Constable spent the summer and early autumn of 1814 in Suffolk, painting directly from nature. In this work he depicted a panoramic view over the Stour Valley from an elevated position on the road from Flatford to East Bergholt,showing Dedham Church and the village to the left of centre. By including labourers shovelling manure in the foreground Constable created a down-to-earth image of the landscape around his home at East Bergholt – and a realistic record of Suffolk farming practice, emphasising the value of honest rural labour. The men would have cleared the manure from the stockyards in summer and deposited it beside the fields to dry, before manuring the fields in early autumn (I. Fleming-Williams, ‘A runover dungle and a possible date for “Spring”’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 114, June 1972, pp. 386–93).
Not long after he painted this work Constable wrote: ‘This charming season … occupies me entirely in the feilds and I beleive I have made some landscapes that are better than is usual with me – at least that is the opinion of all here‘ (Beckett II, p. 131).
Constable painted this work as a preparatory study for a painting commissioned by Thomas Fitzhugh as a wedding present for his bride, Philadelphia Godfrey: The Stour Valley and Dedham Church c.1815 (Boston Museum of Fine Arts). Philadelphia was the daughter of the local squire, Peter Godfrey, and the painting was intended as a memento of the view of the valley she knew well and was leaving behind – a view of Dedham Vale from just outside the grounds of her home, Old Hall, East Bergholt.