Layer Marney Tower (Essex): Tudor competition – “mine is bigger than yours”

When I started setting out a timeline and history for the country house back in May 2012, I mentioned the rise of the defended manor house (e.g. Broughton Castle (Oxon) and Mannington Hall (Norfolk)) transitioning into the double courtyarded manor, such as Hampton Court.

When one thinks of Hampton Court, red brick comes to mind first; grand scale might come to mind second.

The courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I seem to have been stuffed full of ambitious builders.  Big seems to have been best.

This was the era in which State Rooms began to be incorporated in houses; where receiving the monarch at one’s home was a status symbol and thus many houses incorporated a state bedroom and state bed in which a monarch had never slept.

A courtyard needs a gate house and Layer Marney boasts the tallest Tudor gatehouse in England.  However, only the gatehouse was ever built, by Henry VIII’s Lord Privy Seal.

Begun in the 1520s, Henry Marney died before his plan (to surpass the scale of Hampton Court) was completed.  The tower is therefore surrounded by later buildings and a large barn across the lawn, a perfect wedding venue (the rather nice toilet block outside is definitely for the weddings).

We visited the Wednesday after the jubilee weekend when there had been plenty of events taking place; during our visit the place was much quieter, just some chicks in another barn, three goats, an empty dovecote, a group of half-term families and a small café.  We walked up the tower via various rooms.  We looked at the view from the top.  We turned around and went back down, surprised how small the formal gardens are.

We were there about 45 minutes.  Compare this to how I didn’t manage to see/do everything at Hampton Court in the 7 hours I spent there, it makes me wonder what Layer Marney would have been like if it had been finished.  Perhaps there is more to do and more time to spend here on a special event day, but for us, it was a flash in the pan on the way to somewhere that wasn’t what we expected at all.

When visited: June 2012

House * out of 5: ***

Garden * out of 5: *

Website: www.layermarneytower.co.uk/

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