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At Eastbury Manor House

May 16, 2024
by the gentle author

Some tickets are available for The Gentle Author’s Tour this Saturday 18th May

If you are seeking an afternoon’s excursion from the East End, you can do no better than visit Eastbury Manor in Barking, which is only half an hour on the District Line from Whitechapel yet transports you across four centuries to Elizabethan England.

Once Eastbury Manor stood in the centre of its own domain of rolling marshy farmland, extended as far as you can see from the top of its pair of octagonal turrets, but today it sits in the centre of a suburban estate built as Home for Heroes in the twenties in the pseudo-Elizabethan style, which casts a certain surreal atmosphere as you arrive. Yet by the time you have entered the gate and walked up the path lined with lavender to the entrance, the mellow brick facade of Eastbury Manor has cast its spell upon you.

Built in the fifteeen-sixties by Clement Sisley, Gentleman & Justice of the Peace, Eastbury Manor is among the earliest surviving Elizabethan houses, combining attractive domestic interior spaces with an exterior embellished by showy architectural elements in the renaissance manner. This curious contradiction of modest form and ambitious style speaks of Sisley’s eagerness to impress as a self-made property developer and landowner. He owned a house in the City of London and thus Eastbury grants us a vision of how those lost mansions that once lined Bishopsgate and Leadenhall St might have been.

Formerly part of the lands of Barking Abbey, after the Dissolution the property was sold to an absentee landlord before it was acquired by Clement Sisley in 1556. From apothecary bills, we know he fell ill and died in September 1578, bequeathing arms, weapons, armour and dags (guns) to his son Thomas ‘to him and his heirs forever at Eastbury’, in the hope that the manor might become a family home for generations to come.

Yet within only a few years Eastbury Manor was tenanted by John Moore, a Diplomat and Tax Collector, and his Spanish wife Maria Perez de Recalde. They were responsible for commissioning the lyrical and mysterious wall paintings, depicting an unknown European landscape rich in allegorical potential, glimpsed through a classical arcade of baroque barley-sugar-twist pillars.

Over two hundred years, the old house spiralled down through the ownership of a series of families with connection to the City of London until it became a farm, with animals housed in the fine Elizabethan chambers, and was threatened with demolition at the beginning of the last century.

Octavia Hill and C R Ashbee of the Survey of London, who had been responsible for saving Trinity Green Almshouses in Whitechapel, began a campaign to save Eastbury Manor by seeking guarantors to purchase the property from the owner. Once they had done so, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings arranged for the National Trust to accept ownership of the building in 1918. Thanks to the initiative of these enlightened individuals a century ago, we can enjoy Eastbury Manor today.

It is a sublime experience to escape the blinding sunlight of a summer’s afternoon and enter the cool air of the shadowy interior with its spiralling staircases and labyrinth of chambers. Ascend the turret to peer across Barking to the Thames, descend again enter the private enclosed yard at the rear, enfolded by tall ancient walls, and discover yourself in another world.

Eastbury Manor in 1796

Nonagenerian guide Dougie Muid welcomes visitors to Eastbury Manor – ‘Children often ask me if I have been here since the house was built’

Visit Eastbury Manor, Eastbury Square, Barking, Essex, IG11 9SN

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6 Responses leave one →
  1. May 16, 2024

    This looks and sounds wonderfully atmospheric. On my ‘to visit’ list. Thank you.

  2. Stephen12 permalink
    May 16, 2024

    Fascinating thank you.
    But I see it’s only open a couple of days a week, so worth checking opening days ahead.

  3. May 16, 2024

    This is truly another world, as English as it possibly can be. It’s a must-see. — I would suggest to Mr Muid to answer the children’s question: “Yes, of course! 🙂

    Love & Peace

  4. Hetty Startup permalink
    May 16, 2024

    What an amazing survivor of a place, and in London! There are so many wondrous sites at the ends of the tube lines! I would definitely make a visit here, on the strength of your photos alone and might combine it with going to Valance House museum and the Becontree (‘Homes fit for heroes’) Estate nearby.

  5. Martin Lightfoot permalink
    May 16, 2024

    You mention my heroine Octavia Hill as being part of the saving of Eastbury for everyone to now enjoy
    My great admiration for her is in her vision in housing for the less well off , in the commencement of the formation of Charitable Housing Societies which stipulated that nothing was to be built that the builder or Architect would not be happy to live in themselves!
    If only these very wise words were not heeded by those building and designing a lot of the flats constructed within our cities within the last 70 years .
    When will we ever learn.

  6. May 16, 2024

    Who needs a high-tech virtual-reality tour? — Especially when such beautiful descriptive photos are here to enjoy? I felt like I was walking down a pathway, discovering this place for myself. And the photo of the scuffed weathered frescoes? — sublime.

    A marvelous place for the ages. To everyone who saved it: thank you.

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