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.
More images of the exterior can be found at www.essexchurches.info/church.asp?p=Layer%20Breton
St Peter's Church, 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. The spire is a prominent local landmark but was constructed of a relatively porous French stone which is now seriously decayed. 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.
The building was inspected in January 2012, following which the total cost of repairs was estimated at £1.4 million, not including VAT and professional fees. Early in 2013 the Church Commissioners issued 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 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 fourth proposal for residential development was put forward by a Mr Cottee of Tiptree. This proposal was submitted to the Church Commissioners who were not satisfied that it was viable and decided the Draft Pastoral Scheme for demolition should proceed.
Because of sustained objections to the proposed demolition, the Commissioners referred the matter to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. In July 2014 the Secretary of State decided that a non-statutory public inquiry into the matter should be held to fully consider all the issues involved in the case.
In April 2018 the Church Commissioners wrote to the Department for Communities and Local Government stating that they were, for the moment, withdrawing their referral to the Secretary of State of the draft Scheme for demolition and that the proposed Inquiry would not proceed. The Commissioners were concerned that they still had no detail of the repair, refurbishment or rebuilding works proposed by Mr Cottee beyond the original sketch plans and outline of costs. Without this detail they were unable to prepare further for the proposed inquiry or properly test the viability of Mr Cottee's proposals.
In July 2018 Mr Cottee applied to Colchester Borough Council for planning and listed building consent to convert the church into a five-bedroom family residence. The plans submitted with the applications showed, among other things, that part of the churchyard would become a private garden and car parking for the residence. Formal objections to the applications were lodged by Birch Parish Council, local residents and others with relatives buried in the churchyard, the Parochial Church Council, the Archdeacon of Colchester and the Team Rector of the benefice.
In October 2020 Colchester Borough Council's Planning Committee considered Mr Cottee's planning applications and voted to approve them. In spring 2022 it was reported in the local press that Mr Cottee's proposal to convert the building into a family home, including part of the graveyard as a private garden, has been withdrawn. Also that the statutory consultees who originally opposed demolition had accepted that demolition and the provision of a memorial garden on the site of the former church was the most appropriate outcome. In mid-May 2022 confirmation was received from the Church Commissioners that the four statutory consultees had withdrawn their objections to demolition. Subject to legal advice, the Church Commissioners did not anticipate the need to publish a new Draft Pastoral Scheme for demolition. They hoped to be able to 'make' the Scheme "and then 'bring it into operation' in the coming weeks." Once the Scheme for demolition came into operation, it would be the responsibility of the diocese to deal with the actual demolition and the creation of a memorial garden within the building's footprint.
Images of the interior and exterior of the church can be viewed on the website page at www.essexchurches.info/church.asp?p=Great Birch
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: 17 Jun 2022 at 22:05