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500 years ago, in Tudor England,
one man started what would have been one of England's greatest private houses.
This is Layer Marney, welcome to the palace that never was.
This is Climbing Great Buildings. Throughout this series,
I'll be scaling our most iconic structures, from the Normans to the present day.
I'll be revealing the buildings' secrets
and telling the story of how British architecture and construction developed over a thousand years.
The next step on my voyage through British architecture
brings me here to Layer Marney near Colchester in Essex.
Built around 1520 by Henry, 1st Lord Marney, who was a member of King Henry VIII's Privy Council,
this Tudor skyscraper has earned its place on my architectural journey as one of the finest examples
of innovative brickwork and terracotta design.
Little did Lord Marney know that the crafts and techniques pioneered in this beautiful house
would survive for the next 500 years.
To be one of Henry VIII's select right hand men was
to stand very close to the top of the Tudor social pyramid.
Lord Marney needed a house that reflected that position,
so I'll be scaling this beautiful building
to understand how the Tudors pioneered architectural innovation
and reflected themselves in spectacular ostentation.
In order to reveal the secrets of this wonderful mansion,
I've been given unprecedented access to get a perspective of the building never seen before.
I'll be climbing 70ft up the tallest Tudor gatehouse in England.
You learn something every day.
Thank you, madam.
Balancing precariously in mid-air to get a unique view of a 500-year-old timber roof.
You are handling this like bread. And even having a go at making my own Tudor brick.
Not too hard. Just let it drop gently into the mould. Lovely.
But I won't be going it alone.
I'll be joined by one of Britain's top climbers, Lucy Creamer, and a team of riggers.
Along with intrepid cameraman, Ian Burton, who will be helping me on my Tudor quest.
My first climb is going to take me inside this magnificent Tudor
building, which these days is known as the Long Gallery.
And like the rest of Layer Marney, it's built out of fine East Anglian brick.
In the time of Henry and John Marney, this brick block used to be the stables.
It could hold about 30 horses on the ground floor and, above them,
was a floor providing an extra storey for bedrooms, may be stable boys and possibly even guests.
It remained in use as a barn until 1910.
Even today, there's a fine Tudor roof inside.
As I enter the building, I can tell straight away this is no mock Tudor roof.
This is the real thing, made by master craftsman of the 16th century.
What's instantly recognisable is its size and traditional Tudor construction.
Up here we see these large, curved timber beams meeting at an apex
to transfer the weight of the roof down to the walls.
These individual frames are known as trusses.
-I like it.
-It's not that high, but it actually
looks like you're going to get an unusual view of a historic roof.
This is going to fun.
Right, see you up there.
By this time, developed traditions of structural timber work in a
well-wooded England made master carpenters as essential as masons.
But in order to see how these trusses were fitted, I need to get up high and have a good look.
I love timber roofs, Luce.
Yeah, I think I do as well.
I love these curved bits in the roof, whatever they are.
-Oh, right, yeah.
Are you a tree hugger?
-Yeah, I'm a beam hugger.
All the joints of the frame were expertly cut so they fitted to perfection.
The Tudor carpenters were so precise they didn't have to join the wood together using nails.
Instead they used wooden pegs.
When you set these things out on the ground, you have to imagine this lying horizontally,
the carpenters having cut them, fitted them together, checked it, measured it on the ground and said,
"OK, right, that'll work. Now you can hoist it up."
Imagine thinking, "Oh, actually, it doesn't fit.
"Can you take this down again and trim it, Neville?"
To make sure the pieces did fit correctly, the carpenters put marks on the beams.
It was a bit like putting together Tudor flat pack furniture.
-See just there?
See, it's V and three Is - eight.
And you should see the same number.
-There's a three there.
So the whole thing's labelled. It's like a kit.
I want to get in amongst the rest of the beans and braces and have an
even closer look, so the riggers have made a slack line for me.
And it's definitely the wobbliest thing I've been on yet.
Try and bend your knees a bit more and
let all the kind of wobble go through your knees rather than your hips.
I'm feeling a million dollars.
-Feeling really balanced?
Where I'm wobbling along now is where the extra floor would have been.
It's incredible to think that, 500 years ago, after serving the Royal Court their feast, this is where the
king's servants may have had their own fun and merriment before bedding down for the night.
In Tudor times, a solid piece of timber like this was worth a considerable amount of money.
And, like any good building material, it would be recycled and re-used again and again.
As I take a closer look, I can see that history has literally been written on the beams.
These bits of re-used wood, you can see there are notches
where it's been used for a different thing in a previous life.
-It could have been re-used two or three times.
It could be going back to the Norman conquest or something.
I love to see that. I love to see previous lives.
It's almost like a genetic code of building that stretches way back.
-Yeah, it is.
Check this out, these little dark marks.
They show this has been taken from the inside of the house.
-And the reason is because those dark marks...
Scorch marks where people have lit torches so they can see what they're doing.
And there's a little relic there of domestic history from the Middle Ages.
That's really cool.
As much as I'd like to stay up here and see living history on the beams,
it's time to get on with exploring the rest of the house.
-Yeah. And by the time I reach the bottom, I'm heartily relieved to be back on solid ground.
I love you, floor.
I enjoyed that because wood always seems to bear the scars of its history.
And actually, the more history it's had, the more interesting and rich it is.
A rare chance to stand on that strap line and just have a look at the marks and the little scorches
and figure out how,
over 500 years ago, these what were once oak trees growing like
weeds in East Anglia came to create something of real, lasting beauty.
It's fantastic to see durable, solid timber in such good condition.
But the main reason I've come to Layer Marney is to see what makes this house really special.
Today, brick is the commonest house-building material.
We take it quite for granted.
But in the early Tudor rage, fired clay was all the rage.
To build a brick house was something quite special.
100 miles away from here, the opulent palace at Hampton Court was being built with brick.
The owner was Cardinal Wolsey, the all-powerful right hand man to Henry VIII.
As a close member of the court, Lord Marney couldn't be seen to be behind the times.
He also wanted to display his position and wealth,
so he followed Wolsey's lead and constructed his very own statement house out of stylish brick.
For my next climb, I want to get a closer look
at a part of Layer Marney that best shows its marvellous brickwork.
It's the eastern gable of the east range.
It's part of what was the stable courtyard, and so it has things like bake houses and storage rooms in it.
Practical, but no less lovely.
The brickwork is lovely quality and you can just see from this angle
crow step gables and moulded chimneys.
I want to get up close to those and have a good look.
Let's do it, madam.
Of course, this wasn't the first time brick had ever been used.
Originally, the Romans had built in brick, but the tradition had died out along with their empire.
It wasn't used again in Britain in earnest for almost a thousand years.
Until, that is, about 1440 when King Henry VI used brick for building places like Eton College.
Well, with a royal seal of approval, it could only become more fashionable.
And by the time we arrive in the early years of the 16th century, especially in eastern England,
an area devoid of good building stone, then you find a veritable industry of brick building.
That in turn led to master bricklayers
becoming established as rivals to master carpenters and master masons.
The age of brick and truly arrived.
Brilliant. Well done, Jonathan.
-Yep. One will do.
Layer Marney's covered in this typical Tudor diaper work, these
diagonal courses of darkened, glazed bricks which make fabulous patterns - zigzags, chevrons, just stripes.
It's marvellous. There's real fizziness and variety everywhere.
But the name's interesting because diaper comes from diamond.
And you may think of American nappies being called diapers.
That's the same word, too, because that absorbent, thick cloth was also woven in a diamond pattern.
These delicate creatures are called crow steps.
They seem to be an Netherland-ish inspiration.
And I love the name, the idea that crows don't need to fly anywhere,
they can just take it easy and hop from one section to the next.
But it's a very decorative way to dress a gable end like this.
But of course it also sheds water rather neatly.
Just a few more steps and we've reached what I think is the most stunning part of the eastern gable,
these glorious, spiral chimney stacks.
To build these journeys was very expensive, so those that could
afford them, like Lord Marney, wanted to draw attention to them.
These fantastic spirals and embellishments are purely decorative,
and so designed to display one's wealth to the neighbours.
These bricks are very nicely made.
I mean, you wonder what shape the mould must be to turn them out.
These chimneys herald the luxury within a house of this size.
But over the last 500 years, these exposed bricks have needed repair and replacement.
Amazingly, today we still use the techniques
pioneered by Tudor craftsmen to maintain houses like Layer Marney.
-Here we are.
-Nicely done, sir.
-Love to have a go if I can.
-OK, do I need sand on my hands?
-And then I pick this up.
-Roll the mould, that's it.
Shake it all around so every surface is covered.
-And then I pick up a chunk?
Oh, that's like butter cream. It's delicious.
Right, now, I cover this in... I knead it, essentially.
Yeah, just roll gently in the sand.
Right, so I'm handling this like bread.
So I whack it, do I?
Not too hard. Just let it drop gently into the mould. Lovely.
A bit of fall-out there. I'm going to use this stick, which is called a...
-I cut it in the middle?
-Yeah, and then just push it away.
And now pull the rest back towards you and just catch the remaining bits with your hand.
A little bit of sand on top just to stop the board sticking.
And you'll gradually see that release.
That's lovely. So, then a little bit of sand on top and it won't stick to the board.
Now, if you get a board from your left there.
Place it on the top.
And you just turn it right over.
OK. And then opposite corners and it should come out.
Look at that, it's coming.
-Oh, there we are.
-Yeah, that's OK.
Not bad. Better than my one.
Bit of a rough edge, but you know, happy with that.
How many of those could you turn out in a day?
A good maker would probably produce 250 a day of this type of brick.
One of the problems we have is that the better the maker gets, the more precise the brick comes.
And there are a couple of year that,
-are a little bit more precise.
-That actually looks wrong when you see it on a Tudor chimney.
-Oh, I see.
-So my rough edges, actually, are much better.
Lord Marney was intent on building a palatial residence fit not only for
himself but also for King Henry VIII when he came to visit.
The key feature of Layer Marney is the
grand gate house, the entrance at which the king would have arrived.
It's the tallest Tudor Gate house in England and, for my final climb, I want to get right to the top.
-It's big, isn't it?
-Yeah, it's good.
-It's built like a brick gatehouse.
But delicate with it. You see all these brick bits.
-You can see that's about to fall off.
So super light touch on this one. Look at you.
-I'm going to try and steer clear.
And you've got soft footwear on. It's me with my clod hoppers.
I've got to negotiate this with great aplomb.
Yes. Shall we go?
When Layer Marney was under construction in the 1520s, England was a relatively peaceful country.
Noblemen no longer needed to build stone castles to protect themselves from attack.
Now members of the Royal Court, like Lord Marney, wanted to build themselves luxurious
homes yet maintain the appearance of grand castles, as that conveyed a message of strength and status.
This huge gate house says several things about the Marneys who built it.
It looks a bit like a castle gate house.
It's got big turrets across the top.
But if you're going to invade, all you need to do is knock
a hole in the window and you're in.
So, it's got something about the Tudor age which uses
the language of where you've been but then hints to the future, because this is a novelty.
Glass is something which is shown off in the Tudor age because it's expensive to produce.
It's the new technology.
You're saying goodbye to the Middle Ages and hello to the modern age.
And it wants the best of both worlds.
Lord Marney was intent on conveying grandeur and self-importance in the palace.
His Tudor craftsmen used tricks of the building trade
to make the house appear even more expensive than it was.
Here's an interesting little spot on the second window up.
There's this white crusty layer all the way round it, and it's plaster.
You can see that there's the Tudor bricks and there are scrape marks where they have been cut.
And then around those is this plaster work.
And this is the way that some Tudor builders in stone-poor areas managed to disguise their brickwork
and pretend that finely moulded things like windows were actually made from cut stone.
I guess if people thought that you'd imported the stone, which is much more expensive,
then you were really showing off.
This should be a straightforward ascent,
but every now and again I'm reminded that I'm still an amateur climber.
Let's just stay off the building.
LAUGHS: Are you getting this?
Henry Marney used all the latest innovations
when building his palace, even down to the Tudor arches.
Now, Luce, these windows...
-Remember in the earlier Middle Ages we've been to, windows are pretty much like that, aren't they?
The point is
fairly consistent curve.
Here you see they're sharper curves around the corner then they shallow out towards the top.
-And so they're broader.
And I want to just sketch out how they did that.
So they worked out a way of doing it, did they?
Yeah. Mein book, please.
-There you go.
-Now, by the time we get to the Tudor age, the
arches that they inherited from the Middle Ages were called gothic arch.
You go like that,
and you go like that.
And, hey ho, you've got a gothic arch.
But the thing is this area here creates quite a height in itself.
And so, to bring that down some way, you need to be able to have a smooth arch that goes lower.
Is that just because they wanted to design something that looked different?
Well, it's a good point. If you think about...
Let's say, if you're looking at a consistent type of design that runs through windows, through fireplaces,
through carriageways, you don't need the steepness.
So you just need a bit of clearance with a structure that's strong enough to take the weight.
So let's draw the sides of that arch in.
You know, and if you've got a gatehouse like Layer Marney,
perfectly big enough.
If you start putting very tall, pointy arches on, then you compromise putting a storey in.
By making the arches and windows flatter and broader, Lord Marney's builders
were able to include so much glazing that it added a gloriously majestic
appearance to the building, up to eight storeys high.
I'm about halfway up the tower and want to take a look inside
to find out a little bit about the interior of the gate house.
And there's no better person to go to than the owner and resident of Layer Marney, Nick Charrington.
This room is comfortably furnished now, but it was once the carriageway in the middle of the gate house.
Exactly that. The carriageway at the bottom of the gate house.
You'd have driven up to here.
And, in fact, if you have a look here, we've got, just poking through
the panelling, do you see, one, two, three enormous great hinges?
And some of the older prints actually show it with great big oak doors.
They would have been opened, the carriage would have come through and then, about here,
there was a big arch that sprang up halfway through the deer's head and then came down about there.
And then the same on the other side.
So you'd have had fireplaces behind that.
Servants would have been there at the ready, so, as you turned up,
they'd take your bags from you and the weekend began.
I love the way you've been able to uncover hidden structure.
To my mind, a gate house like this is a place where Tudor guests were typically lodged in some style.
-Can I have a look?
-Come on. Lead the way. we'll go up the tower and have a look.
This is an original Tudor staircase and has all the typical features of
its time - curving oak steps, cleverly pegged together,
winding around a timber newel post, all encased in an octagonal turret of rich Tudor brick.
It's tantalising to think that Lord Marney and his guests, including Henry VIII, would have climbed them.
Oh, a wonderfully large room this one, Nick.
Yeah, this is sort of the top of the main apartments above the gate house.
So you've got the principal window looking down to the south.
So you've got the double-height space, you've got these lovely windows, big fireplace, I note.
So do you think the Marneys might have lived here?
I think so. I don't know whether Lord Marney was on the floor above Lady Marney, or vice versa.
And then I imagine that, if they had more important guests to stay, such as, in 1522, you had
Henry VIII himself actually came for a couple of nights.
So they'd probably decamp from these main rooms off to the wing.
It's wonderful to imagine these rooms being used by Lord and Lady
Marney to entertain Henry VIII and his Royal Court.
The king expected feasts and often danced well into the early hours of the morning.
And now it's back to the climb. Given this building is almost
500 years old, I've got to be careful not to damage the surface.
So Lucy's going to teach me how to climb it carefully.
So I'm standing on my jammer.
-I'm going to push my jammer up and, as I stand up, I get the weight underneath my bum.
-I like your style.
-Stand up and then I just pull up, pull it through.
Watch this, now the torment.
Right. So, me foot's under me bum.
-There's my jammer.
Weight goes on your foot.
Hey! Get you!
You learn something every day.
Thank you, madam.
When Layer Marney was being built, England was buzzing with new ideas of artistic innovation and style.
The country's young and fashionable King was behind the
arrival of exciting new influences from other countries such as Italy.
His courtiers would both encourage and follow their stylish monarch.
When Henry VIII, a young man aged 18, came to the throne in 1509, Henry became best friends for
a while with the Pope, because they had a common enemy in the French.
And so the Pope sent Henry gifts of gold and even Parmesan cheese.
And Italian craftsmen arrived in England.
Now, with them they brought a whole new raft of skills, Papally-approved things and, of course, they caught
on like wildfire, especially under Cardinal Wolsey, the man who would be the Pope's mouthpiece in England.
And so Hampton Court Palace by the banks of the Thames was covered in terracotta ornament.
In the early 1500s, when Layer Marney was being built,
northern Italy was remodelling itself in classical style.
And these Renaissance builders were using terracotta, which is a refined clay, to decorate their work.
Italian craftsmen brought magnificent terracotta, meaning "baked earth", to England.
And it soon became the newest and most stylish material for great house building.
Today we may only associate terracotta with flowerpots,
but back in the 16th century, it made up some of the most beautiful designs of its time.
It's used throughout Layer Marney and some of the most interesting
examples are right up here on the gate house.
This is fascinating. I'm looking at the terracotta of these giant windows.
This is a very rare example of how the actual frame of
the window, the terracotta work, is also expensively made.
Your eye travels over these exquisite little mouldings that look like three-dimensional designs.
Up you go to the top.
Delightful, classical capital and then there's little putti with wings over the top of the whole thing.
And if you imagine that this is the outside effect - brilliant shiny
glass, beautiful terracotta, signs of the connoisseurship,
the knowledge of classical Renaissance culture on the outside - what must be inside be like?
What must you be expecting?
After ascending almost 70ft, I'm approaching the end of my journey,
and have reached the crowning example of terracotta work at the summit of the gate house.
At the top, it feels like we're above the clouds.
We can at last see the building in all of its fine detail.
And this is really the climax, this parapet.
You're met by eight slightly mad-looking dolphins.
But of course, all of this is part of this
adoption of Italian Renaissance ideas.
It's a very English-looking gate house.
It harks back to the Middle Ages and you can see there that band of English trefoil decoration.
But the parts that matter really are these big scallop shell motifs.
The dolphins going back to back with fruit and garlands.
And then these classical strips of decoration.
This is called an egg and dart. You'd find this in ancient Greece.
And the guilloche moulding there, almost like overlapped esses, or circles with dots in the centre.
They are beautifully cut.
And the culmination of the whole thing is a box which has a knotted rope on it.
But it's a marriage not and it shows an M and a C.
It's Lord Marney and his wife, their initials, back to back.
You can't see it, of course, from the ground level. It's too small.
But maybe it's enough for them to know that their initials would grace
the very top of this fabulous building of theirs.
Tragically, in 1523, Lord Marney died before his grand house could ever be finished.
Even so, this palatial jewel used ground-breaking innovations in architecture which helped to
establish the tradition of brick building in our houses over the coming centuries.
This itself is a lasting testament to Lord Marney and his great palace that never was.
Next time, England's finest example of an Elizabethan house.
The miracle in stone that is Burghley in Lincolnshire.
Dr Jonathan Foyle, architectural historian and novice climber, scales Britain's most iconic structures, from the Normans to the present day, to reveal the buildings' secrets and tell the story of how our architecture and construction have developed over 1000 years.
The next step in Jonathan's journey takes him to Layer Marney Tower, a Tudor skyscraper nestled in the countryside near Colchester in Essex.
With unprecedented access to Layer Marney, Jonathan, aided by top climber Lucy Creamer, scales the building to reveal the innovations of the Tudor builders and craftsmen. On his adventure, Jonathan scales the highest and most majestic Tudor gatehouse in Britain to investigate why brick, an art form that died out with the Roman Empire, suddenly became the must-have building material for Tudor nobles. As he climbs all over the building, he walks a tightrope between the beams of a 500-year-old roof to investigate how Layer Marney's history is literally carved into the building; exposes the cunning Tudor tricks of the trade that make the house appear even more opulent than it actually is; and reveals the connection between parmesan cheese and the beautifully ornate terracotta carvings that adorn the building.