Flatford Bridge was very important for people in Flatford because:
- it was the way people crossed the river to start the walk from Flatford to Dedham
- it was much used by cattle and horse and carts crossing the river from Bridge Cottage to reach the the water meadows that formed part of the Valley Farm estate
After the start of the River Stour Navigation in the early 18th Century, the central section of the bridge had to be widened so that barges could travel safely underneath it. A central vertical support was also needed because heavy weights crossing the unsupported central section of the bridge would have caused stress on the timbers. With the advent of even heavier loads, like a tractors, a second central support was added. Even so, the bridge required constant repair and has been replaced at regular intervals.
Scroll to the bottom of this page to see Constable’s painting of Flatford Bridge.
Short history of Flatford Bridge 1705-present
- 1705 – the Stour Navigation Company was formally created and from then on the company was responsible for the maintenance of the bridges over the River Stour.
- By 1900 the Navigation had no money to spend on repairing the bridges because it was failing and close to bankruptcy.
- In 1907– the bridge was described as ‘fallen into decay’ and there was a proposal to replace it with an iron bridge. Mr H.P. H. Friswell, who lived in part of Flatford Mill, started a campaign to raise support and money for the bridge to be replaced by a traditional wooden bridge. His campaign succeeded and the bridge was rebuilt with 30 tons of English Oak.
- In 1927 – plans were considered to demolish both Flatford Bridge and Fen Bridge and replace them with more modern structures. Fortunately this proposal was overturned by local objectors.
- In 1951 – the bridge was replaced again, this time with Burmese wood and to the original design. This is the bridge that we see today
Flatford Bridge now forms part of the Flatford Buildings Group due to its history and construction. .
Early 20th Century depictions of Flatford Bridge
Links with John Constable
Flatford Bridge appears in several of John Constable’s painting including the two featured below. The bridge in Constable’s paintings is of a lighter construction than the one that spans the river today.
- Flatford bridge today looks similar to the bridge in Constable’s painting, but it has in fact been replaced several times.
- Constable’s bridge has a single central support (to stop it collapsing in the middle by people and animals crossing) and a single handrail
- Today’s bridge is wider, has two central supports and stronger handrails to comply with safety requirements.