East Bergholt lies in the heart of the Dedham Vale, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the area often referred to as ‘Constable Country’. It is the birthplace of John Constable and you can still see (from the outside) his studio and the place where his house once stood.
His birthplace was destroyed by fire, but a plaque on some iron railings shows the place where it was.
Although the village of East Bergholt is one of the largest in area, the centre of it is very small with a grocery store and post office and a couple of other shops, pubs and a tea room. It’s also very picturesque.
There is the Old Hall, a large building with over 60 rooms, which is now a small community of people who live together and farm the land, growing organic produce. In the past, this building has been at various times, a nunnery, a manor house, army barracks and a friary.
The Church of St Mary the Virgin is well worth a visit and is open to the public for teas. It was built in the 15th and 16th centuries and has an interesting history. It famously has no tower to house its bells, because Cardinal Wolsey’s fall from grace halted construction of the church in 1530 and so a ‘temporary’ wooden structure was built for the bells until funds could be raised to build the tower. Funds were never raised however, and so the tower was never built. The wooden structure still stands and still houses the heaviest bells that are rung by hand, rather than ropes and wheels. The five bells have a combined weight of 4.25 tons and are still in regular use.
Although the original wooden structure still exists, it’s not in its original position, having been moved from the south to the north side of the church in the 17th century, because of complaints about the noise from the then occupant of Old Hall!
East Bergholt lies on the the Cycle South Suffolk route (leaflet available from the tourist information centres).
Just outside the village is The Place for Plants, an aboretum and garden centre with many unusual trees and plants.
Need to Know…
There is free parking in the village in the public car park next to the Red Lion pub. From here there are several lovely walks across the fields of the Dedham Vale to the village Dedham. Visitors can walk the same route John Constalbe walked every day to school. There is also a footpath that leads down Flatford Lane, to Flatford, where John Costable lived and worked and where he painted some of his most well known work. These include The Hay Wain and Willy Lott’s Cottage.
The whole area is largely unchanged from when John Constable lived here and you can see the scenes that he found so inspirational. In Flatford is the Flatford Mill Field Studies Centre, where courses on botany, art, photography and wildlife are run. The National Trust has a Constable Exhibition, a tea room and gift shop and the RSPB has established a lovely wildlife garden, to show people how to attract more insects and birds into their own gardens.
The car park at Flatford is owned by the National Trust and a parking fee applies for non-members.