John Constable

Stour Barge built 1880 by Unknown

Ensign House flag


National Historic Fleet

Cargo Vessel


Stour Barge


Museum: outdoors






Web site








To be confirmed

10.85 feet (3.31 metres)

46.72 feet (14.25 metres)

2.98 feet (0.91 metres)



JOHN CONSTABLE, a River Stour barge, was built in approximately 1880, possibly at Flatford. Stour lighters operated on the River Stour from 1705 until the early part of 20th century carrying a variety of cargoes up and down the river. One of the most important was the carriage of bricks from various brickworks at Sudbury down to the estuary from onward transport to London and elsewhere. Coal was a common return cargo. Uniquely, the lighters operated in pairs, being permanently shackled bow to stern, with the rear lighter being used as a rudder for the pair.

The stern vessel had a single hold with a small cabin at the rear. Each boat was capable of a load of 13 tons, making a total of 26 tons for the pair. They were towed by a single horse, which was trained to leap on and off the foredeck as the towpath changed sides. The crew consisted of a captain and a horseman. The latter was often a small boy who sometimes rode the horse.

The journey from Sudbury to the estuary usually took about 2 days with an overnight stop at Horkesley where a special bothy was provided. The lighters continued to work until the 1914-18 war when they were scuttled in Ballingdon Cut for fear that they might be used by Germans if they invaded. However, two separately owned lighters continued to work on the lower part of the river until about 1938 when they were abandoned.

In 2008, a succesful Heritage Lottery Fund bid allowed JOHN CONSTABLE to be restored as part of the Dedham Vale and Stour Valley project.

Subsequent Developments

  1. May 2013 Vessel visited by NHS-UK team. Source: National Historic Ships UK

Key dates

  1. 1880 Approximate date of build, probably at Flatford
  2. 1915 Scuttled in case of invasion during World War I
  3. 1972 Raised by the River Stour Trust
  4. 1978-1979 Restoration project carried out
  5. 2012 Vessel fully restored as subject of Heritage Lottery Fund bid


  1. 1978 Old Ships, Boats and Maritime Museums - Sullivan, Dick
  2. 1993 International Register of Historic Ships - Brouwer, Norman J
  3. 2013 Classic Boat River Stour Trust - Constable's lighter on the water again


  1. 2008/09 The Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded £977,000 for the Managinbg a Masterpiece Project
  2. March 2012 JOHN CONSTABLE wins Special Commendation in prestigious Mansura Trophy Awards, an international competition recognising innovation in the design, development and operation of marine vessels with hybrid, or all-electric propulsion systems Special Comme
  3. September 2012 Vessel has been restored at a cost of £130,000 courtesy of the Managing a Masterpiece scheme and a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. Apprentices have learned traditional skills for the restoration, managed by the Pioneer Sailing Trust The vessel is
If you are the owner of the vessel and would like to provide more details or updated information please contact

landing strake:

the strake between the binding strake and the top strake