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.
Milestones in Flatford Lock's History
1705 - River Stour made a navigable river by Act of Parliament - rights to the towpath were overlooked
1708 - Flatford Lock was built - it was turf-sided
1776 - (the year Constable was born) the original turf sided lock was replaced by a wooden lock – this is the lock painted by Constable and all his paintings show the lock in this position
1838 - the first wooden lock was replaced with another wooden lock but in a new position, the old lock stayed in operation while the new one was being built – the position of the new lock remains the same to this day
1926 - the wooden lock was replaced by a concrete construction - it was paid for by Essex and Suffolk Water as a condition of the planning permission to abstract water from the River Stour
1974-5 the concrete lock was restored by River Stour Trust volunteers. The restoration of the lock involved removing tons of mud and silt from the chamber and making the gates watertight
1990 – an automatic gate called a tilting weir (which lies on the lock bed) was installed by the National Rivers Authority to control river levels during the winter floods
1991 – the oak gates and lintels above the concrete lock were replaced by the River Stour Trust
2014 - the oak gates had rotted and were replaced with a hard wood from South America called ekke - by Martin Childs Ltd, working for the River Stour Trust. The oak lintels were in tact and remained in place
Distinguishing features of Stour locks
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.
By the time John Dunthorne painted Flatford Lock in 1814 the lock was in need of rebuilding as nine lintels (or galley beams) had been installed. Although Constable was painting at the same time as John Dunthorne he 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.
Links to John Constable
Because Flatford Lock is now made of concrete, the wooden lintels are not now structurally necessary. They are retained because of the importance of Constable and the effect his life and art continues to exert in the area.
Flatford Lock appears in many of Constable's paintings
Boat Passing a Lock
- painted in 1824 and privately owned. This painting was recently sold by Christie's for £22,441,250.00.