Tucked behind some woodland, beyond the old gatehouse in Woolverstone Park, a 16th century Tudor folly stands tall and proud, overlooking the River Orwell. Now owned by the Landmark Trust and used as self-catering accommodation, Freston Tower is thought to be the creation of merchant Thomas Gooding in 1578. With 26 windows and an open turret perched on top of six floors, it was most probably used as a rather elegant lookout for ships arriving with goods to trade.
Local legend suggests that each floor was also used as a classroom for a different day of the week for Gooding’s daughter Ellen de Freston, where she studied charity, tapestry, music, painting and literature with astronomy being taught at the very top. According to the Landmark Trust however, there is no evidence to back this up, and so it seem likely that the tower was built, simply because Gooding could afford it.
Rich landowners commissioning unconventional buildings was not unusual in those days and also accounts for the ‘Tattingstone Wonder’ which was built in 1790 by local squire, Edward White. He did not like the view from his window at Tattingstone Place, which was of two red brick farm workers’ cottages, so he had one more added to make a row of three cottages and added a fake tower and flint façade to the front of all three, to make them look like a church. The back of the cottages looks odd because the facade is only on the front and from the rear, the buildings look like normal, red brick cottages with half a tower stuck on the end.
Walkers meandering through Shotley Heritage Park could easily miss the gun deck, which once housed a Bofor gun, used to help defend the harbour. This fascinating walk also encompasses a quarterdeck, crow’s nest and picnic area.
It is well known that many tunnels have been burrowed under sections of the peninsula, some leading from the former HMS Ganges site to various churches and one to the former home of Sir Philip Parker, uncle of Anne Boleyn. Erwarton Hall still remains a majestic home with a wonderfully preserved gatehouse, gardens and meadows, one of which is home to a herd of alpacas.
The east coast has a long history of smuggling, in which the Shotley Peninsula is said to have played a key role. Some locals were sympathetic to the smugglers and there were many tunnels and hideouts along the river banks. One of these hideouts was a house at Woolverstone Marina, which became known as the ‘Cat House’. The owner would put a stuffed cat in his front window to warn smugglers when the Excise officers were in the area!
Images: Freston Tower (top) | Erwarton Hall (middle) | Woolverstone Marina (bottom)