If there’s one Essex town which offers a bit of everything, it is certainly Manningtree. The name, thought to derive from ‘many trees’, grew around the wool trade from the 15th century until its decline in the 18th century and it was also known for its thriving shipping trade in corn, timber and coal until the coming of the railway caused its decline. It lies on the River Stour, a conservation area, and is well-known for being the smallest town (by area) in England. It also has a darker past with its links to self-appointed Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, who claimed to have overheard local women discussing their meetings with the devil way back in 1644. His accusations lead to their executions as witches which took place on The Green, just a short walk from the town centre. Author A.K. Blakemore’s 2021 novel, The Manningtree Witches, told the story of the Puritan regime and harrowing witch trials through the eyes of one of the accused women, 19-year-old Rebecca West. With her father living in Manningtree, A.K. Blakemore knows the area well and this, her debut novel, was awarded the Desmond Elliot Prize in 2021. Sticking with a literary theme and Manningtree has links to William Shakespeare. In Henry VI Part 1 (Act 2, Scene 4) Falstaff is referred to as “that roasted Manningtree ox with the pudding in his belly”, and a sculpture in the high street marks Shakespeare’s connection. Other interesting facts include there are more than 100 Grade II listed buildings and former prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, worked in Manningtree as a research chemist at BX Plastics. Manningtree Museum (manningtree-museum.org.uk) is a small museum within the library and has an archive of local photographs, publications and can also provide details of what to see on a town walk.

Views don't get much better than this...Manningtree the smallest town with the biggest of views Views don't get much better than this...Manningtree the smallest town with the biggest of views (Image: Getty Images/Aerial Essex)

There’s a more serene vibe in the town these days and there’s something for all ages. With its own railway station and being just an hour from London Liverpool Street, it’s a popular place to live for commuters. The A120 and A12 road networks are also nearby.

Period homes and modern properties offer the best of both worlds and there’s schooling in the form of both primary and secondary education.

Above all there’s a sense of community and Manningtree Town Council (manningtreetowncouncil.org.uk) sums it up quite fittingly… “Manningtree has an active, friendly and neighbourly community, thriving businesses and great places to shop, eat, drink and stay.”


The Crown has the perfect spot for a bite to eat or drinkThe Crown has the perfect spot for a bite to eat or drink (Image: The Crown)


From pubs and cafes to award-winning and dog friendly, Manningtree caters for all food lovers. For breakfast, lunch and bakes there’s Café Rio. Tuck into a full English with a pot of tea, or one of Rio’s breakfast baps, while lunch options include everything from jacket potatoes, sandwiches and paninis. Follow the goings on via their Instagram or Facebook page @caferiomanningtree. As the oldest pub in town, The Red Lion (redlionmanningtree.co.uk) provides a cosy setting and offers a courtyard garden which is a great place to enjoy a drink or two in the summer. Although it doesn’t serve food, customers are welcome to take along their fish and chips or whatever takes their fancy from one of the local takeaways and eat at the pub while enjoying a glass of wine or local ale. For over a decade, Nirala Tandoori (niralatandoori.com) has been serving up delicious Indian food to local people, as well as those from further afield, and The Crown and Mistley Thorn are also renowned for their food and rooms, so we’ve included them in our staycation section. Estuary Wine Bar specialises in fine wines, beers and gins and has live music events and fish and chips can be found at Chilvers and Riverside Fish and Chips.

Staycation in style at The Crown in Manningtree Staycation in style at The Crown in Manningtree (Image: The Crown)


Described as a hidden gem in Manningtree, The Crown (thecrownmanningtree.co.uk) has four rooms available for staycations where guests can take in the atmosphere overlooking the water from the outside terrace. Each room has either a king size or super king size bed and include all the luxuries for a home from home stay. The Roman Room and Colne Room are dog-friendly so if your four-legged friend(s) wants to tag along, they can! The Crown is also known for its food so don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy a bite to eat during your stay. Listed in The Times as one of the Best Hotels in Essex 2023, the Mistley Thorn (mistleythorn.co.uk) has 11 rooms and two mews cottages, each individually designed with uncluttered elegance. All are furnished with a mix of old and new, original artwork, coffee and tea making facilities. Built as a coaching inn circa 1723, it’s close to the station and also provides award-winning dining using the best of the area’s seasonal produce. For a great outdoors experience, Strangers Holiday Park (strangersholidaypark.co.uk) is located in nearby Bradfield and is positioned overlooking the Stour Estuary. Under new ownership, The Strangers Home Pub has undergone refurbishment and is set to reopen on June 1.


Frippery is a modern lifestyle boutique in Manningtree Frippery is a modern lifestyle boutique in Manningtree (Image: Frippery)


While it may be the smallest town, it’s perfectly formed where shopping is concerned. Frippery (frippery.biz) in the High Street, is a modern lifestyle boutique offering gorgeous clothing, accessories and homewares. Started by friends Clare and Kim, there’s an ever-changing range of products from firm favourites including Tilly Sveaas, St Eval and Parkminster Candles as well as clothing from Chalk UK, alongside Italian and Danish brands. The website and social pages (Facebook @fripperycolchester and Instagram @fripperygirls) will give you a sneak peak of what’s on offer but better still, go along and visit the shop in person. It’s open seven days a week. If there’s one combination which is a winner on all levels, it’s wine and vinyl records and that’s just what is on offer at Winyl (winyl.co.uk). As well as hosting tasting events and live music, it’s a niche experience but one which has been most welcome since it opened in 2018. Another essential store is The Wholefood Store (thewholefoodstore.co.uk) which has organic fruit and veg, delicious sourdoughs, natural supplements and bodycare, and of course an extensive range of wholefoods. A refillable household section is also popular and helps to cut down on unnecessary waste.

Old Knobbley is an ancient oak tree in Mistley Old Knobbley is an ancient oak tree in Mistley (Image: Getty Images/Rob Atherton)


There’s a plethora of creatives in the town and nearby and so what better way to discover local artists than at this year’s Mistley, Manningtree and Lawford Art Trail, Art Around The Walls, which takes place on July 6 and 7. It was a big success last year and you can keep up to date with what’s happening on facebook.com/artaroundthewalls. In nearby Mistley, there’s also Old Knobbley (oldknobbley.com) an 800-year-old oak tree which is under the care of Mistley Parish Council. Having been a popular and much-loved local landmark, it’s free to visit and has also featured in many books and is the subject of its own story in an illustrated children’s book which follows Old Knobbley’s life and helps children connect history with nature and to understand the link between them. Also, in Mistley are the towers, (english-heritage.org.uk) two porticoed classical towers, which stood at each end of a Georgian church and were designed by Robert Adam in 1776, as well as the pretty Swan Fountain. Nature lovers will find Wrabness Nature Reserve (essexwt.org.uk/nature-reserves/wrabness) is brimming with amazing birds species in every corner in every month of the year, and of course, those stunning views over the Stour Estuary will leave you feeling refreshed and at one with nature.



Samantha Morphew recently moved to Manningtree with her family. Samantha Morphew recently moved to Manningtree with her family. (Image: Charly Mae Photography)

Manningtree resident and interior designer, Samantha Morphew.

'My husband, daughter and I moved to Manningtree last year. The area is beautiful with Mistley down the road and Dedham on the doorstep. Surrounded by countryside, with great walks and superb artisan cafes. We moved here for a calmer environment and a better way of life. Manningtree town has a lovely atmosphere full of restaurants, wine bars, art galleries and boutiques. One of my favourites is Frippery, a fabulous fashion boutique.

'Manningtree Arts is great for a coffee and the occasional visiting author for book readings. A. K. Blakemore, author of The Manningtree Witches, did a Q&A recently which was fascinating. Manningtree is a town full of history and famous for Matthew Hopkins the infamous Witch-Finder General. Since moving here, it still feels like we are on holiday… the novelty has not worn off.

'Manningtree has its own small beach with a lending library of beach toys for the children. There is a strong, friendly community vibe about the place. I could fill every day in the week with local events and activities. I have recently joined a local netball team, The Pink Panthers, and love it. Great fun and an excellent way of meeting local people.'