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Freston Tower
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Tower Freston Tower
Landmark Trust, Overview

At the Open Day 2000 the Landmark Trust handed out a one-page sheet to the visitors. From that sheet, here's their overview of the Tower.

Freston Tower, on the south bank of the River Orwell, is one of the earliest and most intriguing towers in England. It was thought to have been built in 1549 by Edward Latymer, as it was described as "built within these twelve years" in 1561. However, it now seems likely that it was built by Thomas Gooding who acquired Freston from Latymer in that year. Part of the Latymers' house still exists in changed form nearby.

Nobody is quite sure why Freston Tower was built. It may have been a lookout tower, an extravagant folly (and if so perhaps the earliest one in the country), or part of a pleasure garden. The best known, but least probable tale is that it was built for the education of the beautiful Ellen de Freston. Each weekday she studied a different subject on each floor - Charity, Tapestry, Music, Painting and Literature culminating in Astronomy on the top floor.

The fact that the first three storeys on the south side of the tower are windowless suggests that the tower may have originally been joined to another building long gone. Old photographs of the tower also appear to show a change in the brickwork in this area. However, all the known illustrations and prints show it free-standing, as it is today.

Freston is built of red brick with blue diapers (overburnt bricks arranged in a pattern) to the north and west sides. The staircase turret adjoins the north wall, rises six storeys and opens onto the roof which has an arcaded parapet, also of brick. There are polygonal buttresses at the four corners which rise to turrets, and no fewer than 33 windows. There is one room on each floor and that at the top was clearly the most important because here, unlike the others, the windows have transoms. These and many other windows have pediments, which is an unusual feature to find in the countryside at such an early date, and hints at the forthcoming English renaissance.

Freston Tower is not an inward-looking building. Every opportunity is taken to allow the occupants to enjoy the views outside it - even the three-sided staircase has a window in each face on every storey, and the roof was perhaps conceived as a viewing platform from where the visitor can see up river to Ipswich and down the Orwell towards the sea.

Belvederes and prospect towers are normally associated with the great gardens of the 18th century, but as Olive Cook has mentioned in her book on The English House, Freston, dating from Tudor times,

is placed with as acute a perception of the picturesque as that of any eighteenth-century landscape gardener and adds a dramatic accent to the quietly shelving, wooded banks of the Orwell estuary... the arrangement inside is unlike that of any earlier tower house, for the principal room is on the topmost floor.

Freston Tower is sited within old and undulating parkland of oaks, sweet chestnuts, cedar and beech trees. It sometimes appears in books on the subject, as the first Folly, but it does not belong to the Age of Follies, rather to the time of Henry VIII, Lacock Abbey and Layer Marney. Freston is a building of its time stylistically, but its importance lies in the fact that conceptually it is at least two centures earlier than the majority of its counterparts, such as those at Stourhead, Broadway and Wentworth Woodhouse.

Copyright Landmark Trust, 2000


Amended 30-May-2001 by EFB