Manningtree/Mistley/Lawford: three linked communities
At its east-, or Mistley end, Manningtree’s narrow High Street makes two huge bends. Suddenly the Stour estuary lies before you. First glimpsed through the roofs of colourful stately houses interspersed with shops and Public Houses is a sky-reflected expanse of mud and water with its birds and bobbing boats. It is this combination of brick, air and wide water that give the town its distinctive flavour. A railway bridge and the odd industrial chimney against green shores suggest a modern centre of small business with its cultural life, music and art in the lap of a nucleus of historic dwellings.
A thriving port in Tudor times, the town grew up round its Market Cross, its wealth supported by the wool trade. Architectural variety makes a rich mixture. John Adam’s quirky Mistley Towers, deprived of their central church rise up close to Mistley’s wharf in the vicinity of Victorian Maltings - some still operative, others restored to swish pads for weekend boaters. While the slim spire of Mistley church is a memorial to the Rigby family who once presided over the area that almost separates the two parishes, Manningtree and Mistley. Today the energy of the place is centred above all in its local market.
Manningtree is one of the smallest towns in England, with a long and proud history. It lies on the river Stour, which is the boundary between the counties of Essex and Suffolk. The river is tidal, and leads into Dedham Vale, the birthplace of John Constable. The countryside is immortalised in many of his paintings, particularly The Haywain. The villages of Mistley and Lawford form part of the Manningtree area, each with their own interesting histories.
There are several coaching inns, dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and some beautiful Georgian houses, reflecting the importance of the town in its heyday.
The fifteenth century Guild Hall has been changed to a restaurant, but the original architecture remains; some of the chimneys on the large houses date back to Elizabethan times. Samuel Pepys also stayed here, and John Wesley founded the Methodist Hall. Other notables include Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General, who carried out some of his notorious trials in the town during the sixteenth century.
Mistley is still a working port where vessels load and unload to Europe and beyond. It is one of the few villages planned by Robert Adam — originally destined to be a spa town to rival Bath. The Thom Inn, built in the seventeenth century, also reputed to have hosted some of Matthew Hopkins’ trials. The Village Green and the Swan Basin are reminders of the way the village was designed and still retain much of their character.
Lawford is also part of the Dedham vale area, and Lawford Hall is associated with King Harold before the Conquest. It was rebuilt in the sixteenth century, and then added to over the centuries. Today it is surrounded by the Norman Church, some cottages, and ancient trees, all overlooking the river Stour.
Manningtree, Mistley and Lawford are three linked villages based on the River Stour, which together form an unspoiled area epitomising rural East Anglia.