Golding Constable 1739-1816

Portrait of Golding Constable by his son John - 1815 - Tate Gallery

For more information about the portrait of Constable’s father please click this link to the Tate Gallery Golding Constable 

Golding Constable was born in East Bergholt. He was a good business man profiting from the agricultural and industrial boom underway during his lifetime but he had a fortunate start in business when he inherited Flatford Mill from his Uncle Abram.

Golding Constable:

  • inherited Flatford Mill and the flour milling business in 1764 from his uncle Abram Constable (who died childless)
  • operated Dedham Mill (which he initially co-owned with solicitor Peter Firman before buying him out)
  • owned the windmill at East Bergholt
  • owned 93 acres of agricultural land in East Bergholt which he farmed
  • owned two Thames Barges operating from Mistley to London

Before the railways reached East Anglia, rivers and canals provided the transport arteries for trade, enabling grain and flour from Suffolk to travel quickly to markets in London. Golding Constable exploited the business opportunities these social changes created by:

  • making full use of a fleet of commercial barges (owned by The Navigation) on the River Stour that transported many types of goods but particularly Suffolk flour and bricks (fired at several brick works at Sudbury) to Mistley Wharf
  • operating two sea going vessels (the Telegraph and the Balloon) in which he transported goods between Mistley Wharf and London
  • operating three dry docks at Flatford where barges (called lighters) could be built and repaired

East Bergholt House

Golding grew wealthy enough to build a mansion which he called East Bergholt House and in 1774 he moved his family into it. John Constable was born in this house in 1776.  It was adjacent to the church and consisted of three floors with stables and a courtyard.

Nothing of the house remains today except the front railings.

Painting of East Bergholt House by John Constable c1811
East Bergholt House, John Constable 1809 - V&A

For more information on the above sketch click this link to the V&A   East Bergholt House

Father's expectations

Although the Constables were prosperous, upwardly mobile and anxious to ensure their children were well educated, there were no artists in the family.  Golding considered John’s pursuit of painting to be a waste of time and expected him to join the family firm on leaving school. Traditionally, eldest sons shouldered this responsibility, leaving the younger sons (like John) to pursue individual careers. However John’s older brother Golding had a disability that prevented him from assuming this position. So, as the second son, the responsibility fell to John, which he resented and for which he showed no interest nor aptitude.

John tried to meet his father’s expectations and for seven years worked in the family business. It was only when his younger brother Abram expressed an interest in running his father’s businesses that John was off the hook.  Golding then (in 1799) agreed to fund John’s studies at the Royal Academy School. John was by then aged 23.

Death of Golding Constable

Photograph of the grave of Golding and Anne Constable - Constable Family Grave - East Bergholt Church
Golding & Anne Constable's grave in East Bergholt churchyard

Golding did not live to see his son’s success and fame.When he died on 14 May 1816 he was aged seventy seven. He was buried in the family grave alongside his wife and other family members in East Bergholt Churchyard.

The family home (East Bergholt House) was sold and the proceeds divided into six to provide capital for each of his children.

Before he died, Golding drew up a legal agreement to protect his children which meant that all six were given equal shares in his assets. Four of his children were still living in the family home at this time.

Golding’s youngest son Abram took over the running of the family business on behalf of his brothers and sisters.

Abram’s work provided each of Golding’s children with an annual income of about £200. 

The Constables and the Stour Valley

Golding Constable’s family had lived in the Stour Valley  for generations as general farmers and probably as millers too.

  • great great grandfather William, was born in nearby Boxted (date not known) and died in 1667
  • great grandfather John was born in Little Bromley and died in 1701
  • grandfather Hugh was born in Mount Bures in 1667 and died there in 1715
  • father, John was born in Bures in 1705 and died there in 1777 – he was a younger son in the family and so he probably had to move to find work, which is why Golding was born in East Bergholt. 

Although the wealth of the Stour Valley had come from  converting wool into cloth, this industry had declined by the time Golding Constable came of age.  The loss of the cloth industry together with the increased mechanisation of agriculture had forced people to leave the land to work in towns. Urban populations swelled, creating a huge demand for flour and bread. The old cloth/fulling mills along the Stour Valley were gradually converted into grain mills to produce flour which was transported by river and sea barge to people living in London. The Stour Navigation became crucial in transporting goods from the countryside to the towns and cities. Golding Constable could service London, the biggest city of all by supplying flour produced in his mills (and other goods produced in the area) to London making use of River Stour river barges and his own sea-going barges which sailed from Mistley Warf.