River Stour Trust Vice President, Griff Rhys Jones, re-opened the historic Flatford Lock on the River Stour in Suffolk on Saturday 2 May 2014.
Together with Andrew Richardson, Chairman of the Sudbury based River Stour Trust, who have restored the three-hundred year old lock over the past year, and Ian Bliss Area Manager of the Environment Agency, one of the partners in the project, Griff officially hauled open one of the new £80,000 gates, to allow the first boats through the lock for two years.
He then went on to address over 100 Trust members and members of the public who had gathered at the lockside for the opening. Flatford Lock and its surroundings featured in many of John Constable’s masterpieces of the early 19th Century, and Griff reminded the onlookers that his name, and the idyllic landscapes that he painted are famous the world over, not just in England.
Visiting The Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg he was amazed to find a room dedicated just to Constable’s works, and pointed out that over a quarter of a million visitors come to Dedham Vale every year, from all over the world, to visit the locations of his paintings, many of which remain little changed to this day.
Griff told an interesting tale that the artist himself described late in his life, when he was on the new-fangled train, going back to his home in East Bergholt, and a gentleman opposite tapped him on the knee and asked him if he knew he was now entering Constable Country – almost certainly the first time an area had been described by the name of its local artist.
However Griff, who lives besides the lower reaches of the river, also pointed out that Constable did not just paint pretty scenery. His works were filled with the working people of Dedham Vales going about their daily lives on the land, on the river, and in the local industries. In fact he captured the beginning of the agricultural and industrial revolution that went on to transform this country into the powerhouse of the world.
The river today is still not just about the wildlife. It is a living, thriving waterway, that brings pleasure to tens of thousands of people, and still serves the community. He was reminded of this when he canoed down it recently, and his guide pointed out that he was traveling through the drinking water of Ilford! Water is pumped from the River Ouse in the Fens, which has an excess of it, down the Stour, to supply 30% of the drinking water for Essex.
The re-opening of Flatford Lock marks the next stage of the River Stour Trust’s plans to open up full through navigation on the whole of the river from Sudbury to the sea at Manningtree.
The money for this £80,000 project came from the Trust’s volunteers’ fund-raising activities, together with generous support from Veolia Environmental Trust, Essex Environment Trust, and the Environment Agency.
For more pictures of the opening click here (courtesy of online local guide ‘About My Area’)