Arthur Young (1741-1820) regarded Mistley in Essex as ‘one of the most interesting places to be seen in England’. The first quay was built there about 1720, but in the late eighteenth century the estate, overlooking the Stour estuary, was owned by Richard Rigby (1722-88), whose fortune was derived from plantations in Antigua and Jamaica. Rigby was a notoriously corrupt politician, of whom it was remarked that he left to his descendants ‘nearly half a million of public money’, made in his capacity as Paymaster General to the Forces between 1764 and 1784. The mansion was the setting for orgies that were supposedly enjoyed by politicians. Rigby was an innovative farmer, built hothouses to grow grapes, peaches and pineapples, and planned a sea-bathing spa at Mistley which did not materialise, although he did create a successful port including a wet dock, where trade in corn, coal and lime flourished, and manufactures prospered. He also built an inn and some brick houses. Two porticoed towers of 1776 remain of a church designed by Robert Adam (1728-92). They are now in the care of English Heritage. Moorings were provided for whaling ships, a boatyard built 32-gun frigates and Mistley became one of the principal malting centres in the eastern counties. 

The malting company Free, Rodwell & Co built five large malting complexes between the 1850s and 1904 which served as a showcase for Robert Free’s innovations in malting technology and represented the culmination of the floor malting process, both in scale and technological sophistication. Subsequent new investment in malting was in the pneumatic technology originally developed in France and Belgium. Free lived at The Elms (now Seafield House) in Mistley, and built housing for his workpeople. Some of the imposing buildings that comprised the malting have been demolished since the early 1990s, but others have been adapted as apartments. Small seagoing vessels still do business at the quay and a modern malting plant, now owned by the Crisp Malting Group, remains in operation.

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