VOLUNTEER conservationists have added a seventh boat to their fleet for the public to enjoy.

The River Stour Trust's new electric boat, Maria Constable, will be used on the river between Flatford, Dedham and Stratford St Mary.

It will enable the trust to run a Waterbus service between Flatford and Dedham which will allow people who have arrived by car at one of these locations to visit the other village, without having to drive their cars along the narrow lanes.

They can then walk back alongside the river, or take the boat back.

The trust, a charity, was able to buy the boat thanks to a £6,000 grant from Suffolk County Councillor Christopher Hudson, who used his locality budget.

The boat is named after the wife of artist John Constable.

Trust vice president Emrhys Barrell said: “The trust already has another boat called John Constable, so naming this one after his wife is most appropriate.

"Theirs was a true love story. Constable courted Maria Bicknell for eight years in secret, because her grandfather would not allow her to marry ‘a penniless artist’.

"They married when Constable’s father died and left him enough money to live comfortably and concentrate on his painting."

The 12 years of their marriage saw Constable paint all of his most famous works, including The Haywain, probably the best-known English landscape masterpiece.

But when Maria died tragically aged 41 of tuberculosis he was heartbroken and never painted with the same flair and carefree strokes.

The trust operates trip boats at Sudbury, Flatford and Dedham, and these raise more than £60,000 every year, which pays for the running of the trust, and its restoration and maintenance work along the 25-mile length of the river.

The boats are manned by the trust’s volunteers, who are all trained to the standard of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency for carrying passengers.