Constable Country is an extremely varied part of Suffolk with many historical and artistic links. Within its boundaries is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and many of its towns and villages are steeped in history, from Boudicea's stand against the Romans, invasions by the Vikings, settlement by the Normans and the early 'industrialisation' created by a thriving wool trade.
The River Stour, one of the longest and most beautiful rivers in East Anglia, little changed over the centuries, winds its way through a wide pastoral and wooded valley to the coast at Manningtree. Inspiration to artists over the centuries, its landscape inspired great works by Constable, Gainsborough, Munnings and Nash. Scenes represented in many of these paintings – The Hay Wain at Flatford Mill – remain familiar to us today. With delightful village pubs, fine restaurants, peaceful country walks and cycle paths this is an area to explore at a leisurely pace.
The pretty market town of Hadleigh, from the Norse – Haethlega – a heath-covered place - has evidence of 1st century occupation in the remains of a Roman villa on the east of the town and of a 5th century pagan Saxon settlement in the area around George Street. The ninth and tenth century saw occupation by Viking settlers. From then on Hadleigh's prosperity grew with the development of the wool trade in mid Suffolk. The inheritance for us is a wealth of fine medieval houses; the 15th century grade 1 listed Guildhall and Deanery Tower.
In the Dedham Vale AONB very little has changed over the past two centuries. In the village of Dedham itself the village retains a delightful mixture of Tudor framed buildings and Georgian fronted town houses. A paradise for artists, it was home to Sir Alfred Munnings, famous for his equine paintings, and being President of the Royal Academy from 1944 to 1949.
Stratford St Mary is the southern most village in Suffolk important since Roman times as a crossing point of the river Stour – Stratford St Mary means ‘street over the ford’. There are three fine old pubs, including The Swan, in the village from where you can walk down to the river and see the old lock and millpond popularised by Constable’s paintings. Many of the buildings date back to the wealthy days of the wool trade, including The Weavers, a fine example of a 16th century weaver’s cottage, its wide windows designed to maximise the light to enable the weavers to do their work.
The birthplace of John Constable, East Berholt, was a centre for cloth production until the late 16th century, when the wool trade collapsed. Such a sudden downturn in wealth meant that the tower of St Mary's Church was never finished and a wooden bell cage was built in the churchyard instead in 1531 which still remains today.
Flatford is the scene of one of Constable’s most famous pictures, the Hay Wain, showing Willy Lott's house in the background. Now run by the National Trust, the facilities include the Bridge House containing the John Constable Exhibition, Flatford Mill, Willy Lott’s House and Valley Farm, which are leased to The Field Studies Council. The River Stour Trust operate an electric launch for river trips at certain times during the season.