The Family Business: A family affair

Published: 10/11/2015

This being my first foray into The Family Business newsletter, I thought that I would depart from the norm and speak to a family business client of mine about what working together closely meant to them. Accordingly, one wet Wednesday afternoon, I met with Nicholas Charrington and his eldest daughter Alice at their restaurant ‘Tymperleys’ on Trinity Street, Colchester. 

The Charrington family own Layer Marney Tower, England’s tallest Tudor Gatehouse, which sits proudly in the Essex countryside between Colchester and Tiptree. The house was bought by Nick’s father and mother, who fell in love with the property after getting married in the nearby church. To their extreme good fortune, Layer Marney Tower came to the market shortly afterwards, at a time when there was little appetite for investment in such buildings. 

The purchase of Layer Marney marked a new chapter for the Charrington family. After years of moving around, the family had a home ‘base'. The next generation still consider Layer Marney Tower to be, first and foremost, their family home - a hub where they and more distant relatives can gather for family events and have a really good time. 

The idea that the property could be used to generate income was brought to the fore by Nick and his wife Sheila when they took over its day-to-day management. It had previously been open to visitors and hosted the occasional wedding, but on a fairly modest scale.

Layer Marney Tower has become one of the most popular places in the region for weddings, has a variety of corporate entertainment and conferencing facilities, and offers educational days out for children. Opening the house and grounds to visitors continues, but new ideas are developed – ‘Glamping’ is the most recent activity to be introduced to the site, with six tents (although to describe them as mere 'tents' is to do them a disservice!). 

The family has recently embarked on a venture in Colchester town centre: Tymperleys. A Tudor merchant house dating back to 1480, it was later gifted to Colchester Borough Council and housed a Clock Museum. The Charringtons have taken a 125 year lease on the property, with the help of Birketts. It has since been renovated and refurbished into a restaurant, coffee house and tea room. 

The top floor of the restaurant has been opened up to host larger groups and corporate events, as well as weddings and private parties. There are further plans afoot to renovate the cart-lodge in the courtyard into a gelateria, to make the most of the beautiful gardens. More recently, Birketts was involved in their purchase of part of the building which fronts Tymperleys. This is now let as a book shop, which is doing a solid trade in store as well as having a strong online presence. 

Eldest daughter Alice now manages Tymperleys and has made it a great success, adding new events, special evenings and a whole new Christmas schedule (all of which must be self-supporting, as she was warned by her father). She is also instrumental in setting-up ‘Trinity Traders’, bringing other businesses on their street together in a bid to increase footfall and push up revenues at a time when many town centres are struggling. 

Although Nick and Sheila ultimately own Tymperleys, it did not seem like a relationship of employer and employee existed between him and Alice; quite the opposite. Nick was obviously keen to let Alice get on with running this side of the business and was very supportive of her ideas and income-generation strategies.

They seemed to have relatively similar personalities, and both pointed to the importance of having someone in the family fulfilling a ‘mediator’ role - to quell any conflicts before they have time to become issues and help them reach business decisions. This, they explained, was played by (the “very patient”, to quote Alice) Sheila, who has been instrumental in the success of the different ventures the family have pursued. Nick and Alice also both talked about the importance of maintaining strong, open lines of communication both between them and the other members of the family, both to discuss things that are working well and also to ensure that people keep talking at times when difficult decisions have to be made. 

Alice has two sisters and a brother: Hannah works for WPP in London; Grace is working in Paris for a year as part of her degree course at Durham; John is studying history and politics. Just as the entire family has always been involved in the activities at Layer Marney Tower, so they all discuss strategy and plans for Tymperleys - as well as helping out on busy days when extra hands are needed.

Alice recalled watching majestic wedding parties taking place from the windows of the Tower and then being sent out early the next morning to help pick up cigarette ends and the like. At bank holidays all four children would pick, wash and bag plums and then sell vast quantities to the visitors.

Both Nick and Sheila are determined that their children experience the world before deciding if they wish to settle down and carry on the family business. Alice has spent the most time working with her parents, but she is soon to hang up her apron and walk from Canterbury to Santiago de Compostela, before deciding her next career move. In terms of succession planning, nothing formal has been agreed between the two generations. However, it is clear that, whatever is decided, the Charringtons are the sort of family that will make it ‘work’.

The content of this article is for general information only. For further information on this topic, please contact Edward Willis. Law covered as at November 2015.

People Finder