The 1800's

William White’s directory of 1848 that Manningtree then had a weekly corn market and a Whit Monday fair. ‘Its parish is remarkably small, containing only about seventeen acres of land and 1,255 inhabitants. A small market for corn etc is held every Thursday, in the High Street; and a fair for toys and pleasure on Whit Thursday.’

There was the London coach called Defiance that started from Harwich, called at the White Hart every day at noon, then travelled to London via Colchester, Chelmsford and Brentwood. According to the Royal National and Commercial Directory of 1839, it returned in the late evening, calling at the White Hart ‘every night at ten’. Such was the rate of travel that it must be assumed that there were in fact two coaches, one running each way. A number of more local coaches operated from the resident’s houses and also the Rose and Crown, the King’s Head, the Red Lion and the Packet Inn (now Townsend’s in the High Street). Many of these coaches also served as part of the rudimentary postal system of the time.

The best way to get goods from Manningtree and Mistley to London was by sea from Mistley Quay. The regular trading vessels were the Sarah Ann, Telegraph, Sisters, Lovely Nancy, Two Brothers, Little John, Manningtree Packet, Deborah, Traveller, Lark, Lydia, Friends’ Increase, two vessels both called Good Intent, one a sloop and the other a schooner, Friendship, General Elliott, Mary and the Despatch.

The Telegraph was owned by Golding Constable, the miller of East Bergholt, Flatford and Dedham as well as the father John Constable. John Constable (1776-1837), who was at nearby East Bergholt, was commissioned by Edward-Daniel Alston of Manningtree (a distant relative) to paint “The Risen Christ” for St. Michaels and All Angels Church in Manningtree High Street. The Church survived from 1616 to the late 1960’s when its timbers were destroyed by woodworm, but the painting is now relocated to Dedham Church.

In the River

To many people Mistley is inseparable from the sailing barge and the name Horlock is synonymous with the Mistley waterside. There was a Richard Horlock among the local ship-owners in 1848, though the family had come to Mistley not many years before from the Rettenden area of south Essex. In the course of the 19th century the Horlock family thrived, and the Mistley economy thrived with them.

Richard Horlock entered Excelsior, built at Ipswich by William Bayley, in the new class for barges introduced into the Thames match in 1868. It is said that Richard’s two sons had time to tar only one side of the barge in preparation for the race, the other side being still dirty when she sailed home first in class. It was the beginning of a long run of racing successes for the family.

There were many mariners in the Lucas family. Many sailing from Harwich. Most held Masters Certificates, { link } it was not uncommon  to find them scattered around the country on census returns.  Several missed one all together, presumably they were on the open seas.  In later years there was a larger concentration on local fishing and river navigation.0

The Railway

When the railways passed close to Manningtree on its journey from Colchester to Ipswich in 1846 a station was opened a mile from the town. It is generally thought that the railways brought prosperity, but writing nine years after the railway came Joseph Glass paints a different picture. He talks of how many people had made an ‘ample living’ chiefly from the coasting trade, with freights of coal and corn being carried by many ships and with good wages for the sailors, mates and captains, and the families of the ‘fishing trade’. Little wonder then that at the time Manningtree, Lawford and Mistley could support almost 50 public houses and private beer houses – most since gone as drinking establishments but many of the buildings survive to this day some with still in their original role.  The railway shot to fame in the early years of the 20th century, when a nun from the Abbey at nearby East Bergholt absconded, chased by a band of fellow nuns in a pony drawn cart. They court  up with her on the station approach, and tried to return her to the Abbey. The station master seeing what was happening pointed out that they were on railway property, refusing to let her be taken he lead her to the safety of the station. The book of the event was a best seller at the time. The local conundrum states ‘Manningtree station, built in Lawford on Mistley soil’


Like many towns around the country the 1970’s saw significant redevelopment in Manningtree. One shop that caused controversy was that of Percy Bloom. This business that dealt in ironmongery, leather and fancy goods, handbags and watches had a history of 200 years. Several people wanted the building preserved and at one point it was listed as a building of historic or architectural interest, but as time dragged on and the building became more dilapidated preservation became unrealistic. A number of houses and flats known as Bendalls Court, named after the family who ran the nearby iron foundry, appeared on the site, and on the other side of Colchester Road, where there was also a number of small shops that were swept away, College Court was erected. A plaque in the wall by the Zebra Crossing explains that College Court and College Square take their name from an educational institution ‘erected at the sole expense of Mrs Cox of Lawford Place’ in 1866.  Further up Colchester Road, Ironside Walk, a group of senior citizen’s homes, pays tribute to the site of the ironworks itself that closed in 1971.

 Even today the weavers’ cottages and malting buildings are evident and some of the malting industry still remains.
During the “Cold War” in 1951 a secret nuclear bunker to protect MoD staff and government officials in the event of an enemy attack was built underground on the edge of the woods in Mistley. It was eventually decommissioned and sold off in 2003 but it was briefly opened to the public as a visitor centre. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s the standing joke was that everyone locally was fully aware of the  ‘secret’

Flood of 1953

In the old days there was no sea wall, during big spring tides the water frequently came over the sand and crept up Quay Street and up into South Street. Much of Quay street was occupied by branches of the Lucas family, together with their boats, net drying frames on the sandy beach opposite.

On the 31st January, 1953, a north westerly gale, combined with low pressure and a high spring tide, built up a huge amount of water in the North Sea causing enormous damage and many deaths. At Manningtree the water lifted boats on to the road and flooded its way up Quay Street, round the corner into South Street, and up to the Market Cross. In the 1970’s the wall was built to prevent this happening again and following a further scare in 1978 the sea wall was heightened even further and the road raised

Boundary Changes

By the corner of Mill Lane and Brook Street is a plaque in the wall mentioning that in 1871 the boundary between Manningtree and Lawford was close to that location. In 1977, when there was insufficient money for such a small town to meet its commitments, Manningtree asked adjoining parishes for an adjustment of the boundaries to give it a more viable area. At first Manningtree wanted the town limits to reach the railway bridge in Station Road, but a compromise was made to the point where the ‘Welcome to Manningtree’ sign now stands. On the other side of town the request was for the boundary to reach further east, to No. 4 The Walls. These changes were duly made on the 1st April, 1981. Up to this point Manningtree was undisputedly the smallest town in England.