The Ghost of a Tower

Or, the story behind a cover photo.

The photograph for the cover of Who Killed Toby Glovins? was taken at a place called Layer Marney, which is about 1/2 an hour’s drive outside Colchester in the UK. I went there at the end of the same day I wandered around the lanes of the Suffolk countryside in search of Abbotshill; after I visited Lavenham, I drove south again down around the other side of the city. This was my last stop of the day.

Let’s call this part of the journey “Looking for Foxgrove.”

Layer Marney towers

I’d never heard of Layer Marney until last spring, when I was searching online for places to see in the vicinity of Colchester. While making my travel plans for my upcoming trip, I came across the Web site for this house. I not only thought that it looked interesting, but that a photograph of the towers might do nicely for the cover of my next Freddie Babington mystery. The story had already been finished and sent to my editor at that time.

I had no specific house in mind when I’d first described Foxgrove, where Toby Glovins’s murder occurs, but I haven’t been visiting stately homes all around Great Britain for the past 30 years without learning a few things. I put together some general ideas about the type of house I wanted this one to be.

As they proceeded up the long avenue of lime trees, the octagonal Jacobean towers of the house could be glimpsed ahead. The drive opened out into a great circle and the façade of Foxgrove stood before them, a vast red brick wall crisscrossed with a diamond pattern of pale yellow and innumerable mullioned windows framed in stone.

Layer Marney appealed to me when I first saw it since it was in the same style as the house I’d imagined. My fictional Jacobean house was considerably larger than what remains of this Tudor home, but they have many features in common: those towers, as well as some beautiful examples of diaperwork (that’s the term for those diamond-shaped patterns made by the differently colored bricks).

GryphonLayer Marney was originally built in 1520. In spite of the grand plans of the first Lord Marney, it was never completed according to his design. It should’ve been a vast quadrangle encompassing a courtyard. Only one wing was finished before his lordship’s death.

Henry VIII visited his friend Marney here in the house’s earliest days. Elizabeth I is also said to have once stopped briefly on one of her progresses, although that claim has never been established.*

The house was not lived in regularly over the centuries, but was usually kept as a secondary country residence by its subsequent owners or else rented out. It fell into disrepair–not to mention the damage it suffered from an earthquake in 1884. It’s only been restored to a habitable condition since the 1950s and has been open to the public since 2012.

The towers were part of the gatehouse, and are the oldest part of the surviving buildings on the property.

While I was there, I was delighted at how many details fit exactly with my descriptions. I could see my detective on the garden side of the house:

He tossed his cigarette butt into one of the enormous granite urns atop the terrace balustrade and went down the steps, through the shrubbery, and across the lawn.

The view from the towerAnd there they are: the terrace, the steps down to the lawn, and even the urns on the balustrade for Freddie to throw his cigarette into!

There are no walled gardens nor a dower-house to one side of the tower wing, and there never were, but the garden front is similar:

Below the terrace lay a large square of shrubbery with brick-lined paths that converged upon a fountain at the center. The borders were in bloom with late-summer flowers. Beyond spread a broad green lawn …

When he leaves the terrace, Freddie crosses the lawn.

A stream ran through a carefully cultivated dell at the bottom of the garden, the rocks placed slightly better than nature could have managed to divert the water into decorative pools and tiny falls. Freddie took a footpath that ran beside it…

When he came to a rustic-looking wooden bridge, he crossed it to enter the meadow on the other side and followed a path through the tall grass.

It’s there in the meadow that he first encounters Toby Glovins, still alive at this point, and glimpses the circumstances that will lead to Toby’s death.

Layer Marney duck pondI took a number of photographs around both the outside and inside of the building, as well as several from the platform on the roof between the two tower-tops.

What made me choose the particular shot we used for the book cover was the disused fountain in the foreground, which has a boy’s face on the side. Since the mystery involves the murder of a young man, it seemed appropriate.

I sat on the lawn at the foot of the steps for some time, waiting for a tour group on the terrace to get out of the way. It was an overcast day and I was afraid it would start to rain before I could get exactly the photo I wanted–but it never did rain that afternoon. After I had some tea in the cafe, which used to be the stables, I drove back into Colchester. I had to get the car back to the rental place before 6:00.


*”Stopped in for tea” is what the guidebook says, but this is either just a colloquial expression for a very short visit, or it’s an anachronism. The British didn’t have tea in Elizabeth’s day. It was Catherine of Braganza, the wife of Charles II, who popularized tea drinking in England a whole century later; on her arrival from Portugal, she desperately wanted a cup, and they gave her warm beer instead. I know how she felt.


Author: Kathryn L Ramage

Kathryn L. Ramage has a B.A. and M.A. in English lit and has been writing for as long as she can remember. She lives in Maryland with three calico cats named after the Brontë sisters. In addition to being the author of numerous short stories, reviews, essays, and period mystery novellas, she is also the author of a series of fantasy novels set in a dukedom called the Northlands on an alternate Earth whose history has diverged from ours somewhere during the medieval period.