The Legacy of Coggeshall
PUBLISHED: 11:11 24 April 2017 | UPDATED: 11:11 24 April 2017
2015 Bryan Shaw
Cogeshall is home to a number of significant buildings including Paycockes House, The Abbey and the Clock House. And, while Marks Hall Mansion no longer stands, it still leaves a lasting legacy within Coggeshall’s landscape
Like many other towns in East Anglia, Coggeshall began as a Saxon settlement and went on to find prosperity through the wool and textiles trades. As well as some charming individual houses and terraces, which are always pleasing to the eye, the town is home to some stunning architectural features, including its famous Clock Tower.
While Marks Hall Mansion no longer exists, the legacy of the estate remains as strong as ever and today the Marks Hall Gardens & Arboretum are a popular visitor attraction. The estate was once known as Mercheshala during Saxon times and, following the Norman invasion and subsequent conquest, was the home to the Merkshall family.
Robert Honywood bought the house in 1605 and immediately made changes by tearing down the timber frames and building a brick structure in its place. The house was handed down to various members of the Honywood family until it was sold at auction in 1897 to Thomas Phillips Price, a Welsh landowner and a liberal MP in Wales. Phillips Price had inherited a fortune through his unmarried uncle who had made his money from mining. It is thought Phillips Price had become familiar with Essex as his sister had settled in the county after her marriage. With his career as an MP over in 1895, Phillips Price became a county councillor and Justice of the Peace for Essex.
Perhaps one of the attractions of the Marks Hall estate was its deer park. Phillips Price had a particular interest in trees and woodland and, after his death in 1932, his wishes were revealed as he left the estate to the nation, ‘for the advancement of agriculture, arboriculture and forestry’.
Phillips Price married three times and his will stated that his bequest not be executed until after the death of his third wife. Sadly, the mansion itself and many parts of the estate suffered damage and eventual neglect during and after World War II. Earls Colne Airfield was situated on the edge of the deer park and much of the building was requisitioned by the Army. Braintree District Council used the property to house those left homeless by the war but, by 1949, the condition of the building was judged to be too dangerous for habitation and in 1950 it was demolished.
If the benefactor’s request was to be honoured, what remained of the estate held little obvious promise as it seemed that any original charm that the park, walled garden and lakes once had were hard to see. Nevertheless, The Thomas Phillips Price Trust was founded in 1971 and established as a charity. A commitment to the estate had been made and work to restore the estate’s former glory would begin.
The trustees, who had been appointed by the Minister of Agriculture, decided to create an arboretum of national status – something very much in line with Phillips Price’s wishes. The ornamental lakes were cleaned out and the walled garden was refurbished, cleared and replanted.
In 2011, the most recent developments and improvements were officially opened. With funding help from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Essex Environment Trust and The Rufford Foundation, the trust opted to improve visitor access to the gardens and the arboretum. 1,400 metres of new hard paths now appear across the site and there is a new bridge. Also that year, the trust decided to change the name of the site to the Marks Hall Estate.
As well as the popular Walled Garden and the Arboretum, visitors to the estate today can enjoy some magnificent woodland walks. Eagle eyes might also spot a silver washed fritillary, a rare species of butterfly, as well as other insect and bird life, not to mention the estate’s population of deer.
The gardens have a rich and varied outline that represents all the corners of the globe – Europe, Asia, North America and the Southern Hemisphere – providing plenty of landscaped scenery and plant interest to see throughout the year. And this summer, those making a visit to Marks Hall Gardens and Arboretum will be in for an additional treat thanks to an exhibition of more than 300 sculptures by 50 international and national artists.
The estate’s marketing consultant Sarah Edwards explains: ‘This biennial exhibition was a big hit two years ago when it debuted. We feel exhibiting sculpture in the surrounds of the arboretum is very much in keeping with the remit of the charity and of course it is a great way to invite people to the estate so they can see what we are and what we do.
Viewing art in this setting gives another perspective of the scenery and the sculpture too. Each lends itself to the other. The mansion no longer stands but, if it did, it would almost certainly have had pieces of art featured in the gardens.’
It is certainly another challenge for Jonathan Jukes and his small but dedicated team of gardeners, who certainly have a lot on their hands managing the 200-acre site.
‘Jonathan is the arboretum curator and has been with the estate for 30 years. His enthusiasm and energy is invaluable.
Thankfully the team are very receptive to displaying the sculptures and working closely with the sculptors, who are equally excited to be working on the project – some for the second time,’ explains Sarah.
‘We are lucky to have some sponsors for the exhibition and their support has enabled us to keep the entry fees at the normal rate during the period of the event. All pieces are for sale and vary in price from around £40, to some considerably higher, and are made from many different materials such as stone, metal, wire, wood and willow, for example.
‘We would love people to not only come and enjoy the exhibition, but also to come and find out more about the charity. Our aim is to continue protecting this special and beautiful landscape for the future and this includes striving to manage the habitats of a broad range of species. Jonathan has recently discovered a very rare nesting pair of ravens, which is causing much excitement. We also invite in local children to take part in our Forest School – another part of the charity’s remit links in education.
Find out more
Marks Hall Gardens & Arboretum
The Sculpture Exhibition runs from July 29 to September 10. Marks Hall Gardens & Arboretum are open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm, until November 6.