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Painters in the Valley: Gainsborough’s Sudbury

Houses along the River Stour

The Stour Valley cuts through the Suffolk countryside on its way to Cattawade where the River Stour becomes an estuary on its final journey to the sea. This waterway and the surrounding towns are key destinations in exploring the inspiration behind some of the UK’s most iconic and respected artists – it’s a terrain that captured the hearts of iconic painters Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable, and served as inspiration to artists including Cedric Morriss, Lucien Freud and Maggi Hambling.

This day-long guide to exploring Gainsborough’s Sudbury, has an accompanying guide to exploring Constable’s Country.

Gainsborough’s Statue


The market town of Sudbury is the birthplace of Thomas Gainsborough (born 1727). One of Britain’s most celebrated portrait artists, Gainsborough was a founder member of the Royal Academy and was considered to one of the favourite painters of the Royal Family in the late 18th Century. But throughout his life he never lost his passion for landscapes and is even quoted as saying “I’m sick of portraits and wish very much to take my Viol da Gamba and walk off to some sweet village where I can paint Landskips (landscapes) and enjoy the very end of life in quietness and ease”.

Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury

  • Sudbury has ample parking for those arriving by car. North Street car park is central and provides easy access to Gainsborough’s House and the town itself. There is also a railway station with regular trains from Marks Tey nr Colchester.
  • Leaving the car park, Gainsborough’s House and garden can be found on Gainsborough Street parallel to Weavers Lane and is the perfect start to your Sudbury explorations.
  • On leaving Gainsborough House turn left and head back along Gainsborough Road towards Market Hill where the painter’s statue stands. Behind him is the Church of St Peters, recently regenerated as Sudbury Arts Centre, outside of which is the water trough featured in Dodie Smiths novel 101 Dalmatians:
  • Just before midnight they came to the market town of Sudbury. Pongo paused as they crossed the bridge over the River Stour. ‘Here we enter Suffolk’ he said, triumphantly.
  • The Market Square is the perfect for exploring the shops, or for refreshments at one of the many cafes and restaurants.

Market Day in Sudbury

  • Just behind St Peters and Sudbury Town Hall, in Gaol Lane, is an impressive Victorian doorway that forms the entrance to Sudbury Heritage Centre & Museum where visitors can learn more about the Towns past from the Iron Age to the 21st Century.
  • On leaving the Town Hall keep an eye out for one of 14 statues that marks the beginning of The Talbot Trail. The trail depicts various fascinating episodes in the town’s history and is an excellent way to navigate your way around “with many of the town’s ancient natural, historical and architectural gems to enjoy on route”.
  • Heading away from the town and towards the station, the final part of the day can be spent exploring the riverside walks or one of the many footpaths to the water meadows, maybe before heading back for a relaxing evening in a traditional Suffolk pub or enjoying a meal at one of the areas many revered restaurants.

Find out more about other places to visit, and where to eat and stay at