Tudor Essex

This article was originally written in 2015 at the time that the amazing Wolf Hall staring Mark Rylance was on television. If you didn’t get to watchthe programme – it’s certainly worth catching up on a box set, or if fancy you could read the novel. But be warned – you may find it rather addictive!

However, this year it’s 600 years since William Shakespeare’s death, and so I thought this would be a good opportunity to highlight some of the Tudor buildings that you can visit in Essex. They don”t – as far as I know – have specific links to Shakespeare, but they are still great places to visit for a day out. And you never know, maybe the great playwright did travel across Essex with his troupe of players, staying at houses on the way, to perform his plays to the good people of Essex. An early example of taking London plays out to the provinces, just like the National Theatre does today with it’s live streaming of plays form London, and sometimes they are Shakespeare’s plays.

A Tudor journey in Essex has to start in Ingatestone Hall. In 1535, under instruction from Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell put in place the processes that would lead to the dissolution of the monasteries. Cromwell tasked his assistant, a young lawyer from Devon called William Petre, visit the monastic houses of southern England to draw up a record of their possessions and to persuade them to surrender to the King. Petre was attracted by the manor of Ynge-atte-Stone (Ingatestone) to the extent that he bought the land and built the house that stands there now, and which is still in the hands of the Petre family!

It’s a glorious house to visit. My first trip to the house was when I was eight, a visit that made a lasting impression on me. I finally returned to the house a couple of years ago, and was pleased to find that the house was as beautiful and atmospheric as I remember – even the old kitchens with their evocative smell were still there. More details and pictures of the gardens (you can’t take photographs inside!) here. They are open during the summer, and watch out for re-enactment days they have their, for the full Tudor experience!

Despite it’s name, the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge was built by Henry VIII in 1543. He loved to hunt and he had the lodge built in the heart of the Royal forest. You can visit it today as it’s a free museum run by by the City of London who now own Epping Forest.

Nearby is Copped Hall, which is now an 18th century mansion house being restored after many years of decay by a very dedicated group of volunteers. We visited for their Apple Day one year. This house sits on the remains of an earlier Tudor house and its gardens. There’s a tree-lined path where, so the story says, Henry VIII walked back and forth waiting to hear the guns being fired from the Tower of London to signal that Anne Boleyn had lost her head, so he could marry Jane Seymour. When you walk along the path and look at London in the distance, it’s quite evocative. The house and gardens have regular open days on Sundays throughout the year, which are on our monthly listings.

If you travel away from London out into rural North Essex you will come to Coggeshall. There are many timber-framed buildings in the village, a legacy of the wealth of the East Anglian wool trade of the Medieval and Tudor periods. In the village is the National Trust owned Paycockes House,  It has stunning carving and panelling, and  was built around 1500 for Thomas Paycocke. Now you can explore the house and the gardens through the summer months. We visited one summer’s day and were enchanted by the house and the gardens.

If you leave Coggeshall and travel on to Colchester on your Tudor journey, take the opportunity to drive along Lexden Road to catch a glimpse of Colchester Royal Grammar School, which is now housed in a very attractive Victorian building. It was originally granted its two charters by Henry VIII in 1539 and Elizabeth 1st in 1584. As a school, it’s not normally open to the public, except as part of the Heritage Open Days which happen each year in September. Also in Colchester, is Thomas Lord Audley school, named after the man of the same name born in Earls Colne, he rose from being the town clerk for Colchester, to become Lord Chancellor of England between 1533 – 1544. You can see his statue on the outside of Colchester Town hall.

About two miles across town from the Grammar School is the National Trust’s Bourne Mill . It’s Grade 1 listed, and was originally built as a fishing lodge by Sir Charles Lucas in 1591 during the reign of Elizabeth I. It became a fulling mill around 1640 and then a corn mill from about 1840 until the 1930s. The mill still has a working watermill and is set in in beautiful grounds, next to a millpond and babbling stream. It’s open throughout the summer months.

In the town centre, standing just outside the town wall is St. Botolph’s Priory. An Augustinian Priory, built with reclaimed Roman building material, It’s important in the Tudor story of Essex as it was dissolved during the Dissolution by Henry VIII. St. Johns Abbey Gateway is all that’s left of a Benedictine Monastery. The Gateway overlooks the town from St.Johns Green and is unusual in that it refused to surrender to Henry VIII’s Commissioners during the Dissolution, and succumbed only after the execution of the abbot for treason. Both St. Botolphs and St. Johns Gateway are free to visit and are in the care of English Heritage.

If you are looking for somewhere to eat whilst you’re in Colchester, and want to continue the Tudor theme, head back to the town centre and look for Tymperley’s. Tymperleys is in Trinity Street, set back through an arch in its own gardens. Originally built as the home of William Gilberd, a true Elizabethan, known as the “father of electricity” he was also the medical adviser to Queen Elizabeth I. Gilberd undertook work on magnetism, and coined the word “electricity”. Nowadays this former Tudor merchant’s house (which is in fact pre-Tudor as it was started in about 1490), is owned by the Charrington family, the same people who own Layer Marney Tower. The Charringtons have been working hard to restore the house and turn it in to a restaurant and tearoom. The house has been furnished with Colchester made clocks, and art work on loan from the Victor Batte-Lay Trust. In amongst the clocks and art work you can treat yourself to breakfast, lunch or tea.

A few miles outside Colchester is the other Tudor building owned by the Charrington family, Layer Marney Tower. It’s England’s tallest Tudor gatehouse and was built during the reign of Henry VIII by Henry Lord Marney, as the main gateway for a magnificent palace – which was never built. The tower as its stands today is really imposing, with glowing red brickwork, gardens to wander in, a church to visit, and great views down to the River Blackwater. There are lots of events held throughout the year, including Tudor-themed events.

So finally our Tudor journey takes us to Kentwell Hall. It’s not in Essex – it’s just over the border in Long Melford in Suffolk, but it does have a Colchester postcode! No Tudor journey would be complete without a visit to the house which is famed for it’s Tudor re-enactments which happen throughout the year, and are great fun to visit. There are numerous re-enactors, all in costume and never slipping out of character, and you can have great fun joining in with all the activities.

We hope you have a great time exploring Tudor Essex!