Tudor palace fit for 21st Century

A TEN year programme of improvements, repairs and new facilities at historic Layer Marney Tower, near Colchester has been completed. The Grade 1 listed Tudor palace, built in the early 16th Century, is the tallest Tudor gatehouse in Britain.

A TEN year programme of improvements, repairs and new facilities at historic Layer Marney Tower, near Colchester has been completed.

The Grade 1 listed Tudor palace, built in the early 16th Century, is the tallest Tudor gatehouse in Britain.

It is a visitor attraction and now offers a variety of corporate facilities and is a venue for weddings.

Layer Marney Tower was built in the first half of Henry VIII's reign.

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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.

The main range, the principal gatehouse, outbuildings, and the church were completed at this point.

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The buildings deteriorated in the 19th Century and were damaged by the Colchester earthquake of 1884.

Alfred and Keziah Peache repaired the main buildings and made some additions, and Walter de Zoete expanded the work - enlarging the gardens, building a folly known as the Tea House and converting the stables into a Long Gallery.

Architect Henry Freeland, of Cambridge-based Freeland Rees Roberts Architects, has carried out several projects at Layer Marney over the last 10 years with his team.

He said “The Tea House was in need of repair and improvement, the Long Gallery required a new staircase and the east wing of the main house needed to be altered and improved to provide wedding and conference facilities with meeting rooms, lavatories and improved access. The practice has also been involved with repairs and reroofing to the Tower.

“Our last and most recent project which has just been completed as part of the improvements programme, was the design and construction of the new visitors' lavatories in the courtyard.”

Nicholas Charrington owner of Layer Marney, said: “We are delighted with the completion of a wide variety of works and with the new facilities which vastly improve our offering to the public and private and corporate clients. Freeland Rees Roberts Architects have clearly demonstrated their design expertise with historic buildings and have sympathetically designed new additions such as our new lavatories.”

There were three main strands to the business, he said, having a wedding licence they could host weddings, both marriages and receptions, which attracted familes from across Essex mainly.

They had expanded and improved facilities for corporate events, conferences, product launches and agms too.

“What has been very successful this year has been the tourism side and day visitors, with the main season from April to September.

“We had a very good summer this side of London and numbers are quite considerably up.

“We won an award in the East Anglian Tourism Awards and have gone on to the national level.

“Our local visitors are mainly from Essex but coach parties can be from anywhere in the country, discovering East Anglian attractions.

“There are a lot more retired people who are still young and want to get out and explore, and learn things.”

There had been educational visits too, linked to the anniversary of Henry VIII who stayed a night at Layer Marney. Recently a Most Haunted programme had been recorded for television.

Among many regular events at Layer Marney is the lantern tour on October 27 at 7.30pm to explore the Tower and church at night.

There would be talk of the history and some of the ghostly stories associated with the building, he said.

Visitors will be welcomed with a glass of mulled wine and guided around the tower and church by lamp light. Tickets are �6 per person, in advance by calling 01206 330784.

Freeland Rees Roberts Architects have worked on a wide variety of conservation, repair and restoration projects on historic buildings including Burghley House, Lincolnshire, Ickworth House, Suffolk and Palace House Mansion in Suffolk.

The new lavatories and garden wall are built from handmade bricks from the Bulmer Brick & Tile Company with lime mortar jointing to match the surrounding buildings.

The roof is lead, again to be in-keeping with the surrounding historic buildings, and the covered walkway uses shaped oak columns and oak cladding.

The new wall to the garden is slightly taller than the existing wall to minimise the impact of the visitors' lavatories roofline from the gardens.

The curved form of the roof was also developed to minimise its impact on the gardens, with only a small section of lead roof visible above from the gardens.

Layer Marney Tower events can be viewed at www.layermarneytower.co.uk.

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