Survey of London Monograph 7, East Acton Manor House. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1921.
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EAST ACTON MANOR: ARCHITECTURAL DESCRIPTION.
East Acton Manor House has been portrayed best for us in the painting preserved at Goldsmiths' Hall and here reproduced by courtesy of the Company (Plate 1). The artist has conveyed with success the homely dignity and quiet charm of this house, which worthily represented the ideals of the builders at the opening of the 18th century. The gables and mullioned windows of the Elizabethan and early Stuart homestead had been left behind, and in their place were the stately rows of sash windows, the well-proportioned cornice to the eaves, and little pedimented dormer windows perched upon the hipped roofs of tile. The architectural formality was of a gentle character, not too demonstrative, but aiming at a full measure of scholarly propriety and decorous form. Nor was the skill of the builder less in evidence in the setting of the house, its distance from the road allowing of the coveted perspective, its avenue-guarded approach, and the curving walls which framed its entrance gates. We shall see that the opposite front had a somewhat earlier treatment, and certain internal features suggest that either a part of an older house was allowed to remain or that some of its decorative fittings were re-fixed. The western, or Entrance front, however, shewn in the painting, was undisturbed by any elements of an earlier character. Before the house was destroyed in 1911 a plan of the ground floor was prepared by Mr. G. H. Lovegrove (Plate 3), and from this it may be seen that the main block followed the usual plan of the late 17th century or early 18th century house. It was composed of a rectangle with two short wings projecting eastwards, the central portion being occupied by an entrance hall towards the drive, and a staircase-hall looking on the gardens. The southern portion, including one wing, was divided into two reception rooms, while the northern part contained a room used as a dining room, with offices and a second staircase. Further north was a considerable range of buildings (including the kitchen), which appears to have been modern, with the exception of a building containing three rooms and a staircase facing west. There is no clear evidence of the date or original purpose of this block, which had no direct communication with the house, although connected with it by its southern wall, which flanked the entrance court. The building can be seen in the painting at Goldsmiths' Hall, and appears, from its stone quoins and casement windows, to be of a date earlier than the house itself, in which case it was probably the surviving portion of John Perryn's house or of one of the farmhouses mentioned in his will of 1656 (see Historical Notes). It was evidently remodelled early in the 18th century and covered with a hipped roof in keeping with the main building.
The west front had on the first floor a range of seven windows, with wide frames slightly recessed from the face of the brickwork. They were arranged in three groups, three together in the centre and a couple on each side. The brickwork surrounding the centre window was in close-jointed red brick and projected 2½ inches from the face of the wall, the portion immediately below the main cornice projecting also laterally over the two console brackets in cement, one on each side. The roof cornice and plaster cove at the eaves broke forward over this central feature, which rested on a plain brick string-course at the first floor level.
On the ground floor were windows of similar character to those above, but the central portion was occupied by the entrance doorway. This door had lost its original hood and framework, which appear to have been similar to that on the East front, if indeed the latter had not actually been removed from this position. There remained, however, the brick pilasters with moulded capitals and bases, flanking the entrance.
In recent times there were four flat-roofed dormers, with sash windows, which, it would seem, had replaced the original dormers with pediments and casement-lights shewn in the drawing on Plate 1.
The South front possessed a range of six windows (in three pairs) on the first floor; but below them, instead of the ordinary frames, there were six pairs of glazed doors or French windows reaching to the ground. The third window from the east was supported on either side by brick pilasters with moulded capitals, and along this whole length a verandah had at one time been fixed and subsequently removed. Three dormer windows lighted the attic floor on this side.
The North front faced the kitchen yard. Its treatment was similar to the south, except that the spacing of the windows was less regular, and the two lights at the west end were replaced by brick recesses. The ground floor windows were of the normal type, with basement lights below, and the third opening from the east end was occupied by a door, flanked by brick pilasters, and having a square fanlight and pedimental hood supported on brackets.
The East front was, in some ways, the most interesting. The doorway had the usual brick pilasters, over which was a well-designed shell hood with carved soffit and brackets. The fanlight had a foliated pattern in wrought-iron bars. This doorway and the windows of the front were all of the same date as the parts already described, but the two projecting wings possessed brick gables with shaped pedimental coping of a character more often belonging to the first half of the 17th century. A sketch by Mr. Hickes Oliver, made in 1904 (page 14), shows, moreover, a window with mullions and transoms in the east wall of the northern wing. These indications are too slight to draw from them any definite conclusion; but it is not improbable that the northern wing at least represented part of an earlier building, another portion of which has already been conjectured from the old work in the western part of the kitchen range. In this connection it should be noticed that both the wings had chimney stacks on the external walls, which is generally evidence of early work. The gables themselves were so completely overgrown with ivy that their detail is not visible in any of the photographs.
The internal features of the building were not all of the same date, and several were distinctly earlier than the main fabric.
The staircase was a good example of a type characteristic of the latter part of the 17th century before the cut string was introduced in the Georgian period. It occupied the north end of the hall and reached the first floor in three flights. The string was continuous and composed of cornice, pulvinated frieze and architrave, intersected by square panelled newels over which the broad moulded handrail was arranged to break forward to form the upper member. Below, the newel finished in a carved finial. The balusters were of a short stout type with turned vase shapes supporting a spiral stem. The balustrade to the upper landing was in two bays, divided by a newel and standing on a moulded plinth. The entrance and staircase halls were paved with marble squares, laid diagonally, and a panelled dado lined the walls of the stair at a height corresponding with the balustrade. The upper hall or landing was increased in width by a passage (over part of the entrance hall) which was screened from the landing by a range of five arches, of which the central arch was larger than the rest and was marked by a key-block and a heavier archmould. These arches stood on panelled piers with moulded capping and base, and the walls of the upper hall had a good moulded cornice.
Of the remaining internal features there is little record. The dining room and library were both panelled, but the small size of the panels in these rooms throws some doubt on their being original features, and this doubt is confirmed by a writer in the Daily Graphic of March 14th, 1904, who states that the overmantel carved with a representation of Atalanta's Race (Plate 17b) and the panelling in the same room were executed in plaster, (fn. 1) grained to imitate oak. The other chimneypiece, however (illustrated in Plate 17a), with its carved festoons and cornice, and the door and archway (Plate 19), appear to be original features and give some indication of the decoration that was customary in a house of this size and character, although they belong more properly to the end of the 17th than to the beginning of the 18th century. Such fragmentary features may well have been preserved from an earlier house and have been incorporated in the later building.