Tuesday 6 May 2014

Eastbury Manor House

I don't think that I could work for the National Trust. They're a bit too honest. I'm not saying I'm dishonest but if I was in charge of bringing more visitors to Eastbury Manor House near Barking I know my thought processes would be: "Tudor gentry house - good. Evocative exposed timbers in attic - nice. Totally unsubstantiated and widely discredited possibility that Eastbury was the home of The Gunpowder Plot - ORDER THE FIREWORKS AND STICK SPARKLERS IN THE SCONES."

The National Trust website doesn't even mention The Gunpowder Plot. It takes you to the Barking & Dagenham website and THEY explain the legend that connects Eastbury to the events of 1605. And it's not THAT far-fetched - records show that Lewis Tresham lived at Eastbury, and he was the cousin of Robert Catesby and brother of Francis Tresham who were involved in the Plot. But it's obviously not enough for the fact-sticklers at the Trust. 

But Eastbury Manor House is a beautiful building, whether it was involved in any plots or not:

Eastbury Manor

It was built by a man called Clement Sysley and was completed in around 1573. We don't know much about Clement but we can assume that he had a few quid; Eastbury had a lot of glass, which was expensive, and it had tall chimneys, which apparently were the equivalent of a three-door garage today (that analogy copyright of the very nice guide). 

The house also had two turrets and although one of them fell down, the other is still there - it's possible that Sysley used the turrets to keep an eye on the activity on his farmland or on boats coming down the Thames. 

Eastbury is all the prettier for being in a completely incongruous location. To get there you have to walk past blocks of flats and 1920s semi-detached houses thinking "OK, this is wrong. I've definitely taken a wrong turn. I could actually be in the wrong county." and then you turn a corner and there it is. 

To give you some idea, if you've got your back to the house, this is what you're looking at:

It's actually amazing that Eastbury has survived at all. It was falling apart in the 1800s until it was rescued by the National Trust and with all of the development around it, it could easily have been pulled down. 

It's also an unusual property, in that it has no furniture. The rooms are used for weddings, by TV and film companies, by school parties...it's a functional community building rather than a stately home. In this regard, it reminded me of Sutton House, which isn't far away.

The Eastbury Manor scone
But let's move onto the scones. I have good news and bad news. The good news is that today's scone wins the Scone d'Or for being the prettiest scone seen to date (and I've seen 36 others so I have some authority on this). It was also lovely and fresh and light and I had eaten it within about 2 minutes. The bad news is that I belatedly realised that the National Trust may not run the tearoom at Eastbury. But never mind! Someone is very good at scone presentation and whether it's the NT or Barking & Dagenham council, I congratulate them.

Eastbury Manor scones

Eastbury Manor: 4 out of 5
Scone: 4.5 out of 5
Presentation of scone: 5 out of 5

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