Bridge Cottage is a 16th-century thatched cottage in Flatford, East Bergholt, Suffolk. The property is located in the heart of Dedham Vale, a typical Suffolk rural landscape. It is noted as the location for works by John Constable, and presents an exhibition of his paintings. Nestled on the banks of the River Stour, Bridge Cottage features in several of John Constable’s paintings. During John Constable's boyhood, the family living in Bridge Cottage were tenants of the Constable family. Family members collected tolls from the lighters passing through Flatford Lock and may have provided a rest area, beer house and eating place for the families who operated the commercial barge route along the River Stour between Sudbury and Mistley Warf. They cooked their meals on a large central fireplace which can still be seen inside Bridge Cottage today.
Bridge Cottage was constructed as a single dwelling around a timber frame and the gaps between the frame were filled with daub and wattle, a mixture of twigs covered by a plaster made out of mud, straw and animal dung. By the late 17th-century the northern end of the cottage had been constructed although buildings would have existed on the site in previous centuries. Between 1725 and 1750 the southern end of the cottage was added along with commercial bread ovens which were housed in a lean-to extension at the back of the cottage - all that remains of the bread ovens today are a couple of brick arches. In the 19th-century, Bridge Cottage was converted into two dwellings to accommodate two families. Each family lived in a small parlour with access to a bedroom in the attic. One family accessed the attic by a small twisting staircase whilst the other used a loft ladder. Bridge Cottage can be seen in these Paintings by Constable: Boys Fishing, painted in 1813 and owned by the National Trust, Anglesey Abbey (Bridge Cottage can be seen in the distance); View on the Stour near Dedham, painted in 1822 and owned by Huntingdon Library and Botanical Gardens (part of the roof at Bridge Cottage can be seen on the right hand side of this six foot painting)
Flatford Mill, not accessible to the public, has had many owners several of whom were called “Constable”. In 1742 Abram Constable (John’s father’s uncle) bought Flatford Mill from Matthew Isaac who had owned it from 1731. Two millers were working there, Henry Crush and Samuel Lamb. Abram Constable rebuilt the mill in 1753 and although the inside has since been modernised to provide student accommodation, much of the exterior is unchanged. During Abram's time, Flatford Mill operated between two floors. Abram and his wife Isabel had no children and when they died, they left Flatford Mill to their nephew Golding, John Constable’s father. Golding Constable inherited the mill with resident miller Henry Crush. He continued to operate it very much as in Abram Constable's time but Golding's business ambitions far exceeded those of his uncle. Golding Constable was an entrepreneur. He owned flour mills at Flatford and Dedham and a windmill at East Bergholt. He also ran a string of lighters (commercial barges) along the River Stour running between Sudbury and Mistley Wharf and two sea-going Thames barges running between Mistley Wharf and London. Abram Constable (John’s younger brother) took over the running of Flatford Mill when his father died in 1816.
The installation of Flatford Lock, along with other locks along the River Stour, increased local prosperity, especially that of John Constable's father, Golding Constable, a Suffolk entrepreneur who owned two corn mills, a windmill, a fleet of lighters and two Thames barges. River Stour locks were unusual in that they did not have balancing beams. These beams were used on locks elsewhere in the country to counterbalance the weight of the gates and stop them falling inwards. However, installing balancing beams along the River Stour meant using land on either side of the river, to which no rights existed, the government having overlooked the need for tow path access when making the river navigable in 1705. As a result, Stour locks deteriorated more quickly than locks elsewhere and lintels were built above the lock gates to help prevent collapse. These lintels became a distinguishing feature of navigation along the River Stour because they did not exist elsewhere. Constable often chose to omit the lintels because they interfered with his sight-lines! Unlike modern locks that have paddles that are operated by a rod connected to a rack and pinion, the locks in the Stour Valley used a method of lifting the paddle with a chain connected to a capstan, hard work and inefficient. This system of lock operation can still be seen at Flatford to this day.
There is level entrance to the shop, tea-room, information centre and Bridge Cottage (uneven floors inside cottage). An Adapted toilet is in the information centre. Disabled car parking and drop-off point. A PMV, wheelchair and golf buggy are available. There is an accessible countryside trail which is suitable for PMV. There is a Braille guide and an Induction loop. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Flatford, East Bergholt, Suffolk, CO7 6UL
Transport: Manningtree (National Rail) then bus or 1.75 miles. Bus Routes : 93, 94, 94A and 796 stop in East Bergholt (1 mile).
Opening Times : Daily 10:30 to 17:30
Tickets : Free
Tel: 01206 298260