Pencil and chalk self portrait of John Constable

John Constable self portrait 1799-1804
National Portrait Gallery

Flatford lies within the Dedham Vale in Suffolk, an area of outstanding natural beauty, famous for its historical connections with John Constable RA. Constable was born in nearby East Bergholt. He spent his childhood in Suffolk where his father owned a number of mills including Flatford Mill and ran a string of commercial barges up and down the River Stour.

On this website you can find out more about John Constable and his life at Flatford as a child and young man. You can learn about his parents, brothers and sisters, how he struggled as an artist, how he fell in love, his large family and tragic death of his young wife. You can also find out more about all of the fascinating buildings and installations including:

  • Flatford Mill – a Grade 1 listed watermill
  • Willy Lott’s House – a Grade 1 listed building
  • Valley Farm – a Grade 1 listed building
  • Bridge Cottage – Grade 2 listed building
  • Flatford Bridge and Flatford Lock

The landscapes Constable painted are much the same today as they were then, unspoiled and beautifully maintained by a variety of organisations including the National Trust, River Stour Trust, the Field Studies Council, RSPB and the Environment Agency.

Constable’s most famous landscape is The Haywain which depicts horses and a vehicle crossing the mill pond at Flatford Mill with Willy Lott’s House in full view.

Click here for more information about how to get to Flatford and what is available should you chose to visit.



Born in 1776, John Constable was the fourth of Golding and Anne Constable’s six children. Golding Constable owned Flatford Mill and a fleet of horse-drawn barges transporting goods up and down the River Stour between Sudbury and Mistley Warf. He grew rich and built a mansion for his family which he called East Bergholt House, where John Constable was born.

John Constable enjoyed a happy childhood with his brothers and sisters in East Bergholt and Flatford. No scholar, he attended a grammar school in the nearby village of Dedham where he was encouraged in his sketching and painting of the Suffolk countryside.  On leaving school, John did not go to art college but kept his father’s windmill in East Bergholt because it was assumed that John would follow his father into the family business – but it was not to be.

In his early career, John Constable sold very few paintings because his landscapes were rejected by the art establishment. Constable’s best known painting “The Haywain” remained unsold when it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1821. “The Haywain” shows a simple Flatford scene – Willy Lott’s House, three horses and their driver pulling a cart across Flatford Mill Pond. By depicting ordinary people going about their everyday lives as part of the natural world, John Constable challenged the art establishment and changed landscape painting forever.

Poor sales meant that John could not afford to marry the love of his life Maria Bicknell, the daughter of a London lawyer. The couple endured a stressful, seven-year courtship with both families banning them from seeing each other.  The death of Constable’s parents yielded John a much-needed inheritance enabling him to marry Maria and father seven children of whom he was immensely fond.

A contemporary of Wordsworth, Turner and Beethoven, Constable lived through the American War of Independence, the French Revolution, the rise of Napoleon and the start of the Industrial Revolution.