16th May | Guided Walk round Manningtree

Village sign for Manningtree  Essex

It was a bright and breezy afternoon the day we went on a walk around Manningtree, accompanied by our guide Josie.

Manningtree is the smallest town in England, and is well known for its swans on the River Stour – which marks the border between the counties of Essex and Suffolk. As it flows past Manningtree it is tidal, and it is popular with both sailors and fishermen.

Much of the town’s wealth in Elizabethan times came from the cloth trade, and some of the weavers’ cottages are still standing.

For two centuries Manningtree and Mistley were important brewing centres and ports, and you can still see the old warehouses next to the quay – although they have now been converted into modern apartments.

In the 17th Century Matthew Hopkins was the Witchfinder General and over a period between 1645 and 1647 he condemned two or three hundred women to death. They were bound and thrown into the river – and if they sank they were declared innocent, but if they floated it meant they were guilty. Those who were pronounced witches were then hung and burned at the stake. A group of witches were hung on The Green, just behind the High Street!

The first market was established in 1234, and is still held every Tuesday and Saturday in Market Place in the town’s centre.

At one time eels were caught in the river from flat-bottomed boats and then smoked, using old wood from a church which was pulled down. The eels smoked in this way were called Holy Smokes.

We stopped to look at Mistley Towers, designed by the architect Robert Adam in 1776. These twin towers were originally part of a church dedicated to St Mary the Virgin which was later demolished. We passed the Mistley Swan statue in its pond, all that is left of the grandiose plans to turn Mistley into a salt water spa town to rival Brighton in the 18th century.

Manningtree has a lot of history attached to it, and it has given some of us a taste to find out more. Thanks to Josie, our Blue Badge Guide, for a very interesting afternoon.

Report and photos by Sue Maynard

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