|A Little History Concerning St Mary's Church, Layer Breton
Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History
Published in Parish News - May 2006
Layer Breton is mentioned 920 years ago as a manor in the Domesday Book of 1086, with the other two Layers in the Winstree Hundred. Birch being in Lexden Hundred. The first known Rector of Layer Breton was John de la Dale, around 1285. Probably the original church stood opposite Layer Breton Hall from Norman times until 1915. The building went through various stages of neglect, but in 1831 a new Rector, Sutton, spent money on improving it. He also added a schoolroom to the Glebe Cottage, probably located by the Rectory (now Shalom Hall). But by the time the Rev'd Francis Owston was installed in 1892 the building was becoming unsafe, perhaps shaken up by the Essex earthquake of 1884. In 1902 funds were raised to adapt a barn opposite the Rectory for worship (unofficially known as 'St Barnabas'!), so the church must have been unusable. Francis Owston died in 1908, and the Rector of Birch, Bixby Luard, took over, ending over 600 years of office. Finally the church was pulled down in 1915, the present church being built to a similar design in 1923.
Recently we came across a photo of Francis Owston's grave, which looked to be by the present church. But looking closer, you can clearly see Layer Breton Hall in the background, and so this photo is indeed of the old church, near what is now the reservoir.
Francis Owston's grave, probably 1909-13. Note the iron railings to the right. Related photographs are shown at the foot of this page.
There is also in the present church a painting of the old building, seen from the Hall, which tallies. The present church was built on a design similar to the previous one. Going further back, Morant describes it in 1768, including "In a wooden bell turret there is one bell." So our present church contains much of the feel of past churches.
The Old Rectory, now Shalom Hall, was once the home of Margery Allingham, who wrote the Albert Campion detective books and lived there as a child from 1909 until 1916. Her biographer records that the Old Rectory, owned by Rev Edwin Luard, was Georgian with a separate wing known as The Glebe, to which presumably the schoolroom was attached. The Luards must have disposed of the Rectory when Birch and Layer Breton parishes were united in 1908.
Painting of old Layer Breton Church. Thomas Simpson, churchwarden of Layer Breton and a keen artist who once lived at Layer Breton Lodge painted a water-colour of the old church in 1909, and this now hangs in the new church. It clearly shows the building near the time when the photograph at the top right on this page was taken; the west end shored up and gaping holes in the roof.
Owston's gravestone is perhaps visible near the far end of the building
2006 - possibly the same railings as in the grave of Rev. Francis Owston above, with the base of the headstone to the left.
Is this all that remained of the headstone in 2006? It may not be the same plinth as shown above
The new church on the Heath taken soon after it was built 1923
A history of the Churches Old and New of Birch and Layer Breton by T.B. Millatt 1963