Flatford Mill & the Constables

A close-up of the painting of Flatford Mill by John Constable

Flatford Mill has had many owners several of whom were called “Constable”.


1742-1768: mill-owner, Abram 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:
Floor One - the ground floor contained:
  •  two pairs of millstones which were 4 feet in diameter and two ‘undershot’ wooden water  wheels which were 12 feet in diameter and 3 feet wide
  •  each water wheel was housed inside the mill and set within a channel of running water (a  culvert)
  •  water was fed from the River Stour into the culverts through two entrance arches
  •  the force of the running water drove the waterwheels round and this motion provided the  power to turn the millstones, mechanical shafts and hoists
  •  the ‘used’ river water was fed outside into the mill pond via two exit arches which can still  be seen today
  •  the millstones were held within strong timber frames on the ground floor. They were made  up of separate pieces of stone (chalcedonic hornstone imported from France) held  together by plaster of Paris with iron hoops running around their circumference
Floor Two - the upper floor contained
  •  a dry storage space for sacks of grain and processed flour
  •  a hopper and chute by which grain was gravity-fed from the upper floor to the mill stones  on the ground floor
  •  a lucam* overhanging the road between the mill and the millpond, from where grain carried  by farm carts was hoisted to the upper floor via a trap door
  •  a lucam opening on the opposite side of the mill overhanging the river from where flour  was lowered into waiting barges (called lighters)
The date stone built into the back wall of Flatford Mill records the renovating of the mill by Abram and Isabel Constable in 1753. It appears to bear the couples initials and reads ‘AIC 1733’ but it has been tampered with and the ‘1753’ altered to ‘1733’. The mill was not owned by the Constable family until 1742.
*The lucam has since been moved to the road side of the mill but its original position can be clearly seen in John Constable's painting called Flatford Mill from Willy Lott's House, the only known Constable painting of Flatford Mill from this viewpoint.
1768 -1815: mill-owner, Golding Constable
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.
At Mistley Wharf he loaded:
  • his large, coastal Thames barges (the Balloon and the Telegraph) with wheat, barley, malt, flour, bricks, chalk and lime. These barges were powered by sails and traveled round the coast to the London docks
  • his smaller inland barges with iron, oil and coal (which had been transported by sea from Newcastle) for use as domestic fuel to power Sudbury gas and brickworks. He also transported night soil (human and horse!) from London to spread on the Suffolk fields. These smaller, inland barges were called lighters and horses pulled them along tow paths bordering banks of the River Stour

1816 -1846: mill-owner, Abram Constable (junior)
Abram Constable (John’s younger brother) took over the running of Flatford Mill when his father died in 1816.

In 1846, Abram (junior) sold the mill for 2,000 guineas to William Rufus Bentall and Stephen Durrant Lott which marked the end of Constable ownership of Flatford Mill.