photo of Bridge Cottage in Spring sunshine

Early History

Bridge Cottage is timber framed with later additions. Its Grade II* status reflects the historic interest of the building and its extra significance as part of the Flatford Mill group. Click here for more information about the listing of Bridge Cottage –  British Listed Buildings 

There has been a residential dwelling on this site since the 16th Century but buildings of some sort would have existed in previous centuries.  

1725-1750

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 that can be seen on an outside wall between the cottage and the National Trust shop.

1900 - present

Black and white photo taken in 1899 showing two families standing outside Bridge Cottage

Bridge Cottage 1899 showing two families - Suffolk Record Office

In the 19th century, Bridge Cottage was converted into two dwellings to accommodate two families (see image above). 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.

  • By the 1860s the chimney stack had been rebuilt and the bread ovens had been removed
  • By 1890 the current stairs in the northern cottage had been constructed
  • By 1910 the two cottages had been joined together at first floor level
  • By 1965 a dormer window facing west in the southern half had been added
  • In 1985 the National Trust bought Bridge Cottage which was then being used as a tea room
  • In the 1990’s – a permanent exhibition was installed downstairs at Bridge Cottage to tell the Constable story
  • In 2016 – the Constable exhibition was re-designed and housed in the Visitor’s Centre.  Bridge Cottage was fitted with furniture and goods similar to those that families used in the mid 19th Century

Inside Bridge Cottage

Flatford Bridge

The bridge was very important to village life. Because of its history and construction and it now forms part of the Flatford Buildings Group.  Scroll to the bottom of this page and you will see that, although the bridge today looks similar to that in Constable’s painting, the latter has only a single central support and handrail whereas today’s bridge is wider, has two supports and more hand rails to comply with safety requirements.

The following information about Flatford Bridge comes from newspaper reports.

  • In 1907 –  described as ‘fallen into decay’  with a proposal to replace it with an iron bridge.
  • In 1911 –  replaced with a bridge made of 30 tons of English Oak.
  • In 1927  –  plans to demolish and replace with a more modern structure. Fortunately this decision was overturned by local objectors.
  • In 1951  –  replaced again with Burmese wood and to the original design. This is the bridge that we see today.

For postcards and photographs of Bridge Cottage and Flatford Bridge from 1906 to the present

Links with John Constable

During John Constable’s boyhood, the family living in Bridge Cottage were tenants of the Constable family. 

It is likely (although we do not know) that Bridge Cottage was a tied cottage and its occupants probably worked for the Constables in the mill and on the land. Family members might have made a small income from collecting tolls from the lighters passing through Flatford Lock and providing food and drink for the men  on the passing barges along the River Stour between Sudbury and Mistley Wharf. The families living in Bridge Cottage cooked their own meals on a large central fireplace which can still be seen inside Bridge Cottage today.

Bridge Cottage is not a significant feature in John Constable’s paintings but the building can be seen in:

View on the River Stour

Look towards the right side of Flatford Bridge and you can see part of the roof at Bridge Cottage . Measuring 52 by 74 inches, View on the River Stour was painted in 1822.  

Owned by Huntingdon Library and Botanical Gardens.

Constable painting - view of the river Stour near Dedham
John Constable painting - Gone Fishing

Boys Fishing

Look to the right of Flatford Bridge to see Bridge Cottage looking very much as it still looks today. Oil on canvas, and painted in 1813 the painting measures 49 by 40 inches.

Owned by the National Trust – currently housed at Angelsea Abbey