Manningtree is an attractive small town on the banks of the River Stour, close to the border with Suffolk. It is believed by many to be the smallest town in England, although there is some dispute around the claim. It is thought that the name derives from “Two-Trees”.
Manningtree became popular during the wool trade of the 15th century, along with other Essex and Suffolk towns such as Colchester, Lavenham and Long Melford. After the decline of the wool trade it developed as a port, and there was also some ship building.
The High Street which runs parallel to the River Stour is lined with a range of timber framed buildings many of which have Georgian fronts. On the Market Cross in the High Street is a sculpture of the Manningtree Ox, mentioned by William Shakespeare in Henry IV Part 1 when young Prince Henry is teasing the overweight Falstaff.
There are a number of pubs and restaurants and a few shops on the High Street. But do explore the streets either side of the High Street as there some interesting buildings hidden away.
The River Stour marks the border between the counties of Essex and Suffolk. As it flows past Manningtree it is tidal, and it is popular with both sailors and fishermen (and swans). The river narrows and heads towards nearby Flatford, where it was regularly painted by John Constable.
The most famous Manningtree resident (if you don’t count Margaret Thatcher) was Matthew Hopkins, the self styled ‘Witchfinder General’. He accused hundreds of women across the East of England of being witches. He was active between the years of 1645 and 1647, a time of great political and social upheaval in England. He lived in Manningtree and nearby Mistley. He accused many local women of witchcraft, Some were imprisoned in Colchester and sent to Chelmsford for trial. However a group were hung on The Green just behind the High Street. For those interested in the macabre its still an atmospheric place to stand. If you are interested in Matthew Hopkins, Josie, one half of Essex Days Out, leads guided walks of Manningtree and Mistley which include stories of Matthew Hopkins.
Getting there and getting around.
The railway station is on the mainline London Liverpool Street to Norwich line, and the intercity trains stop there, as do trains to and from Ipswich and Harwich. The railway station at Manningtree is on the outskirts of the town, but it’s just a short walk from the station to the town centre and then on to the River Stour and Mistley.
By road Manningtree is easily accessible via the A120 taking the turning at Horsley Cross when travelling from either London or Harwich. For a more scenic and historic route you can reach Manningtree from Colchester via the Harwich Road (A137) from the town centre (keep an eye open for a giant strawberry by the roadside as you leave Ardleigh).
A stroll along The Walls, as the banks of The Stour are known at this point, from Wherry Corner to adjoining Mistley is very popular at all times of the year. There are excellent views across the river to the foreign lands of Suffolk and it is also an excellent spot for bird watching, and taking photographs.
Manningtree is on the edge of the Dedham vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is good walking country, taking you across countryside made famous by the artist John Constable, and along the banks of the River Stour.
A popular walk is from Manningtree to Flatford, whee you can stop for refreshments in the National Trust Bridge Cottage Tearoom and take in the scenes made famous by Constable in some of his paintings, before returning to Manningtree, or you can continue your walk on to Dedham and East Bergholt.
If you arrive by train you’re only a few minutes away from lovely countryside – either heading towards Mistley and Wrabness (and ‘Julie’s House’) to the east, or around Constable Country to the west. If you drive with your bike on a rack, park up in the public car park outside The Co-operative Store and head out into the countryside.