Brightwell, meaning bright or clear spring or well, is a small village on the old Woodbridge to Felixstowe road, just to the south of Martlesham. One source suggests that it was one of Suffolk's holy wells, said to have healing powers for ophthalmic problems. Bronze Age barrows in the north are part of a chain built across Foxhall to Waldringfield.
The village is centred around a wooded valley where Mill river flows east, then south-east to Kirton creek and the river Deben. The old vicarage, built about 1830, now known as Brightwell House, looks over the valley from the south with the church opposite on the north hill. The church is dedicated to St John the Baptist and its beauty lies in its simplicity and the furnishings made by local craftsmen. Both the church and the churchyard are well cared for. It dates from about 1300 and was extensively repaired in about 1656 by Thomas Essington, of Brightwell Hall. There are two pathetic but beautiful monuments in the chancel commemorating two of his children; Thomas, who died in 1656 aged five years and Anna, who died in 1660 aged 17 years.
Brightwell Hall was extensively altered and rebuilt in about 1663 by its new owner, Sir Samuel Barnardiston MP, leader of the Suffolk Whigs and a deputy Governor of the East India Company. His family hatchments are in the church today. The Hall was demolished in about 1755. Terraces mark the parterres and garden walks still.
At the bottom of the valley the stream formed a "splash" or ford, with a pedestrian walkway on one side. The bridge and road were built in the late 1920s, curving past the old smith. A painting of the church and village by John Constable painted in 1828 or 1829 but looking much as it does today, was rediscovered in Essex in 1980.
Many tons of sand were removed from the hill behind the village hall in the 1960s for use in building Felixstowe docks. Another link between the village and the port is the choice of the name Brightwell, in 1986, for a powerful new tug.
Several folk have heard of a ghost who rides through the valley with his head under his arm.., but no one admits to having seen him. A more recent reality was the discovery in July 1983 of the body of Mrs Diane Jones of Essex in the north of the parish, an unsolved murder to this day.