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.
Date of the building
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.
Plan by P. J. Marvin.
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.
From a drawing in the Bodleian Library.
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.
Hall chimney stack
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.
Entrance door; The hall
Fireplace, formerly in Hall.
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 west wing
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.
Fireplace formerly in N.E. Room, ground floor.
The first floor; Paintings.
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.
Fireplace formerly in Painted Room over Hall.
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 long gallery
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.
Fireplace formerly in West Room over Hall.
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.
Painted Figures in Gallery (second floor).
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.
To the south of the house is a pond, and there are a number of trees
around the building.
W. H. G.