When work began on digging the foundations for the tea room, the River Stour Trust
identified the remains of a dry dock including:
a disintegrating brick floor to the dry dock
three wooden stocks standing on the brick floor - Stour lighters (barges) would have rested on these stocks while being constructed or repaired
the remains of the wooden pipes (called chunkers) allowing water to drain away from the Dry Dock into a ditch (or culvert) on the other side of the river - so making it a dry area in which to work
an old Stour lighter that was much decayed and blackened
Using Constable’s drawings and paintings, the Dry Dock was fully restored in 1988.
The old lighter (barge) was thoroughly inspected before being reburied behind Willy Lott's House - in damp ground to preserve the timbers.
The damaged brick floor was repaired with new bricks manufactured at the Bulmer Brick and Tile Company
in Sudbury. Although Bulmer’s did not make the original bricks, the company supplies hand-made bricks to the National Trust and many other organisations involved in the restoration of old buildings.
The Dry Dock you see today is one of three dry docks that would have operated at Flatford during the boyhood of John Constable. The location of the others is known but only one has been excavated so far.
Links with John Constable
Although the edge of Flatford's Dry Dock appears in a couple of John Constable's landscapes, there is only one painting in which he makes it the main subject.
painted in 1814 and owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.