Colchester: Tributes to Major Gerald Charrington, the man who turned around the fortunes of Layer Marney Tower

Gerald Charrington, former owner of Layer Marney Tower near Colchester

Gerald Charrington, former owner of Layer Marney Tower near Colchester - Credit: Archant

TRIBUTES have been paid to the man credited with turning one of north Essex’s best-known historic buildings into a key tourist attraction.

Layer Marney Tower, near Colchester

Layer Marney Tower, near Colchester - Credit: Archant

The owner of Layer Marney Tower near Colchester, Major Gerald Charrington, passed away earlier last month, aged 86.

Together with his wife, Susan, Mr Charrington was instrumental in developing the estate and opening it up to the public after he bought the stately home in 1959.

His son, Nicholas, 52, who now manages the property, said: “The tower hadn’t been lived in for a decade before my parents took it over and, I think, their timing was perfect.

“It was in the post-war period when a lot of stately homes and historic buildings were being allowed to deteriorate – some of them were even demolished.

“ But during the 1960s there was an increase in interest around heritage and my parents were able to develop the property.”

With commanding views over the River Blackwater, Layer Marney Tower is regarded as one of the country’s most dramatic buildings.

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It was built in 1520, during the reign of Henry VIII, and today welcomes about 15,000 visitors every year, who come to enjoy the architecture, gardens and landscape.

An additional 10,000 people visit the historic destination for private events such as weddings, conferences and concerts.

In the years following his acquisition, Mr Charrington worked closely with the Ministry of Works, now known as English Heritage.

He oversaw renovation work to the roof and other parts of the building, as well as carrying out major improvements to the gardens.

Mr Charrington also introduced cattle and sheep and at one stage the property had a sizeable rare breeds collection.

The tower had never been accessible to the public before, but Mr Charrington started to open it up on bank holidays in the 1960s.

He later introduced themed historical events held in the tower and surrounding grounds, which the property has become known for.

Born in Hampshire, Mr Charrington came to Essex after he met Susan, who was from Layer de la Haye. They were married in the local church where his funeral will be held on Friday.

Prior to taking on Layer Marney Tower, he had served in the Army in Aden, Malaysia and Northern Ireland. The couple had four children and moved to Kelveldon after they ceded the running of the property to Nicholas 20 years ago.

In recent years, following the death of Susan, Mr Charrington moved back to live in the tower.

Nicholas said: “My father was an honorable and decent man and quite old-fashioned. He was a doer and proud of his achievements at Layer Marney.

“He had a good innings and will be very much missed.”