Manningtree, Essex is a small town on the River Stour. It’s thought to be the smallest town in England, but there has been some dispute around this as Fordwich in Kent is also a close contender. Nevertheless, its size doesn’t mean that it’s lacking in activities – there are still plenty of things to do in Manningtree.
A Brief History of Manningtree
Like many other towns in Essex, Manningtree was a bustling town during the time of the wool trade between the 15th and 18th century. The town also had a flourishing corn, timber and coal shipping trade until the arrival of the railways led to its decline. Manningtree is notable for its links to Matthew Hopkins, the self-proclaimed Witchfinder General who moved to the town in the early 1640s. He claimed to have heard women in the town talk about their meetings with the devil, which eventually led to their execution.
Things to Do in Manningtree
Wrabness Nature Reserve
Spread over 27 hectares, Wrabness Nature Reserve is a lovely place to go all year round. There are many walking paths around and through the reserve, with beautiful views over the Stour Estuary. There is also a hard surfaced path around the reserve for pushchairs and disabled access. Grassland, marsh, scrub and woodland provide a variety of habitats for birds and you’ll be able to spot yellowhammer, whitethroat, turtle dove, songthrush, nightingale and owls.
Mistley Towers are the remaining towers which stood at each end of the now demolished Church of St Mary the Virgin. The original church was built in the early 18th century classical style. Later that century, the politician Richard Rigby had big plans to transform Mistley into a spa town and commissioned the architect Robert Adam to enhance the church. He did so in the neoclassical design with a tower at each end. Today, the towers are a scheduled monument and you can visit the interior, or simply view them from the outside.
For something to drink, visit the Red Lion, the oldest freehouse in town. It’s a cosy, traditional pub that has a focus on East Anglian ales and ciders. The Red Lion doesn’t serve food, however, customers are welcome to bring their own food with them. You can also choose from a selection of menus and local takeaways will deliver directly to the pub. If you’re visiting in the summer, there is a courtyard garden to relax and drink in. During the colder months, the pub has an open fire where you can cosy up after exploring the outdoors.
North House Gallery
People who go to Manningtree are often surprised when they visit North House Gallery, as they’re not expecting a small town to have an art gallery with such a large collection. There are frequent exhibitions which mostly focus on one artist at a time, changing every five weeks or so. They showcase paintings, drawings, sculptures, original prints and books by East Anglian, national and international artists. The gallery is known for its carefree way of presenting the artwork – one minute it can feature a serious show of a dead artist, and the next it can showcase the work of a recent art graduate.