Survey of London Monograph 11, Eastbury Manor House, Barking. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1917.
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A LARGE part of Essex has escaped the modern passion for change, and to this is due her richness in unrestored and unspoiled buildings of a past age. The charm of Eastbury House lies in the fact that it remains practically untouched by the sinister hands of "improvement," and at least externally is able to show us to-day the actual craftsmanship of its sixteenth-century builder.
The exact date of the building or who erected it is unknown. Several writers have inferred from the history of its ownership that it was built by Clement Sisley, who held the property in 1557, and in whose family it remained until about 1607. "There is a tradition," says Black, (fn. 1) "of the date 1572 having been cut in brickwork in some part of the hall, destroyed many years ago by a person who dwelt there," and he adds that in Philip Luckmore's "Tablet of Memories" (fn. 2) is "Eastbury House, Essex, built 1572." In Grose's "Antiquities"—the edition the preface of which is dated 1787—we are told there was a date 1573 on a leaden spout on the south side of the house, and this, together with the date in the hall, has been referred to by subsequent writers.
A part from this date, which if confirmed would not necessarily be the date of the house, the building itself gives very little evidence of belonging to the Elizabethan period. It is true that the symmetrical disposition of the plan in the form of the letter H and the regular grouping of the gables show the influence of the Renaissance and give a character in keeping with the domestic architecture of Elizabeth's reign. On the other hand, there is a striking absence of Renaissance details. The finials to the gables, the moulded chimney-stacks, the traceried pediment over the porch, and the stone chimney-pieces, all show late Gothic or Tudor forms. The two circular newel stairs suggest a date earlier than the introduction of the square Elizabethan staircases; and the arrangement of the hall is, of course, not inconsistent with its late mediæval appearance. In the absence of any documentary evidence it is perhaps enough to say that the house may possibly have been built before the dissolution of Barking Abbey, and that, if it should prove to have been the work of an owner after the Reformation, it shows an unusual conservatism and devotion to traditional features.
After these introductory remarks we can proceed to a description of the various parts of the building. Its plan (Plate 3) has already been referred to as in form like the letter H, the main block lying east and west and comprising the hall and rooms above, the two wings projecting slightly forwards to the north, and with greater depth to the south, where an enclosed courtyard is formed by the building on three sides and a high wall on the fourth. There are three storeys with a cellar under the west wing. On the north side a square three-storeyed porch adjoins the west wing, and two lofty staircase turrets, roughly octagonal without and circular within, are attached to the hall in the angles of the courtyard. There are three fine brick chimney-stacks in the courtyard and others rise from the roofs, having well-designed, moulded set-offs and grouped octagonal shafts with moulded caps and bases.
The walls are built of red brick in English bond and are of fine material and workmanship. Moulded bricks are used in the plinth, the jambs, mullions, transoms, and labels of the windows, the gables, the entrance porch, and the corbels and shafts of the chimney-stacks. The eastern stair turret—the only considerable feature of the house which has been demolished (fn. 3)—still shows a fine handrail of moulded brick cut in the remaining wall. A diagonal arrangement of bricks with dark headers is to be seen externally, and this, together with the size of the bricks (10 ins. by 4½ ins. by 2½ ins.), agrees with the brickwork to be found in Essex in the early part of the sixteenth century. Another local feature is the cement covering to the brick windows, worked to represent quoins on either side (and to the stairturrets), which conforms with a practice now recognised as having been widely in vogue in this county. The roofs are tiled.
The majority of the windows on all floors are of six lights, three above and three below the transom, which is of brick, hollow-chamfered on both sides, as are also the jambs and mullions. The north front (Plate 6) has two pairs in each wing, one to each of the ground and first floors and one window in the gable. The hall has three windows, with three above (now blocked up) on the first floor, and two on the second floor, each in a small gable. The porch (Plates 9 and 10) has moulded brick jambs, and a four-centred arch in a square label surmounted by a brick pediment with tracery, and three finials covered with a pattern in cut brick. The rooms over the porch have two windows on each floor, one facing north and one east, each of four lights, two above and two below the transom. The gables have panelled angle finials, set obliquely, and hexagonal ones at the apex, carried on moulded corbels. They originally rose some height above the parapet, but the moulded bases of the upper portions alone remain. The east elevation (Plate 8), which overlooks the walled garden, has a gable at each end with a smaller one in the centre, having windows like those to the north. The first floor has a row of seven windows, which are repeated on the ground floor, except that one light of the central window has to give place to the garden entrance, an oak door in a heavy square frame. The west elevation is similar to the east and is only varied by a modern porch to the kitchen.
The courtyard to the south (Plate 7) presents the most picturesque aspect of all the views of the house, the gables, lofty chimney-stacks, and the remaining staircase turret being grouped together to form a skyline of quiet, unusual beauty. The gables of the two wings are similar to those on the north side, except that there is one window only on each floor and a single opening above the top window to give light to the roof. The wings are connected by a wall some 13 feet in height with a somewhat decayed square-headed door in the centre. On the inner side of each wing and flush with the wall is a small two-storied projection containing the guardrobes, an early feature. The eastern face of the west wing has no windows, but in the centre is the (kitchen) chimney-stack, which projects boldly from the wall (Plate 21), and is increased in width by two corbels of moulded brickwork as far as the first floor, when by a series of set-offs it reaches the base of its three octagonal shafts. This stack adjoins the staircase turret, which on its eastern face has five storeys, occupied at the base by a square-framed batten door (Plate 23) and four single-light windows above. On its south-eastern side it also has four windows, each in a correspondingly lower position than the others, except the top one, which forms part of a series of seven windows, (fn. 4) making an octagonal lantern at the top of the tower. Cement quoins mark the angles of the stair, and below the lantern is a moulded course of brickwork. The parapet was originally adorned with little cylindrical carved finials at the angles.
The greater part of the space on the south wall of the main building between this stair and the eastern turret, which is now missing, is occupied by the (hall) chimney-stack, with its five flues and corresponding shafts, which are here octagonal with hollow sides. A small space to the west of the stack leaves room for a four-light window (two lights above and two below the transom) to both the ground and first floors. A similar window on the ground floor occurs to the east, but over it is turned a segmental arch (Plate 21) on two moulded corbels, to carry a part of the chimney-stack, which is here slightly recessed from the main face. The angles of the stack are chamfered at the ground floor level to admit more light to the windows. The west face of the east wing has a central chimney-stack with three shafts, of which the bases alone remain. Between the stacks and the demolished stair are two windows similar to those just described on the south wall of the main building, one to each floor.
The original internal arrangements of the house have been considerably altered and practically all the fittings have disappeared. The porch once had a fine oak door, with wrought-iron knocker (illustrations of which have been preserved, see Plate 10 and page 12), and leads into the hall behind the screen. W. H. Black (fn. 5) refers to the "passage under the gallery of the hall, which was entered on the left hand through a screen, whereof only the posts and bressummer now remain." These have long ago given way to a modern partition; it is very doubtful if there was ever a gallery, as the height of the hall would not admit of this. Black further describes two doors communicating from the screen passage to the kitchen wing, which would conform to the usage of the time. Another interesting note of his refers the reader to T. H. Clarke's plan, which "shows where the hall was paved with black slates (16 inches square) ; the other parts were paved with small red tiles, except the daïs, which was floored" (Plate 3). The paved floor and daïs have both disappeared, and the fine stone fireplace, of which a drawing is reproduced, was removed to Parsloes but is no longer there. The room is now divided into two and entirely modernised, but originally it must have been a fine room, 40 feet by 21 feet, with its screen and fireplace, its three windows to the north and two to the south, and with its appropriate decorations. At the east end towards the passage, which gave entrance to the principal stairs, the parlours, and the entrance to the walled garden, is a wide recess, which Black describes as "containing an iron shelf raised on a brick arch and seemingly used as a sideboard."
The passage to the garden is 9 ft. 2 ins. wide. The two doors of the hall (now blocked) and principal stair respectively occupy the west end, while to the east is the garden door flanked on each side by one light of the adjoining windows (Plate 25). The original oak door, hung to a heavy chamfered frame, remains: we have already remarked that by its position it cuts into one of the windows under the side transom light. It is interesting that the remaining lights of the two side windows are backed by the thickness of the wall, and have been introduced for reasons of symmetry alone. On each side of the passage are doors, now blocked, leading into the parlours, that to the south being a room of some 32 feet by 20 feet, now used as a stable. The fireplace is bricked up and a modern entrance has been cut through the south wall beneath the window, which has been removed and replaced by a small light, the original brick label alone remaining. The north parlour is rather over 25 feet long, with the same width as the other, and is divided into two out-houses, a large modern cartway having been made in the east wall in place of the northernmost window and another modern doorway at the southern end of the same wall. The fireplace has been removed, but Mr. Black's drawing of it is here shown.
The rooms in the west wing are approached from the hall by two modern doors in the wall behind the screen. These give on a room some 20 feet square at the north end, and a passage room, about 8 feet wide, from which the second staircase and the kitchen were entered. The door to the stair is now bricked up. A long recess occupies the western half of the north wall of this passage room, and to the right of it was a curious recess, not unlike a piscina, with a cusped and foliated arch of fourteenth or fifteenth century character. This niche was discovered and recorded by Mr. Robert Pearsall in 1872, and he has suggested that it marked the position of a chapel. It is improbable, however, that it would have been placed in the western and kitchen wing, and its Gothic character would suggest that it had been inserted for some reason from an earlier building.
The kitchen with the large fireplace in its eastern wall has been modernised, but at the north end of this wing is a small room 20 feet by 14 feet, the walls of which are covered from floor to ceiling by sixteenth century oak panelling with moulded frames (Plates 14 and 26). The floor of this and the south room are raised over low cellars and approached by a few stairs.
The first floor is now inhabited only in the west wing, which has been modernised within and possesses no ancient features. Over the old hall were originally two rooms with fireplaces (now bricked up) in the central chimney-stack. The eastern room has plastered walls on which remain traces of elaborate painted decoration dating from the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century. A scale drawing of the painting on the partition, which has now disappeared, is reproduced among T. H. Clarke's drawings of the house (fn. 6) (Plate 30). The scheme of decoration can still be seen, and consists of a series of arched panels separated by twin columns of spiral shape, with foliated pedestals and capitals apparently coloured to represent stone. The line of columns and arches stands on a panelled plinth, with moulded base and cornice, while above at ceiling level runs an entablature with a triglyph over each column. The plinth or dado is panelled, having classical busts depicted in the panels beneath each column. The whole is drawn in a rough perspective, and the arched spaces between the columns represent openings or windows through which one looks upon a seascape with fishing vessels of various types in bright natural colours. The east and west walls were treated alike, each with a plain squareheaded doorway on the right-hand side, over which was a panel of painted strapwork ornament, and the remainder of the wall arranged in three bays as described above. The south wall had a fireplace in the centre (now removed), over which was a double-arched opening with a pendant under the spandrel, bearing a coat of arms :—Ermine between six cocks a fess Gules. This is the coat of More (co. Chester), but its owner has not been identified. The opening here shows a landscape, Dutch in character, with an avenue of trees and a town in the distance, with towers and spires. The fireplace was flanked by a single painted column and a window with seascape on each side as on the other walls. The columns between the windows on the north side can still be traced.
From the western room a door leads into a small room over the porch, where is a trap door opening on a space some 3 ft. 6 ins. deep between the floor of the room and the ceiling of the porch below. This space is lighted by a loophole in the eastern wall.
The east wing on the first floor, overlooking the walled-in garden, was probably designed as the long gallery, although this may have been on the second floor. The entrance from the painted room and now demolished staircase is bricked up, and the present approach is by wooden steps from the stable below. A part of the room at the south end is partitioned off, but the framework is not original. There were two fireplaces in the gallery, on the west wall, but the southernmost alone remains in its place (Plates 13 and 27). It is of freestone with moulded jambs and a flat pointed arch, the shoulders being obliquely cut in a straight line instead of rounded. This form, which is not uncommon in the Tudor period, was followed in all the fireplaces in the house. The spandrels have small shields and foliage, and a stone frieze of alternate circles and lozenges filled with roses and leafage extends over the arch. The original brick-lined opening with a panel of herring-bone work at the back remains.
The second floor is now open to the roof (Plate 28), the plaster ceilings having been removed and the floor boards taken from the joists. The timbers are in a fine state of preservation, and the roof presents a picturesque appearance with its queen-posts, tie-beams, and rafters all revealed. The constructional parts of the floor have been removed over the painted room and over the long gallery. There is only one fireplace on the second floor, a simple three-centred arch of chamfered brickwork set in the central stack above the hall.
The walls of the east wing on this floor still exhibit traces of painting, the subjects of which were figures in costume, some of which have been drawn by T. H. Clarke (Plate 32) and Elizabeth Ogborne, and are reproduced here. The prevailing colour used was apparently a shade of green.
The original oak door from the staircase to the west wing is still in its place. The stair is of massive oak, with a central newel and solid treads. It rises to a stage above the second floor, where the windows in seven sides of the octagon give fine views over the flat country. A trap door leads to the lead roof over the stair, whence a fine view (Plate 24) of the old tiled roofs and lofty chimney shafts is obtained. The eastern wing of the house looks out on a square walled garden, some 100 feet square, now used for vegetables, but "where," in 1834, "the box plants have grown rank and high." (fn. 7) The original sixteenth-century walls are still largely intact, having a brick chamfered plinth and coping. On the east side are four niches, and two on the south wall, with triangular-shaped heads, formed by two sloping bricks. The openings are 18 inches in height and 11 inches wide, the depth also being 11 inches. There has been some speculation on the purpose of these niches, which occur not infrequently in the garden walls of sixteenth-century houses. Those discovered some years ago at Bromley in Kent are almost identical but somewhat larger. We have seen that in 1780 these niches held figures, (fn. 8) which may, of course, have been the original garden ornaments. It is suggested that they were formed to hold lanterns, or even cages for birds, such as Bacon in his "Essay of Gardens" describes in hedges "framed upon Carpenter's work." In some parts of the country similar recesses were used for bees, but those at Eastbury are small for this purpose and may simply have been intended for hanging plants. Black (1834) states that an orchard adjoined the garden, "where some old fruit trees yet stand," and it was approached no doubt by the gateway in the east wall, the opening of which has been enlarged in modern times. The south and west walls of a second square garden remain on the west side of the house.
Of the outbuildings two original barns are left, to the south-west of the main building. The smaller adjoins the west garden, and has a west porch and a short aisle to the north. The larger barn (Plate 29) stands some distance from the house and measures 95 feet by 40 feet. It is divided into three aisles by massive oak uprights, and is five bays long, with a half bay at each end and a porch to the east. Originally thatched, it is now roofed with corrugated iron, but most of the original timbers remain, except the external weather-boarding, which is modern.