The River Stour Navigation dates from 1705 and is one of the earliest river navigation improvements of the modern age. It remained in use for commercial traffic for over 200 hundred years connecting the industrial town of Sudbury with the Stour estuary port of Mistley and the major ports of Ipswich, Harwich and London.
The construction of the railways caused the loss of much traffic but the Navigation Company adapted by specialising in cargoes of cheap commodities including bricks, corn and mill grindstones. This lasted until the First World War when the remaining barges were deliberately sunk at Sudbury. In spite of this, the Navigation Company itself lasted in various forms until 1937. In 1968, a group of enthusiasts formed the River Stour Trust with the aim of protecting and enhancing the public right of navigation.
The Trust operates from the Granary in Quay Lane, Sudbury, the restored former riverside warehouse of the River Stour Navigation Company. It offers a great venue for events, with a tearoom open on summer Sundays and Bank Holidays. From here a boat service operates to the Trust’s Visitor and Education Centre, by the first lock a mile downstream at Cornard Mill. The Trust is also planning a Heritage Centre at the Granary depicting the history of the River Stour Navigation.
Sudbury was one of the most important industrial towns in Suffolk, producing not only traditional products such as bricks and food products but also high quality silk garments. Three silk weaving firms still operate in the town and you can visit Vanner´s and Stephen Walters´s retail outlets. Sudbury was the home of the painter Thomas Gainsborough from another of Sudbury´s silk-weaving families.
The Granary was built in 1807 and is Listed Grade 2. It stands in a canal basin at the end or head of the River Stour Navigation next to the famous Quay Theatre, in the second of the remaining warehouses.
Downstream from Sudbury, the Navigation Company constructed a lock system around each major mill on the river Stour. Thirteen existed at one time between Sudbury and the Stour Estuary at Cattawade. Locks at Flatford and Dedham, and Flatford Mill, have been made famous by Constable’s paintings. The Trust has now restored the Dry Dock at Flatford built by the Constable family, where the Stour barges were made. Flatford Mill, once the scene of intensive industrial activity, is a now superb centre for quiet walks and recreation. From here you can also enjoy a river boat ride in the Trusts electric launch.
Mistley, on the Stour estuary, retains important Georgian buildings including the Two Towers, designed by Robert Adam. Further east are the remains of the huge Mistley Maltings built in the Victorian period and which processed Sudbury´s grain. They have now been converted into apartments.