LOCATION (Postcode for Sat-Nav users: CO2 0EW)
The church is situated south of Layer de la Haye on the B1026. Heading south, it is on the left hand side just after Wick Farm. The church's car park is just south of the church and is visible from the road. Coming from Layer de la Haye, drive a short distance past the church and turn left into the very short access road and left again into the car parking area.
The first record of the church's existence is found in a charter of 1128, although the oldest parts of the present walls were built some time before. At this time the church belonged to the Abbey of St John in Colchester, but within sixty years it had passed to the Priors of St Botolph. It was from these two great religious houses that the priests who ministered to the needs of the parish were drawn for over four hundred years.
The written records of the church are few. We know that after the Black Death the monks of St Botolph set to work to rebuild the nave and tower, both of which date from about 1350. A hundred years later they raised the chancel arch and gave the church its oldest bell (1459).
During the 17th and 18th centuries the church suffered from neglect while it was held in plurality with Berechurch and other places. It was not until the middle of the 19th century that steps were taken to repair the fabric of the church and make it fully fit for worship. This was during the incumbency of the first resident vicar. The church was also enlarged by the building of the south aisle because the population had more than doubled since the turn of the century.
The registers of the church date only from 1752, fire having destroyed the earlier ones which probably dated from the sixteenth century.
The bells are of particular interest and below is a link to a page giving fuller details. Early in 2001 we completed a major restoration project involving the installation of a new bell frame and ringing chamber in the tower, a new bell, and refurbishment of the other bells, the oldest of which dates back to circa 1459.
More images of the interior and exterior can be found at www.essexchurches.info/church.asp?p=Layer de la Haye
LOCATION (Postcode for Sat-Nav users: CO2 0LZ)
The church stands at the south west corner of Layer Breton Heath. Driving from Birch to Layer Breton you will find it on your left just before the Heath gives way to housing and just before the right turn into Shatters Road. The church's car park is on the south side of the building.
The smallest and newest of our three churches, St Mary's was constructed by the village firm of Huttons and consecrated on 16th November 1923. Built in remembrance of James Round of Birch Hall (a local landowner and Privy Councillor) by his relations and friends, it replaced the old Layer Breton Church. (This stood opposite Layer Breton Hall until being demolished in 1915 because it was unsafe. A picture of it hangs at the back of the church near the font.)
The sanctuary has fine oak panelling. On the north wall of the nave there is a memorial to a former churchwarden and benefactor, Walter de Zoete, given in 1934, and another to his wife Edith who died 13th May 1924. The organ at the back of the church was built by students of Merton Technical College, Wimbledon, and installed in March 1996. The cost was met by a bequest from a former parishioner, Vera Reiney.
Following the closure of St Peter's Church, Birch in 1990, St Mary's church became the parish church of Birch as well as of Layer Breton.
St Peter's Church, Birch, mentioned above, is opposite the school in Birch. Designed by a well known Victorian church architect, Samuel Sanders Teulon, it was built in 1850 by Charles Gray Round, a local landowner, to replace a medieval church that stood on the site. The spire is a prominent local landmark but, for decades, has been in a very poor state due to the effects of the weather on its relatively porous stonework.
Various efforts were made in 1985 to raise funds for the church's restoration. However, it became clear the fabric of the building was in such poor condition that the cost of restoration, some £80,000, was well beyond the resources of the local community. For safety reasons, such as falling masonry, the church ceased being used for worship in about 1987 and was officially closed in October 1990.
Following closure several attempts were made to find a suitable alternative use for the building. A number of proposals were put forward and explored in depth but ultimately none proved viable.
A detailed survey of the building was carried out in January 2012. The total cost of repairs was then estimated at £1.4 million, not including VAT and professional fees.
Early in 2013 the Church Commissioners published a Draft Pastoral Scheme for demolishing the building and making the footprint into a garden of remembrance, as part of the churchyard (which is still used for burials).
Objections to the Draft Scheme were lodged with the Commissioners and during the summer of 2013 the Colchester and North East Essex Building Preservation Trust (CNEEBPT) was given time to carry out a feasibility study of proposals to preserve the tower and spire by incorporating them into a residential dwelling. Three proposals prepared by the Trust itself were found to be unviable as in each case the cost of development was substantially greater than the estimated end value. A Mr Gary Cottee then came forward with a proposal to convert the building into a five-bedroom family residence. This became the CNEEBPT's preferred option. Five years later, in July 2018, Mr Cottee applied for planning and listed building consent for his proposal. A further two years elapsed before Colchester Borough Council's Planning Committee considered the applications, in October 2020, and voted to approve them.
In early December 2021 Mr Cottee withdrew his proposal. Subsequently the statutory consultees, who originally objected to demolition, withdrew their objections. They accepted that demolition and the provision of a memorial garden on the site of the former church was now the most appropriate outcome.
In July 2023 the Diocese held a public meeting at Birch to explain its plans for the demolition of the building and to hear local residents' views on its plans for creating a memorial garden. After the meeting there was to be a one-month consultation period during which people could submit their views on design options for the garden. Most people expected that demolition would commence before the end of the year.
A very small group, no more than a handful, of Birch residents appear to have misunderstood that the consultation was intended to be about the design of the garden, not about whether the building should be demolished. This group mounted a campaign objecting to demolition and demanding that the church, or at least its tower and spire, be saved. Officials of the diocese, including the Bishop of Colchester, and of the Church Commissioners agreed to meet members of this 'Save Our Spire' group to listen to their proposals and concerns. Subsequently the Trustees of the Chelmsford Diocesan Board of Finance met and agreed to postpone the demolition of the church building in order to provide the Save Our Spire group with a period up until the end of June 2024 to present a detailed, fully funded and credible proposal to Chelmsford Diocese. The diocese has said that unless a proposal from Save Our Spire is presented and agreed by the end of June, it will need to proceed with demolition in the autumn of this year (2024).
LOCATION (Postcode for Sat-Nav users: CO5 9UR)
From the B1022 road follow the brown tourist signs to Layer Marney Tower. Continue along the road, past (not through) the entrance to the Tower. At the end of this road turn right and drive along the track to the church. From this track you will see a splendid view of the Tower on your right. There is space to park in front of the church.
The ancient and beautiful church of St Mary the Virgin is next door to the famous historic house of Layer Marney Tower. The church was rebuilt by Henry, 1st Lord Marney and John 2nd Lord Marney at the beginning of the 16th century, and left unfinished on the death of the 2nd and last Lord Marney. Their wills made provision for the church to be finished. Restorations were carried out in 1870 and 1911.
The church, all in the Perpendicular style, is built of Tudor brick (reputed to have been made locally). It has a west tower. On the north wall of the nave is a mural of St Christopher, dating from c.1520, which was uncovered in 1870. Also in the church are the tombs of the 1st Lord Marney who died in 1523, and his son John, 2nd Lord Marney, who died in 1525. A further item of interest is a five hundred year old iron-bound chest, given to the church by Lord Henry Marney or willed to it by his son.
More images of the interior and exterior can be found at www.essexchurches.info/church.asp?p=Layer%20Marney
Both the Church and the Tower are well worth visiting. The church is usually open during the day. Information on visiting Layer Marney Tower can be found on its website at www.layermarneytower.co.uk
Page updated: 07 Feb 2024 at 20:00