Oil painting of The Mill Stream by John Constable 1814-15 - Ipswich and Colchester Museum Service
The Mill Stream (1814-15) by John Constable owned by Colchester and Ipswich Museums

Research by Simon Gallup

 One of the things I have been looking for is the truth about Willy Lott. I have spent many hours in Ipswich Record Office going through Court Rolls and other documents.

  • Finding information about Flatford is made complicated by the fact that there were four Manors in East Bergholt. 
  • Finding the correct document (roll) is therefore more difficult than might be imagined
  • The Court Rolls that deal with Old Hall in East Bergholt are reasonably complete but for the other Manors (in which buildings including Gibeons Gate Farm and Valley Farm stood) the information is only extracts and covers very limited periods of time.

Some people say that Willy lived in Gibeons Farm for his whole life and I can understand why. His gravestone says “Sacred to the memory of William Lott, who departed this life July 12th 1849, aged 88 years.” Underneath and in a very different style and font it says “He resided at Gibeons Farm, near Flatford Mill in this parish, for all his life”.

Both logic, and HC Lott, who is the Lott family historian, say that:

  • He was born and brought up in Valley Farm, where his father (John Lott Senior) was farming 
  • He moved to Gibeons Farm when his father took it over. We know Richard Chisnel was still farming Gibeons in 1731 so John (Senior) and Willy Lott moved there some time after this date 
  • Willys father was certainly living in Gibeons Farm by 1798 when the Land Redemption tax shows John Lott junior (Willy’s elder brother) occupying Valley Farm and John Lott senior (Willy’s father) occupying Gibeons.

Willy’s older brother, John (junior) married in 1789 and his father left Valley Farm to him and his family.  So it is  logical that Willy and John (senior) would have moved to Gibeons Farm around that time.

The earliest reference to the story I can find to Willy Lott’s accommodation has been in ‘Bits from Bergholt’, which was written in 1875 by the rector, IE George Nelson Godwin. In his publication he said:

“Willy Lott resided in Flatford for 88 years and only slept one night away from his home.”

I think this is correct. Willy Lott’s home was Flatford for all of his life, but he lived in both Valley Farm and the house at Gibeons (later known as Willy Lott’s House) during his lifetime.           

Willy Lotts gravestone as it looks today

Willy Lott's gravestone

The gravestone in East Bergholt Cemetery is strange in the amount of detail it contains. In the mid C19 just the bare details of name, date of death and age would be given as there was no need for extra details.

I have never seen a stone of that age with extra details from that period.

I have discussed this with an expert who thought that the second part of the inscription sounded like a late Victorian addition when tourism started and people from outside the area would be interested in Willy Lott and John Constable.

The last time I went to the Record Office it was very quiet and the staff became interested in what I was doing and they spent a lot of time searching for other documents that might help. The final result is that we could find nothing to confirm or disprove the story that Willy lived at Gibeons all his life.

CONCLUSION:

It is possible, although unlikely, that Willy Lott lived at Gibeons Gate Farm all his life. However he did live at Flatford all his life and during all that time only spent one night away from it.

Simon Gallup November 2017