Colour photo of Flatford Mill

Flatford Mill today

Abram Constable Snr - Mill Owner 1742-1768

In 1742 Abram Constable (John’s father’s uncle) bought Flatford Mill from Matthew Isaac who had owned it from 1731. Two millers were already working there at that time, Henry Crush and Samuel Lamb. 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 still in post.

Flatford Mill would originally have been built out of wood. Abram rebuilt and repaired the buildings so what we see today is largely the result of his work.  An inscription at the back of the Flatford Mill bears Abram and Isabel’s initials  ‘AIC 1733’ although due to erosion of the stone, it often looks like ‘1753’. As the mill was not owned by the Constable family until 1742 and Abram Constable did not finish the rebuilding until 1753 this plaque is to mark the completion of his building work.

Although the inside of Flatford Mill has since been modernised to provide student accommodation, much of the exterior is unchanged from Abram’s time.

Features of Flatford Mill

Abram Constable Senior's Mill

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. 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. 
  • 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).

How the millstones turned

  • Water was fed from the River Stour into culverts through two entrance arches
  • The force of the running water drove the waterwheels round and this motion provided the power to activate the mechanical shafts and hoists which turned the millstones 
  • The ‘used’ river water was fed outside into the mill pond via two exit arches which can still be seen today 

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 second lucam opening on the opposite side of the mill overhanging the river from where flour was lowered into waiting barges (also called lighters)

Golding Constable - Mill Owner 1768-1815

Golding Constable by John Constable

Golding Constable inherited Flatford Mill from his uncle Abram (Senior) Constable

Although Golding Constable continued to operate the mill very much as in his Uncle Abram Constable’s time, his 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. 

Golding Constable 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. 

Abram Constable Junior's Mill -1816-184

Abram Constable (Golding’s youngest son and John Constable’s brother) took over Flatford Mill when his father died in 1816.

In 1846, Abram sold Flatford Mill for 2,000 guineas to William Rufus Bentall and Stephen Durrant Lott. This marked the end of Constables’ ownership of Flatford Mill.

Portrait of Abram Constable painted by his brother John Constable

Abram Constable by John Constable

Links with John Constable

Scene on a Navigable River (detail) 1817 - Tate Gallery

Flatford Mill, Scene on a Navigable River 1815-16


John Constable delayed his wedding in order to complete this picture. Painted in 1815-16 it shows the mill buildings virtually as they look today. 

This painting is owned by the Tate Gallery in London. For more information via a link to the Tate Gallery please click Flatford Mill, Scene on a Navigable River

Flatford Mill from Willy Lott's House (detail from a sketch) by John Constable 1811

Flatford Mill from Willy Lott's House 1810-11

Part of the Paul Mellon Collection, this sketch painted in 1810-11 is the only one showing the edge of Willy Lott’s House and the water outlets from the mill into the millpond. The lucam has since been moved to the road side but its original position can be clearly seen. For more information via a link to the  Paul Mellon Collection please click  Flatford Mill from Willy Lott’s House 

In addition to the above Constable painted a series of sketches called Flatford Mill from the Lock around 1811. The various versions of the sketches and the finished paintings are owned by various people. For more information on the sketch owned by the   Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  please click  Flatford Mill from the Lock