photo of Willy Lott's House and the millpond today in summer time

Early History

Originally part of Gibeon’s Gate Farm, Willy Lott’s House (often referred to as a cottage) is a Grade 1, listed building.  Its Grade I status reflects the historic interest of the building and its extra significance as part of the Flatford Mill group. For more information about Willy Lott’s House listing click British Listed Buildings 

  • In the sixteenth century a single story timber frame was erected that stood alone and may have been used to shelter animals. If you stand in front of the house today, this part appears like an extension on the right hand side of a much larger house
  • In the early seventeenth century a two storey wing was added to the left of the free standing building described above
  • In the late seventeenth century a back range was built that joined the two earlier buildings together – consisting of one storey with attic rooms. A brick bread oven was attached to the right gable end against the chimney stack.The brick bread oven can be seen clearly in Constable’s paintings The Mill Stream and most famously in The Haywain – scroll to the bottom of this page to see details from these pictures.  

For more photographs and postcards of Willy Lott’s House

Willy Lott

Willy Lott (1761-1849) was a tenant farmer who worked the 39 acres around Flatford that made up Gibeon’s Gate Farm. He lived in a house attached to the farmland – John Constable would probably have called it Willy Lott’s House as we do today. In Edwardian times (long after Willy Lott’s death) and despite its large size,  the house became known as Willy Lott’s Cottage.

Willy Lott was born at Valley Farm where his parents (John and Sarah Lott) lived with Willy’s brothers and sisters. He inherited the tenancy of Gibeons Gate house and farm on the death of his father in 1802. Although he could not read or write, Willy made enough money to buy the house and farmland around Gibeon’s Gate in 1825. It is said that during his whole life he only spent one night away from Flatford. He never married, lived with his sister Mary and died in the house at the age of 88 leaving the farm plus about £450 to his sisters, their children and his brother’s children.

Willy Lott’s Family History

Grandparents and parents

  • Willy’s grandparents were English Lott and Mary Butcher and they married in Dedham in 1711
  • Willy’s grandfather moved to East Bergholt soon after their marriage – an estate map of 1731 shows English Lott (Willy’s grandfather) as a tenant of more than 63 acres in East Bergholt including a house and field now known as Valley Farm.
  • English Lott and Mary Butcher had five children, including John (Willy Lott’s father).
  • Willy’s Lott’s parents were John Lott and Sarah Cooper and they married in 1751 – the couple had eight children including two surviving sons, John (Junior) and Willy

Older brother, John

Like Willy, his older brother John was also a farmer who prospered in Flatford. When their father, John Lott died in 1802, John (junior) inherited the lease on the land in East Bergholt, including Valley Farm where he lived with his wife Sarah Durant and their eight children. When John Lott died he left an estate of £5,000.

After Willy Lott’s death

After Willy Lott’s death, census information tells us that residents were John Tricker (1881), Henry Batley – retired (1891 and 1901) and Harry Percy Friswell described as a landscape and figure painter (1911).

Disrepair

The house then fell into serious disrepair. By 1925, Willy Lott’s House was in such a serious state of neglect that it was offered to the National Trust in the hope that it could be rescued. In warning the National Trust against taking it on, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings declared “The cost of putting Willy Lott’s House in repair will be a sum in the neighbourhood of £1750” and advising that the National Trust should only take it on when it had been “repaired and its maintenance guaranteed”

A revival of interest in John Constable in the 1920’s led to some superficial restoration so visitors to Flatford could see the outside of it in reasonable condition and it was at this time that the house was renamed as Willy Lott’s House.

Click here for more information about Willy Lott.

Black and white photo of a derelict Willy Lott's House pre 1926
Newspaper cutting of Queen Mary visiting Flatford and walking past Willy Lott's House 1938

Rescue

Willy Lott’s House and Flatford Mill were eventually bought by Mr Thomas Parkington, a builder and philanthropist in Ipswich. Thomas Parkington agreed to repair and maintain it during his lifetime and to give it to the National Trust on his death, as a tribute to the memory of John Constable. In 1943, Thomas Parkington died in near bankruptcy and the National Trust agreed to buy Flatford Mill from Mr Parkington’s Trustees. However, when Thomas Parkington’s estate was liquidated, it yielded more than expected and Mrs Parkington offered to return the money the National Trust had paid for the house and mill.

In 1946 the National Trust leased Willy Lott’s House, Flatford Mill and Valley Farm to the  Field Studies Council who use the buildings to accommodate school parties, families and individuals wishing study in this unique learning environment.

Links with John Constable

photo of John Constable's The Mill Stram, 1815-16
Detail from The Haywain by John Constable 1820
The White Horse (detail) by John Constable, 1819 - Frick Collection

 

The Mill Stream painted between 1814 and 1815 and owned by Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service. For more information click  Ipswich Art Collection

 

The Haywain (titled Landscape Noon by the artist when first exhibited) painted in 1820 and owned by the National Gallery in London. For more information click the National Gallery link to: The Haywain

 

The White Horse painted in 1819 and part of the Frick Collection in New York and shows the back of Willy Lott’s house in the centre. For more information click the Frick link to: The White Horse