Barking IG11 9SN
Thursday 30 June 2016
Today Linda and I went eastwards, for a double National Trust experience. Linda will tell you about the second in due course, but our first stop was the remarkable Eastbury Manor House.
Despite the best efforts of the terrible TfL Journey Planner. we had easy journeys, and found clear signage all the way from Upney Station to the well-hidden House.
This is one of the NT's properties which is shared with all sorts of local groups, and so was rather unfurnished but there were plenty of information boards and the staff - all volunteers - were friendly and knowledgeable
One of the ways of embellishing a new house in the 1570s was to make patterns with fire-blackened bricks, and we were able to spot a hear shape on the facade as we headed up towards the entrance. It's called 'diaper work' and really took off in Victorian times, as almost any Pugin building would show.
Arriving at 10.10, we were the first visitors of the day. The time line in the former Great Hall explains that the whole rural area was farmland, under the control of the great Abbey at Barking. After Henry VIII closed it down, with all the others, in the second wave of dissolution in 1539, the land was sold, and this bit of the estate was sold to Sir William Denham and then to Clement Sysley, who built the great house in the 1570s, maintaining the rest of the land for farming.
After Sysley's death (in 1580) and his wife's remarriage, the House fell upon hard times, becoming increasingly derelict as successive farmers rented it and used it for work. In 1834, there was a report that 'fine oak floors have been taken up to repair the barns'. The summer parlour was converted to stables, various walls were knocked down and doorways widened to accommodate farm machinery. And of course, good bits were sold off: the great Hall's fireplace was found at Nyman's in Kent. During the First World War, Observation Balloons were manufactured here. There was even a plan to sell it off, demolish it, and make a garden suburb. Fortunately, the National Trust bought it in 1918 for £1,500.00 which, according to this website, would be about £94,000 now. Actually, that would be a pretty good price for any house in Britain today but it was certainly in need of millions of pounds of restoration. It is being restored thanks to Barking and Dagenham, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the NT. It was first opened to the public in 1972 and now its revenue comes, not from farming, but from 'events'. The wall hanging dates from 2001.
We went into the Summer Parlour, and it was there we noted the impressive size of the windows, a sign of real wealth in the 1570s, when glass was extremely costly. The Winter Parlour , across the vestibule, had a good sized fire place.
The house has two matching wings, and so there were modern stairs at each side. Upstairs, we admired the fine roof beams, and were shown some of the marks that told to joiners which beam went where, just as in the instruction for some Swedish flat-pack furniture. Here there was more information, including evidence of the estate's farming past.
The most notorious story about the house is that Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators plotted here, a tale begun by Daniel Defoe in 1724. A very clear exposition, starting with Guido's birth in York, made clear that this was extremely improbable. But we did like the map that indicated the rural nature of the area in the early 17th century.
Having noted the nowadays-obligatory dressing up clothes, as well as the fine wood of some of the window sills, we went on up to a sort of viewing landing. This time we used some original, and rather scary stairs, but the views at the top made it worth while: not so much the surrounding suburbs, but the close-ups of the chimneys and the roof.
Back to the first floor, we walked through another long gallery, formerly separate rooms and dressing rooms. According to an inventory of 1603, they had been richly furnished as bedchambers, one with a 'Spanish bedstead, canopy and curtains of yellow taffeta' and another with wall paintings, restored in 1985, of classical views through Roman arches.
We walked into the courtyard behind the house, to note the brickwork of the 'plumbing' - chutes down to ground level,whence the servants would remove the 'night soil'.
We had very much enjoyed our hour long visit to this fine house, and were pleased to get a post script. At the bus stop, where we waited for the 287 which would take us to our next place, the family also waiting told us that Eastbury Manor was where the Gunpowder Plot had been planned. Myth is almost always more powerful than fact.