Layer de la Haye

The name Layer de la Haye has changed quite a few times. The first known name is from Saxon times – Legra which means ‘lookout’. The old settlement was on top of the hill where the church now stands. This provided an excellent vantage-point against raiding parties from the coast.

Later the name becomes Leire or Leger which means ‘mud’. This is a Scandinavian or Norse word and may have been used to describe the soil and marshland around the village.

By the time of the Norman Conquest Layer was in use, which roughly translated means ‘owned by’ and the ‘de la Haye’ was added when a member of that family owned a substantial amount of land. The de la Haye’s were generous benefactors of the Abbey of St. John in Colchester and the monks from there took services in the Church.

The plague of the fourteenth century known as the ‘Black Death’ decimated the village and the Church became derelict until it was restored by the monks. At the beginning of the fifteenth century the family of Tey were Lords of the Manor of Layer de la Haye and some of the neighbouring parishes. Their Manor House stood on the site of the present Layer Hall Farm. By the eighteenth century the manor had passed to a Colonel John Brown who served as Cornet of Horse in the armies of John, Duke of Marlborough. He died as a Lieutenant-General in France but is buried under a magnificent obelisk in the churchyard. In his will he left £100 to the poor of the parish.

Within three years of the General’s death the Manor House was destroyed and what is now ‘Cross House’ became known as ‘The Hall’. Morant says that the Tey coat of arms which were in Layer hall were transferred to the windows of Cross House.

Legend has it that the manor of Blind Knights, which lies to the south-east of the Church, was a hospital for knights who were blinded or lost limbs in the Crusades. The name of Blind Knights appears in a document dated 1364 and the existing house is ancient. It is possible that a house has stood on this site for more than eight centuries.

In 1289 John de Rye gave one hundred and sixty acres of land to St. John’s Abbey in Colchester, and his name is perpetuated in the manor of Rye, known as Rye Farm – a medieval moated grange. At the end of the fifteenth century the Abbey built a house near Malting Green which is said to have been at one time a toll-gate house. This house was at one time known as the Gate House, but is better known by its present name of the Greate House.

At the time of the dissolution of the Monasteries which began in 1536, Sir Thomas Audley, who in turn became speaker of the House of Commons and Lord Chancellor, appropriated the manors of Rye and Blind Knights, together with the Mill and the patronage of the benefice. Layer Mill is mentioned in the Domesday Book as a water-mill. The mill wheel was powered by water from the Roman River.

The sixteenth century Porter House, which lies west of the High Road, is said to have been the haunt of smugglers in the eighteenth century. The porter business moved to the Donkey and Buskins in 1840. In the previous year The Fox public house moved to its present site from the south end of New Cut.

The village was, at one time, a very scattered and fairly small community. In 1950 the population was barely seven hundred, but by 1975 it was over one thousand and in 1990 it was not far short of two thousand. Despite this large increase, there is only one shop where there were at least three. This is due to the fact that Colchester is only four miles away. There is, however, still an unbuilt-up area between Layer de la Haye and Colchester, which allows the village to retain its identity.

Layer circa 1960s
Bullock’s Stores in High Road, pictured in 1912

The rural charm of Malting Green as it is today
A corner of Malting Green in the 1920s. Some of these cottages have since disappeared.

The post office in 1904. Postmaster Charlie Watkins poses with his delivery vehicle