in Dedham and experienced something that I assumed was a rarity in the East of England – rain. A tea room visit couldn’t be delayed any longer. It was approaching lunchtime anyway. After a pleasant sandwich and drink, we emerged into the town to find that it was raining even harder. I crossed the road to look in the parish church, mainly to keep dry. The church tower is included in a number of Constable’s paintings including “Dedham Mill”, “The Vale of Dedham” and “A View of the Stour”. On the south wall of the church is “The Ascension”, one of only 3 religious works painted by the artist.
As we got progressively wetter and wetter strolling around the town, we decided to make a dash for the car. By the time we arrived at the Suffolk town of Hadleigh, the rain had subsided, so we made a quick stop to have a look at the Grade 1 listed Guildhall. Well, we also took the opportunity to buy some local beer at the Adnams shop, but that’s probably not so noteworthy. Nothing wrong with the beer though.
Built in the 15th century, the Guildhall sits adjacent to the churchyard. It was originally built as a market house and wool hall, but later took on the function of Guildhall and Town Hall. It is one of the finest mediaeval buildings in East Anglia, well preserved as the town became impoverished with the decline of the wool trade so it escaped regeneration for later use and remained as a period piece. We couldn’t go inside the building, although it is available to hire for events. So we returned to our accommodaton near Lindsey. A bike ride was waiting for me.
Flatford Mill is in Suffolk, England, UK, 11 miles from Ipswich and 14 miles from Colchester. Hadleigh is 8 miles to the north of Flatford Mill
Flatford can be reached by exiting the A12 Ipswich – Colchester road at J31 onto the B1070 southbound. Follow the signs from East Bergholt to a large onsite car park. It is very difficult to access by public transport. Bus services are available to Dedham and boat excursions are usually available to Flatford Mill from there
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