Dedham High Street
The beautiful village of Dedham stands on the south bank of the River Stour, on the border between Essex and Suffolk. The High Street is lined with lovely examples of Georgian and timber-framed houses. This is Constable Country, home of one of England's most beloved artists. Constable was born at nearby East Bergholt, and attended school at Dedham. The scenery in and around Dedham featured in many of his later paintings, including his famous paintings of Willy Lott's cottage and Flatford Mill, just over a mile downstream from Dedham. A very nice path leads across the fields to Flatfford, now owned by the National Trust. Constable's father owned Dedham Mill, though the mill building we see today is much more modern.
Dedham was mentioned in the Domesday Book, and for much of the late medieval period it was a centre of the wool trade. The wealth generated by the wool trade and especially by the late medieval cloth trade paid for the beautiful church of St Mary's, begun in 1492 to replace a much smaller early medieval building. A rare religious painting by Constable entitled The Ascension, is on display inside St Mary's. It was commisioned by the artist's cousin, who reneged on the contract before the painting was finished.
The wool trade declined after 1500, and Dedham forged a new identity as a centre of academic excellence. Elizabeth I granted a license for Dedham Grammar School in 1575 and many prosperous families settled in the village so their sons (not daughters yet!) could attend school here. Centuries later the school's most famous pupil was artist John Constable, whose father owned several mills in the area. Another popular grammar school was Sherman's. A descendant of Sherman's founder emigrated to America in 1635 where he helped found the town of Dedham, Massachusetts. A commemorative pew to the American Dedham stands in the parish church.
Constable walked acros the fields every day from his family home in East Bergholt to attend school in Dedham. The scenery he passed along the way made an indelible impression on young Constable, and he later wrote that it was the scenery around his home that made him a painter.
One of the more popular visitor attractions is the Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum, located in historic Castle House. Munnings, famous for his paintings of horses, served as President of the prestigious Royal Academy for 40 years, and lived and worked in this lovely red-brick house. Other historic buildings in Dedham include Southfields, a lovely timber-framed building erected in 1125, and the Assembly Rooms, built around 1744, making it among the earliest purpose-built Assembly rooms in England.
once owned by Constable's father
Dedham balls were held here 3-4 times a year, and by the early 19th century had gained fame throughout the county. Sometimes that fame descended into notoriety, however, as Horace Walpole wrote a tongue-in-cheek comment in 1748 about a squabble at the Hall that "is capable of involving all Europe in a new war". Then there is the manor house of Dedham Hall, a secluded enclave half-hiden behind hedges on the edge of the village.
I adored Dedham. The village is busy in summer, but my word it is lovely. There are a beautifiul mix of Georgian houses and timber-framed inns. The Perpendicular church of St Mary is a gem. I took the obligatory stroll across the fields to Flatford Mill and East Bergholt, following in the footsteps of John Constable. Its a lovely walk, and I highly recommennd it if the weather is good. On a long summer afternoon the river is idyllic, and you can see why Constable was drawn to paint these rustic scenes again and again!
St Mary's church - 1492
Southfields - 1125-1550
Dedham Royal Grammar School
Sherman's school house
Assembly Rooms (Hewitt Hall) 1750
Castle House (Sir Alfred Mannings Art Museum)
Dedham Arts and Crafts Centre and Toy Museum
Constable's Birthplace, East Bergholt