Alstons Brewery

Established by Daniel Alston originally from Diss, Norfolk. The Brewery in the High Street was where the Post Office sorting office and Barclays Bank now stands.

Edward Alston commissioned John Constable ( a cousin by marriage) to Paint an altar piece for St Michael’s Church, further up the High Street (now also demolished)for £200.

It is understand that Edward had problems obtaining licences for his Public Houses (The Packet Inn was one) The local bishop was responsible for awarding the licences and Edward believed this would please him and help receiving the licences. When this had not effect Edward cancelled the commission half way through. The Constable family donated the painting anyway.

The Brewery was later taken over by Daniel's of Colchester and has since been demolished and redeveloped.

The Wool Trade

From early times wool was the single most important product of Suffolk, centred around Bury St Edmunds (The family's home town) . The Lucas family must have benefited greatly from the huge profits being made. However the wool trade had it’s downs as well as it’s up times. Wars on the continent were one of the main factors in the fortunes of the trade; sometimes exports were encouraged, at other times they were forbidden.  Manningtree was in it’s own right a centre of this profitable trade. Apart from Manningtree’s direct involvement in cloth production, inland villages such as Lavenham, Kersey and Sudbury were major producers. Much of their exports would have been floated down the Stour in small barges and then  transferred to larger vessels as the river becomes a tidal estuary at the town.

The Lucas  family strengthened their hold, trading in the distribution of woollen goods to the continent. There is a record that ‘John Lucas [born in  1355] ‘Cloth Merchant of Manningtree’  sent goods via Harwich in 1388 on board The Anne. At one time the family occupied New as well as Old Hall, Mistley. It is worth pointing out that these Halls would have been very modest compared to the later grand Hall built by the Rigby’s. William Lucas was caught smuggling.

The River Stour Navigation

An Act of Parliament was passed in 1705 to make the river navigable from Sudbury to Brantham, by the building of thirteen pound locks, or 'stanks', in the East Anglian dialect, and two flashlocks. These were at Great Cornard, Henny, Pitmore, Bures, Wormingford, "The Swan" Wiston, Nayland, Horkesley, Boxted, Langham, Stratford, Dedham, Flatford and Brantham. There were twelve toll stages. The river was twenty three and a half miles from the quay to Brantham lock, and twenty six miles in all, measured to Mistley Quay. The presence of flashlocks was strange, if all were built at the one time, and suggests that the flashlocks were part of an already-existing navigation over at least a section of the Stour.

One hundred 'proprietors' or 'Undertakers' were appointed to supervise and fund the operation. Work was started in July 1708, and was completed ahead of schedule, in 1713. There then commenced around two hundred years of successful navigation.

From the start, there was a good trade downriver in beans, wheat, barley, malt, and woollen goods, which were then transferred to larger vessels, usually Thames barges, at Mistley and Manningtree. To this cargo was added flour from the various mills on the route, which prospered greatly by the trade. Increasingly, bricks from Cornard and Ballingdon, and both chalk and lime from Cornard was shipped by barge. For the return journey to Sudbury the barges carried large quantities of coal, which had been shipped to Mistley from the north, woad for the woollen industry, oil, glass, tallow, paper, as well as quantities of iron and lead. It was with this platform that the Rigby era flourished. The transportation of wheat north and returning south with coal was known as the ‘black and white trade’

In 1919 the F.W. Horlock Ocean Transport Company began to layout a shipyard on the land to the east of the quay and began the building of steel ships. The first to be launched from the yard was the steam coaster Phaeacian, which went down the ways in 1920, followed in 1922 by a similar vessel named Mistley. The first steel barge to come off the yard was the Repertor in 1924, followed the next year by the Portlight and in 1926 by the Xylonite, which was used to carry acid to the British Xylonite factory at Brantham. The steamer Arete, at 898 gross tons was the biggest vessel ever built at Mistley, was laid down alongside the Portlight in 1925, though it is said that the plates were brought from Lowestoft in the firm’s barges. Other barges built in the same yard were the Adieu, Reminder, Resourceful and Blue Mermaid, launched in 1930, the last sailing barge to be built. The Blue Mermaid met a violent end, being blown up by a mine off Clacton during the Second World War. [ The ships mate, George Lucas died on board] A replica of the Blue Mermaid is currently being built at Maldon, Essex .  The barges built at Horlock’s yard were distinctive in design and could be easily recognised by the barge fraternity when seen at sea; they were built to carry large cargo, but they were also very fast.

The Maltings – Norman and Brooks

One of the major purchasers of the Rigby estate was Edward Norman, who had been a tenant of the family for a good many years. A member of a local family, he was a maltster and coal and corn merchant and head of a business that in the course of the early 19th century attained pre-eminence in the Mistley area. He was about 30 when he built a malting on land belonging to the Rigby family at the west end of the Walls, close to the Manningtree boundary. Many of these buildings can still be seen but are now converted into residential properties.

In 1819 Norman had a large house, Mistley Place, built for him just to the east of his maltings complex, and there he brought up his family. And by the late 1800’s descendents owned much of the Rigby estate. In the 1860’s Canon Norman – a nephew, had become a canon of St Alban’s by then – gave a piece of land for the building of a new parish church to take the place of the Rigby church, which was suffering badly from dry rot that it had to be demolished, leaving only the two towers that still stand to this day.

In his will Edward Norman made a generous bequest to his ‘loyal clerk’ William Brooks, who also received all the farm and malting utensils. William had clearly begun business on his own before Norman’s death, for by 1859 William had acquired granaries on Mistley Quay, where there were mills and a private rail siding, and in 1863 he set up the company of W. Brooks and Sons. The company, which was in the business of buying and selling grain and agricultural produce and also farming, expanded in the early 1900’s, but more on that in the next section
After the 1914-1918 war Mr Hilton Brooks, who had
built up the Maltings firm in the late 19th century, and Mr Charles Brooks began more expansion, with the chief activities being malting, the production of animal feed and the marketing of fertilisers and agricultural seeds. When Charles Brooks died in 1927 the company was reorganise, with the many farms being sold off and the company becoming known as Brooks (Mistley) Ltd.

Brooks made foods in various forms for cattle, pigs, horses, lambs and dogs. Brooks were pioneers in the 1920’s and 30’s of dairy cubes, which were made by mixing various ingredients with molasses and pressing the resulting material through die to make a cube or nut. Brooks were famous for their GB Cow Cubes, made to a recipe of Grosvenor Berry, a farmer from Mount Bures. Another well-known cube was known as the KM, after Keith Miller. In the 1930’s cow cubes were sold for £7 per ton. The company won many prizes for fat cattle fed on GB and KM Cow Cubes.

Brooks had their own pedigree Red Poll herd at Trinity Farm in Trinity Road, where Trinity Farm Court now is. Here there was a dairy producing milk that was sold by milkmen operating a round in the local area.

In the 1920’s Attfield Brooks joined the family business, and in the 1930’s the company expanded the agricultural seeds division, building new silos on the quay in 1935. Brook’s two sites, at the west end of Mistley Quay and at the Manningtree end of Mistley employed about 400 people at its zenith, with many employees coming by bus from as far away as Dovercourt. It is said that ‘if an employee’s son joined the Boy Scouts and the church choir, he would be offered a job for life’. In 1962 the company was taken over by Rank Hovis McDougall, who in 1967 closed the maltings and the mills on the quay, and in 1970 demolished Mistley Place. After changing hands again in 1983 the site finally closed in 1995 after a fire destroyed the silos at the main yard. The site now contains new housing encompassing Kiln Lane, the Central Maltings, and Brooks Malting. Large parts of the Mistley works are also converted into luxury apartments. But at both locations the history is still clear to see if you look.

Iron Foundry

1833 saw the formation of the Iron Foundry in Colchester Road. The ironworks, which was technically in Lawford, was run, in later years, by Robert Maxwell Fitch, who termed himself engineer, iron and brass founder. Besides being general engineers and manufacturers or agricultural machinery and all kinds of metal work, the firm also specialised in deck machinery for sailing barges. The leeboard winches on some barges can still be seen with the name Fitch, Manningtree, picked out in white paint.

Originally the foundry was run by successive generations of the Bendall family, with a history going back to at least the 1830’s. The area still hints to its past with names such as Bendalls Court and Ironside Walk.


If you walk down York Street you will come to the site of the old gasworks of the Manningtree and Mistley Gas Company.  Produced as by-products of the gas-making process was coke and bitumen. C. Stone & Son, the coal merchants in Norman Road, had a licence to deliver coke from the gasworks to customers in the area. Manningtree gasworks was built in 1840 at a cost of £1,700, and the gas was available as far away as Manningtree Station. In 1890 gas lamps were put along The Walls, running along the riverside between Manningtree and Mistley, and in the streets of Mistley. The gas street lamps were not lit for two days before and two days after full moon, people being expected to see their way around by moonlight.

If you look on the north side of York Street you will see an old wall constructed of gasworks clinker. And ahead is a path whose name, Gasfield, seems to bring a whiff of that long-gone gasworks.

‘The Factory’

In 1887 “British Xylonite Limited” (BXL) re-located its factory from Homerton in East London to the Brookland’s Farm site in Brantham on the opposite side of the river. It was supplied with large quantities of acid in a specially constructed vessels made at the Mistley shipyard. What is little known is that a plastics material of similar composition has been manufactured in England ever since 1869 under the name of ‘Xylonite’ making Bakelite - simply known locally as ‘The factory’ .

It was at the forefront of the modern plastics industry. Margaret Thatcher PM worked at their research facilities in Lawford Place before becoming  Prime Minister. The Factory has now been demolished and waiting future redevelopment. Apparently the ground is heavily contaminated.

Mistley Shipyard

The Horlock family have operated the yard for many generation and where noted for their Thames Barges, many of which are still preserved.

There is a Roman road that leads down towards Mistley Thorn, It is unlikely the Romans built a road with no use. It is widely believed that Mistley Quay and Boat Yards dates from this time, if not earlier.

During the 18th Century, several small naval ships were built as well as hulls that were floated downstream to be fitted out at Harwich. One such vessel was the Frigate HMS AMPHION built in 1798, for a brief period she was Nelson’s Flagship while HMS Victory was being made ready.