There was surely no-one who put the fear of God into the people of 17th century Eastern England more than Matthew Hopkins, the self-styled Witchfinder General. Hopkins, a failed lawyer, reckoned to have possession of the Devil’s own list of all the witches in England. He began his reign of terror in Manningtree, where he lived at the time, getting off to a rather mean-spirited start by picking on his poor crippled neighbour and denouncing her as a witch. He proceeded to scour the Eastern counties of England in search of further likely witches, bringing about their interrogation and eventual execution. This all took place against the backdrop of the Civil War, a time of religious upheaval accompanied by fierce anti-Catholic sentiment.
Nowadays, Manningtree lives a peaceful life as a small market town on the banks of the Stour. Its High Street contains many Georgian buildings whose origins date back to the Middle Ages, including some old coaching inns. Although it is on the river, it has its own beach, Manningtree Beach, a pleasant place to sit and watch the river scene. The market square has a sculpture of the “Manningtree Ox”, which dates back to the 16th century, when a whole ox was roasted for the annual Whitsun Fair. The ox got a mention in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1, when Falstaff is described as “that roasted Manningtree ox with a pudding in its belly”.
Manningtree is widely thought of as the gateway to “Constable Country”, being very near some of the most famous locations used in this quintessentially English artist’s paintings, including the iconic Flatford Mill, a short distance upstream from Manningtree. Walkers can reach the Mill from Manningtree in around an hour, following the course of the River Stour.
For a list of events in Manningtree and the surrounding villages see here.
Map of the area.