Inside two more of East Anglia's most stunning stately homes

Ickworth's rotunda 

Ickworth's rotunda - Credit: Arnhel de Serra/National Trust

Thanks to one of Netflix’s biggest ever shows, the popularity of stately homes has gone through the roof.  

Dubbed ‘the Bridgerton effect’ by many, the streaming service’s hit series has seen more people than ever before take an interest in period dramas.  

And it’s not hard to see why.  

The architecture, the art, the fashion – it's a nice bit of escapism from the drudgery of modern life, isn’t it?   

Luckily for us here in East Anglia, a number of stately homes are open to the public, chock full of history and heritage galore.   

This week, we explore Ickworth Hall near Bury St Edmunds, and Layer Marney Tower in north Essex. 

Ickworth House

Ickworth House - Credit: Gregg Brown

'It’s very distinctive and people are curious to see what’s inside the iconic rotunda'

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One of the most photographed buildings in the National Trust, Ickworth House truly is a sight to behold.  

Described as ‘an Italianate Palace in the heart of Suffolk’, this sprawling estate is home to over 1,800 acres of stunning parkland – but it’s what’s inside that is perhaps the most captivating.  

Ickworth House undergoing cleaning and restoration

Ickworth House undergoing cleaning and restoration - Credit: Richard Marsham

“Ickworth is a home away from home. The family created it as a haven and a country retreat for them and their close friends and today it provides that same escape and wonder. It’s a place to be able to breath and get lost amongs the trees, to weave yourself through the rooms as if it was your own private museum, and indulge in a cream tea on the Italianate Terrace,” explains Aimee Monk, property operations manager for Ickworth House. 

“A place like Ickworth wouldn’t be built today, as the cost would be prohibitive and society has changed - but the architecture, parkland, gardens and community that was created and supported by Ickworth is something not to be lost and to be enjoyed for today and for the future.” 

Ickworth rotunda

Ickworth rotunda - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Constructed between 1795 and 1829, Ickworth was built to showcase the treasures and art collected by Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol who inherited the family estate in 1779 (despite being a third son).  

Italian architect Antonio Asprucci was tasked with designing the earl a classic villa in the Suffolk countryside – and that’s exactly what he did.  

And the result is a beautiful stately home, complete with a 105ft high rotunda that features a domed and balustraded roof. Ickworth House’s façade is brick covered in stucco, with slate and lead roofs. 

“It’s very distinctive - people are curious to see what’s behind the grand portico and inside the iconic rotunda, and explore the stories the walls can tell. People love the sense of returning to the past, to escape and be part of another world and hear stories of those that have come before.  

“There’s a desire to learn and understand the past to inform the future and make sense of how we’ve got to where we have today. People also want to get lost in the magic of the time, the beauty of these places and the moment in time they capture,” adds Aimee.  

Today, Ickworth House is home to an impressive art collection, and features a number of paintings by artists such as Gainsborough, Hogarth, Velázquez, Kauffmann and Vigée Le Brun.  

In addition, visitors can find an extensive silver collection, alongside a wide variety of objets de virtu; fans collected by Geraldine Hervey, Marchioness of Bristol; books; and furniture. 

The Fury of Athamas at Ickworth House

The Fury of Athamas at Ickworth House - Credit: Archant

One of the house’s most eye-catching pieces of art however is a large statue of ‘The Fury of Athamas’, depicting a Greek tragedy. The Earl Bishop commissioned it from leading sculptor John Flaxman, and it currently sits in the main hall.  

If you head back outside, the grounds that surround the estate are perfect for losing yourself in.  

“The Monument Trail is a great exploration out into wider areas of the estate. You can wander through trees dating back to the 1600s and take in views only seen from the south pleasure grounds giving you a glimpse back to the rotunda and across the whole estate,” explains Aimee.  

“The trail includes the Monument, which was built in memory of the Earl Bishop, paid for by people of his parish. The story goes that it was positioned on the outreach of the estate by his estranged son, conveniently blocked by trees so not to be seen when inside the rotunda.” 

Inside Ickworth House

Inside Ickworth House - Credit: Archant

The grounds also play host to towering cypress trees, magnolia trees and purple-leaved beech, alongside a mixture of Mediterranean herbs, grasses, and perennials. 

Heritage fruit and vegetables grow in Ickworth’s gardens, while espaliered pear, apple, and quince trees trail its walls and line pathways. 

The impressive estate is also home to an Italianate garden that encircles the stunning rotunda - one of the first of its kind in the UK. Designed with privacy, space and freedom in mind, this garden is a marriage of classical Italian design and English heritage.  

To find out more about Ickworth House, visit nationaltrust.org.uk/ickworth 

Layer Marney Tower 

Layer Marney Tower - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

'When you stand in a place that has been lived in for 500 years, you know that every room has witnessed something big or small' 

If you make your way over the border into Essex, just a stone’s throw away from Colchester is where you will find Layer Marney Tower.  

Built during the first half of King Henry VIII’s reign, this impressive home epitomises peak Tudor design and architecture.  

Commissioned by Henry, 1st Lord Marney, as a statement house in the 1520s, Marney was a politician, a close friend of Henry VIII, and captain of his guard.  

However, he passed away in 1523 – and his son John died two years later, meaning the project was unfinished as there were no male heirs to continue the construction or the family line.  

What was completed however was the main building, the principal gatehouse, a number of outbuildings and a church. 

Over the centuries, Layer Marney Tower has been home to 11 families.  

Layer Marney Tower is Britain's tallest Tudor gatehouse

Layer Marney Tower is Britain's tallest Tudor gatehouse - Credit: citizenside.com

Brother and sister duo Alfred and Kezia Peache repaired the home and created its garden south of the Tower following the Great English earthquake of 1884. After that, Walter de Zoete built a folly, expanded the gardens, and converted the stables into a gallery where he kept his various furniture, paintings and objets d’arts. When de Zoete lost money in a stock market crash however, he sold the house to a Dr and Mrs Campbell.  

Layer Marney’s current owners are the Charringtons, who have lived there since 1959.  

“When you stand in a place that has been lived in for 500 years, you know that every room has witnessed something big or small that involved someone’s life long ago. It is a speculative, imaginative, romantic feeling. It’s why historical drama is so popular - I think people love the stories behind the history,” explains Shelia Charrington.  

Nicholas and Sheila Charrington of Layer Marney Tower, stood outside Tymperleys Clock Museum in Colchester

Nicholas and Sheila Charrington of Layer Marney Tower, stood outside Tymperleys Clock Museum in Colchester - Credit: Archant

Shelia, who owns Layer Marney Tower alongside her husband Nicholas, took over the home from his parents in 1989 – and she knows all there is to know about this historic gem in the East Anglian countryside.  

For starters, its location makes it an idyllic and almost fairytale-like escape from modern life. “From the garden the view looks down to the Blackwater which is over five miles away. On a clear day you can see right out to sea,” she says.  

“The front façade is actually seen from the garden and was the front of the palace. The whole place is built of rich red brick, with black bricks used to create patterns.” 

The view from inside Layer Marney Tower

The view from inside Layer Marney Tower - Credit: citizenside.com

Measuring 300ft long and standing at a whopping 80ft tall, Layer Marney Tower is the tallest Tudor gatehouse in the county. “It is topped with shell and dolphin crenellations, made of white terracotta. Twisted chimneys rise up from the roofs. The windows in the principle rooms all have white terracotta frames. The enormous stables, now the Long Gallery, were built to impress,” she adds.  

Unsurprisingly, Henry VIII was a frequent visitor to Layer Marney. “The whole place is a showpiece to delight Henry VIII - and it obviously worked, as he came to stay 500 years ago this year, which is extraordinary when you realise, as an unfinished palace, the place must have been like a building site.” 

Other fascinating features within include the church, which houses the effigy tombs of William, Henry, and John Marney – as well as an enormous wall painting of St Christopher which pre-dates the house.  

The north wall of Layer Marney Tower's chancel with Corsellis wall monuments and Henry 1st Lord Marney's tomb 

The north wall of Layer Marney Tower's chancel with Corsellis wall monuments and Henry 1st Lord Marney's tomb - Credit: Nicholas Charrington

“Up in the tower, we have The Crowns and Crests exhibition, loaned to us by the College of Heralds. We have 45 painted, sculpted images that once stood on columns above the seats of the Knights of the Garter in St George’s Chapel Windsor. They are colourful heraldic images, ranging from a Goat on a Mountain (Lord Hunt), to an arm in armour coming out of silver moon holding a broken lance (Bernard, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein). Each knight is personally chosen by the Queen and when you read their biographies, you realise what amazing people there have been.” 

To find out more about Layer Marney, visit layermarneytower.co.uk 

What’s your favourite stately home in Suffolk or north Essex, and what are some of its most interesting features? Get in touch with danielle.lett@archant.co.uk to share yours.