|Layer Marney Tower
Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History
Published in Parish News - May 2002
There are a number of scheduled buildings in our locality but few attract visitors from far and wide. Some, such as Birch School, the now closed St Peter's Church, Birch, and the two local hostelries, are well known by those living here but none are as widely known as Layer Marney Tower.
Tucked away at the end of a lane it stands, where it has for almost 500 years, as "the tallest and most elaborate of all brick gatehouses" erected in England. Built in the early years of the reign of Henry VIII by Henry, the first Lord Marney, it has remained much the same as it is today. The Marney family are mentioned in records of the area dating from 1166 - they had arrived in the country after William the Conqueror and were to remain hereabouts until 1525. The first Lord Marney died in 1523 and his son just two years later. They had both been loyal servants of the Crown and had gradually made their way through the hierarchy of courtiers. Henry Marney eventually holding the very powerful position of Lord Privy Seal to Henry VIII. Both are buried in the Church of St Mary the Virgin which stands alongside the Tower.
The building of the Tower marked a departure from tradition in that it has "few similarities with traditional fortified manor houses". Henry Marney may have employed foreign craftsmen who had formerly worked at Hampton Court but it is "more likely that he used English craftsmen who had been trained" by those who had carried out that work for Cardinal Wolsey and Henry VIII. One of the striking features is the similarity with other buildings of the same era such as Oxburgh in Norfolk. and others mainly in East Anglia.
The Marneys were succeeded by the Tuke family probably through the influence either they, or their patrons, held, with the Crown. Sir Brian Tuke had a pivotal role in the King's service as Master of Posts enabling the King to keep in touch with his councillors from wherever he happened to be at the time. Said to be "one of the earliest bureaucrats" Sir Brian was secretary to both Cardinal Wolsey and Henry VIII, and "as an educated man he wrote a preface for the first printed complete works of Chaucer". There are a number of portraits of Sir Brian in existence by Holbein. It is of interest to note that it was part of Sir Brian's job to pay Holbein on behalf of the King.
Sir Brian died in 1545 and was succeeded by a son Charles who died just two years later and the estate passed to his brother, George, who lived until 1573. George's widow continued to live at Layer Marney and it was she who entertained Queen Elizabeth for two days while on one of her progresses round the country in 1579. Mrs Tuke is believed to have lived in Dukes in Layer Marney and so, perhaps, the Queen stayed at the Tower and, if so, her apartments would probably have been in the rooms in the centre of the gatehouse. Perhaps Queen Elizabeth really did sleep here although the tour may have been cancelled due to the threat to the country from Spain!
The next owner of the Tower was John Ellys and it then passed to the Corsellis family who bought it for £7,200 in 1667, As the family acquired other property they moved their main residence to Wivenhoe Park (now the University of Essex site) and allowed the Tower to deteriorate so that when it was sold in 1835 it was "in a poor condition". When the Tithe Map was drawn in 1838 the Tower was said to be occupied by William Blyth who farmed some 450 acres which was most of the estate, owned by Quintin Dick at that time. A few years later, when the 1841 census was recorded, the entry is for Layer Marney Hall and William Blyth was, at around 30, a very young farmer to have such an acreage under his control. Ten years later the Tower House was occupied by Thomas Pudney, a 61 year old farm labourer who had been born at Halstead, and his family. This entry would seem to confirm the change in circumstances after the death of Quintin Dick who had bought the estate from the executors of Matthew Corsellis. Dick was MP for Maldon and, despite spending enormous sums of money to gain the seat, left a very substantial fortune when he died in 1847. It would seem, however, that he had neglected the Tower and it is unlikely he ever lived in it.
In 1881 the occupant is given as Thomas Pilgrim, a farm bailiff from Doddingham, and his family. His wife was born in Great Wigborough and their children were born in Peldon, so there were strong local connections. The entry for 1891 shows that it was occupied by Charles Mac1ean then aged 67 and said to be "Living on own Means". Charles was a Scot and his wife, who was 27 years younger, was a New Zealander. They had two daughters living at home for whom there was a governess and two domestic servants. Occupying one room in the Tower was Ernest Wilks the 25 year old gardener born in Great Bassington in Gloucestershire.
The Peache family bought the house in 1869 and being of a more caring nature they added to the existing building and also began landscaping the garden. It would seem that the Reverend Albert Peache was somewhat of an absentee landlord which would account for the occupation by the Macleans in 1891. The Revd Peache served as Chancellor of Huron College, Ontario, between 1885 and 1900 the house having been sold to his son, James, the previous year. James, in turn, after completing the north west wing, sold the house to Walter De Zoete in 1904 and it was he who undertook a series of major improvements to the building. One of the interesting quotes in the guide book is taken from an article in "The Builder" in l886. In commenting on the dramatic effect of the 1884 earthquake on the area, and the Tower in particular, the writer reported that many of the chimneys had been shaken down, "many of the roofs being injured and scarcely noticeable fissures in the wall becoming alarmingly apparent. These do not seem to effect the very stability of the pile but are very unsightly and will tend to hasten the decay and ruin which seems inevitable." The report went on to say that the outlay necessary to restore the building was "so large that the chance of the work ever being done appears remote indeed." Some 20 years later the De Zoetes succeeded in showing just how wrong that prophecy was.
The De Zoetes were followed by Dr and Mrs Campbell until 1958 when the Tower was bought by Major Charrington and is now owned and occupied by his son, Nicholas, and his family.
It is unfortunate that we have no idea from the various census returns what acreage was attached to the Tower at any one time. This would have provided a measure by which to assess the changes the estate had undergone. From the Deeds of Sale it seems that Mrs Campbell tried to sell the house several times. Each time she sold off the land and eventually the only land remaining when Major Charrington acquired the property was 10 acres.
(In compiling this issue we are very grateful to Mr Charrington for allowing the use of the excellent guidebook to Layer Marney Tower which contains so much of interest to visitors to the property.)