Places to visit in Europe

Built in the first half of Henry VIII’s reign, Layer Marney Tower is in many ways the apotheosis of the Tudor Gatehouse. The building is principally the creation of Henry 1st Lord Marney, who died in 1523, and his son John, who continued the building work but died just two years later, leaving no male heirs to continue the family line or the construction. What was completed was the main range measuring some three hundred feet long, the principal gatehouse that is about eighty feet tall, a fine array of outbuildings, and a new church.

In building on this scale the Marneys were following the example of their monarch, Henry VIII, who believed that a building should reflect the magnificence of its owner. Henry Marney as Lord Privy Seal, Captain of the Bodyguard and many other influential positions clearly intended to display his status through his new building. Many other courtiers wished to do the same, and just as they rivalled each other for influence and power at court, so they tried to out-do each other in the splendour of their buildings. The Marneys enthusiastically entered this game of one upmanship, building tall, with lavish use of terracotta and stucco, together with decorative detailing derived from Italy. The tomb of Henry, 1st Lord Marney is perhaps the highpoint of all that was built, combining beauty, innovation and a lightness of touch.

After the death of John, 2nd Lord Marney, the house passed to Sir Brian Tuke, Treasurer to the Royal Household and Governor of the Kings Posts. His widowed daughter-in-law entertained Queen Elizabeth 1st for two days in 1579, the Queen most probably staying in what is now the billiard room on the first floor of the gatehouse. The house has passed through many different families over the last five centuries, some only staying for a few years and others for several generations.

Nicholas Corsellis bought the estate in 1667 for £7,200 with money he had made as a merchant selling indigo, lead and tobacco. He had been educated at Felstead School and soon after buying Layer Marney he gave the living and accompanying Rectory to his old headmaster, the Rev. William Drake. The Corsellis family sold the estate in 1835 to Quintin Dick, a successful Far East trader and MP for Maldon. He is reputed to have spent more money bribing his constituents than any other MP of the time. It seems to have worked since he held the seat for seventeen years.

The buildings suffered considerable damage from the Great Earthquake of 1884, and a subsequent report in The Builder magazine described the state of the house as such that ‘the outlay needed to restore the towers to anything like a sound and habitable condition would be so large that the chance of the work ever being done appears remote indeed’. Fortunately the repairs were begun, by brother and sister Alfred and Kezia Peache, who re-floored and re-roofed the gatehouse, as well as creating the garden to the south of the Tower.

The next owner was Walter de Zoete who carried on and expanded the work, with a team of 13 domestic and 16 outside staff. He enlarged the gardens, built a folly known as the Tea House (converted to a self catering holiday cottage in 1999), and converted the stables into a Long Gallery where he housed his collection of furniture, paintings and objets d’arts. As a consequence of all this work it would be fair to say that the interior owes more to the Edwardian aesthetic of Walter de Zoete than to the Marneys.

Walter de Zoete lost money in the Japanese stock market crash, and sold the house to Dr and Mrs Campbell. The house came to the Charringtons because Gerald and Susan were married in Layer Marney church, and two years later, in 1959, Mrs Campbell’s executors put the house up for sale. It has been occupied by the Charrington family ever since.

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