Golding Constable

John Constable's father

For generations the Constable family had been part of a Suffolk economy based on sheep and the fulling/manufacture of cloth. However, from 1700 the first part of the Industrial Revolution started to take its toll.

Golding's family lived in the local area for generations. Golding's great great grandfather, William, was born in nearby Boxted and died in 1667 while his great grandfather John was born in Little Bromley and died in 1701. His grandfather, Hugh, was born in Mount Bures in 1667 and died there in 1715 and his father, John, was born in Bures in 1705 and died there in 1777.
As Golding's father was a younger son, he probably had to move to find work, which is why Golding was born in East Bergholt.
From 1700, the first part of the Industrial Revolution started to take its toll as cloth-making moved away from riverside villages in Suffolk and into the north and west of the country. Agriculture became more mechanised and people started to leave the land to work in towns and the urban populations swelled, creating a demand for bread.
Converting wool into cloth was how the Stour Valley had become so wealthy. The old cloth/fulling mills (including Flatford Fulling Mill) along the Stour Valley were gradually converted into grain mills to produce flour which was transported by river and sea barge to people living in London.

Golding Constable was an entrepreneur who:

  • Inherited Flatford Mill and the flour milling business in 1764 from his uncle Abram Constable (who died childless)
  • Operated Dedham Mill (which he initially co-owned with solicitor Peter Firman before buying him out)
  • Owned the windmill at East Bergholt
  • Owned 93 acres of agricultural land in East Bergholt which he farmed
  • Before the railways reached East Anglia, rivers and canals provided the transport arteries for trade, enabling grain and flour from Suffolk to travel quickly to markets in London.

Golding exploited the business opportunities these changes created by:

  • Operating a fleet of commercial barges on the river Stour transporting many types of goods but particularly Suffolk flour and bricks (fired at several brick works at Sudbury) to Mistley Wharf
  • Operating two sea going vessels (the Telegraph and the Balloon) in which he transported goods between Mistley Wharf and London
  • Operating three dry docks at Flatford where barges (called lighters) could be built and repaired
  • Goldings marriage to the daughter of a barrel maker, Ann Watts, in 1767 resulted in a substantial dowry and six children; Ann, Martha, Golding, John, Mary and Abram. Business success enabled him to build a mansion of three floors with stables and a courtyard and in 1774 to move his family into it. He called it East Bergholt House.

Who would take over the Constable business?

A major concern for Golding Constable was who would take over the family business when he died? Traditionally, eldest sons shouldered this responsibility, leaving the younger sons (like John) to pursue individual careers. However, John’s older brother Golding had a disability that prevented him from assuming this position. So, as the second son, the responsibility fell to John, which he resented and for which he showed no interest nor aptitude.
Although the Constables were prosperous, upwardly mobile and anxious to ensure their children were well educated, there were no artists in the family.  Golding considered John’s pursuit of painting to be a waste of time and expected John to join the family firm on leaving school. John tried to meet his father’s expectations for seven long years. He was only relieved of the burden when his younger brother Abram expressed an interest in running his father’s businesses. Abram’s preferences let John off the hook and in 1799 led to Golding agreeing to fund John’s studies at the Royal Academy School.

Death of Golding Constable

  • When Golding Constable died (on 14 May 1816) aged 77, he had drawn up a legal agreement to protect his children which meant that:
  • All six of his children were given equal shares in his assets (four of whom were still living in the family home at this time)
  • The youngest son,Abram, took over the running of the family business on behalf of all six brothers and sisters and not just for himself – his work provided each of Golding’s children with an annual income of about £200
  • The family home (East Bergholt House) was sold and the proceeds divided into six to provide capital for each of his children.
  • Golding Constable was buried alongside his wife in East Bergholt Churchyard. He did not live to see his son’s success and fame.