Introductory note on the public duty of preserving the Great House

Pages 9-10

Survey of London Monograph 4, the Great House, Leyton. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1903.

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The beautiful work of which this monograph treats, and which has been recorded, drawn, & described with such conscientious care by Mr. Gunn and those members of the Survey who have helped him, must speak for itself.

The object, as he rightly states, of here presenting it to the public among the Survey Monographs is to awaken if possible some sentiment of the need, before it is too late, of preserving it for public purposes.

What, it will at once be asked, can be done with this house in this position? What, it may be answered, is continually being done in other neighbourhoods, spoiled like the Leyton neighbourhood is being spoiled by the immense inrush of the population of greater London, the growth of dreary ugly streets, slums, and wildernesses of brick?

When a neighbourhood is thoroughly spoiled, when nothing of any beauty or interest or dignity is left in it, pious and public spirited people come together and say, "This will never do, we must have some public place, some institution, some reading room, some garden, something for the Corporate life of the neighbourhood, anything to relieve the monotony of dulness to which we have been reduced. Oh if only we could find some nice old Queen Anne house in its garden to save us the expense and trouble of building afresh !" And they thereupon proceed to gather together Committees and raise subscriptions to buy up at very high prices land and buildings, and to construct, with the aid of architects & others, buildings at high rates of wages, which have to be skimped & cut down because there is not near enough money to erect them as well or as beautifully as the simplest of the works of our forefathers.

This, as is well known by members of the Survey Committee, is being done in parish after parish of the poorer districts of London, & it is done often because of the shortsightedness & the want of public spirit of those whose business is the public interest.

I know nothing of the Leyton District Council, or whether among its members there are any who are willing or able to look ahead & judge of the future, but I do know that there is nothing left in Leyton that comes up to the Great House for beauty. I know that it is a worthy and fitting repository of local history, that it still has some little scrap of its grand old gardens, that it is admirably placed opposite the County Cricket ground for a house of public recreation, and that to save it from destruction and preserve it for public purposes would be a public-spirited and genuinely democratic thing to do.

This monograph is in the nature of an appeal to those who should take the lead in such an undertaking.

One point too I think Mr. Gunn has not sufficiently brought out in his description of the house, or his plea for its retention, is that of the record in English history of its builders, and of the family to whom it owes its origin. The Tench family, or that portion of it which has left us the Great House is, in this County, presumably extinct, but the family has left other and greater records than only the house.

Nathaniel Tench was one among that little group of strong men who saw this Country through one of its greatest crises, established the mighty Bank of England to do it, steered the ship of State through its financial difficulties after the overthrow of the Stuarts, the peaceful Revolution of 1688, and laid the foundation of English world-wide finance.

All this was the work of the first directors of the Bank of England, and we owe them honour for it. One among them was Nathaniel Tench, the family which he established at Leyton and the Great House they built is the mark and token of this work, and who shall say that it was not well done.

George I. recognised it with the gift of a Baronetcy; did the family yet survive the whole face & history of Leyton might now be different. May we not hope for some little recognition by a later generation of that public spirit and fine taste of which they have left so speaking a record.

I know of no other house so near London, in such a splendid condition, or that tells so eloquently of the wise work of the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, as this house of the Tench's, and in their honour, if not for the sake of its own intrinsic beauty and future usefulness, the district of Leyton owes to posterity the duty of its preservation.