Exploring the beauty of Dedham
- Credit: Archant
Essex has many charming towns and villages, not to mention some extremely picturesque landscapes, but Dedham has to be one of the brightest jewels in its crown.
Situated in northeast Essex, on the border with Suffolk, Dedham is a village that has plenty to offer both visitor and resident which has become quite a tourist hot spot. The village rests in the Dedham Vale, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and it isn’t hard to see why it attracts so many day-trippers. Its green, lush lowlands with the River Stour meandering throughout are a great lure to visitors keen to see the compositions that once inspired one of the country’s most famous landscape artists.
John Constable went to school in Dedham and would walk back across the meadows to his home in neighbouring East Bergholt, drinking in the scenery which would later move him to paint some magnificent local views. Today, the area is affectionately referred to as Constable Country.
The walk from across the bridge, that divides the two counties, and then along the Stour to Flatford Mill — the route Constable may have taken — is a lovely way to soak up the atmosphere, although be warned, you might have to share some space with some inquisitive grazing cows! Others might opt to rent a boat (available from the Boathouse restaurant) and row themselves to Flatford – an easy option or hard work depending on your rowing skills, but certainly great fun – especially on a sunny summer day.
On high days and holidays, Dedham is certainly packed with people wanting to spend time by the river, browse in the shops along the High Street and then grab a tea, light lunch or an ice cream from the Essex Rose Tea House. There are several places to eat in the village including several pubs, restaurants and tea rooms.
Dedham was once a prosperous wool and market town and today, although now classified as a village, it still has an air of prosperity about it with some fine houses along the High Street that have been beautifully maintained. There are some independent shops, a small supermarket, a chemist and Post Office while the Arts and Crafts Centre has three floors of gifts, trinkets, clothes and vintage items.
A fascinating place to visit just out of the centre of Dedham and on Castle Hill is the Munnings Art Museum. Castle House, where Sir Alfred Munnings made his home in 1919 describing it as, ‘the house of my dreams’, is now open to the public, as is his garden studio, and in both there are fine collections of his work including his equestrian paintings and sketches – something that he was very well known for.
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The church of St Mary the Virgin is a dominating presence in the village centre. The present building dates back to 1492 but there has been a church in Dedham since at least 1322. The church entrance features a striking carved, panelled doorway and the impressive interior has stained glass windows by the noted Kempe Workshop.
There is a commemorative pew in honour of the people of Dedham in Massachusetts where natives of the Essex village emigrated to in the early 17th century. John Constable’s Ascension is also displayed in the church and Tom Keating, the famous art forger and art historian, who also lived in the village, is buried in the churchyard. The church regularly opens its towers to visitors who, once at the top of the 131 feet high structure, can enjoy the full beauty of the surrounding countryside.
Dedham seems to appeal to people of all ages and especially families wanting to move to the countryside and yet still be served by good local amenities and be a commutable distance to and from London – the nearby Manningtree Station operates direct trains into London Liverpool Street. There is a pre-school and a good primary school in Dedham as well as a large recreation ground close to the centre of the village.
A resident of 20 years and chairman of the parish council, Sheila Beeton, explains more about the appeal of life in Dedham. ‘It is a vibrant village and a very pleasant place to live,’ says Sheila. ‘The centre of the village is close to conservation areas and we have many clubs, organisations and societies that appeal to all members of our community – there is something for everyone.
‘We are also lucky to have a flourishing church with a new vicar who joined us before Christmas and we have a very popular tennis club along with both cricket and football played on the recreation grounds. We also work to preserve the 15 miles of footpaths that criss-cross the village – providing a great way to see the sights and appreciate the character of Dedham.
‘The village really hasn’t changed that much over 30 or 40 years and clearly, with Dedham’s surrounding countryside being an AONB and with restricted planning, this has helped to preserve its charm and special character.’
The parish council website lists all the local events taking place, including film nights, talks, organised walks, a Christmas Street Market and the Dedham Run – a popular and well organised event for all ages.
The village amateur dramatics group, the Dedham Players, also feature in the parish diary. They produce an impressive two to three productions each year, which allows for quite a variety of classics, comedies and more modern plays. They are always happy for new talent to join them and budding thespians can contact them via the website at www.dedhamplayers.org.
It is impossible to see any negatives in Dedham. Visitors love it, and many return regularly having marked it as a favourite spot, while overseas visitors get to see a perfect example of English countryside charm, once depicted in the paintings they have seen and then see in real life. Those who live there have a great community which is buzzing with activities. The local community is obviously motivated and locals clearly love their village as they are keen to preserve its deserved reputation, along with the stunning countryside that surrounds it. John Constable would be proud.
Find out more
To book a church tower tour, visit www.essexinfo.net/dedhamparishcouncil
The Munnings Art Museum is open from April 1 to October 29, from Wednesday to Sunday and also Bank Holiday Mondays from 2pm to 5pm.