IN THE EARLY 1960s, the first proper self-service supermarket opened on the corner of Golders Green Road and a small service road called Broadwalk Lane. I cannot recall the name of this store, but it was soon taken over by the Macfisheries company. Later, it became a supermarket where many imported foods, especially products from Israel, were sold. Now, it has become a Tesco Express.
Facing the supermarket (across Golders Green Road) is a gothic revival style church. It has been used by a Greek Orthodox (Christian) congregation since 1968. Now, the The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Cross & St. Michael, it was constructed as the Church of England’s ‘St Michael’s Church’ in 1914 to the design of JT Lee. A clock tower, surmounted by a delicate cupola supported by thin columns, was added to the church in 1960. On one of its walls, there is a bas-relief of St Michael with one foot on a serpent. On the northeast corner of the church, there is a plaque listing people who died in WW1. Near this, there is a crucifix standing in the garden next to the church. Its design, typical of C of E crucifixes, predates the arrival of the Greek congregation.
Although the interior of the church maintains some of its original Cof E fittings, such as stained-glass windows, the font designed in a mock mediaeval style, and some wall mounted memorials in English, a great deal of effort has been made to create the atmosphere of a Greek Orthodox place of worship. The walls of the side aisles have been painted with religious scenes. There is a decorated iconostasis and several framed icons. Elaborate chandeliers hang above the nave. Despite the additions to convert the church for Greek Orthodox worship, the original gothic revival features of the building’s interior are evident, but harmonise well with the later additions.
NOT FAR FROM the busy A13 road that links London with Tilbury and places further east, and surrounded by a sea of unremarkable dwelling houses in the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham, stands an unexpected historical Tudor architectural treasure: Eastbury Manor.
This beautiful Tudor mansion, built between 1560 and 1573 for Clement Sisley (or Sysley) and his family, stands on land that had been owned by Barking Abbey until its dissolution in 1539. He was a wealthy businessman connected with high-status families. Married thrice, each of his wives’ dowries added to his prosperity. The manor house remained connected with his extended family until it was sold in 1628. After that, the house and its associated extensive land had a series of owners and tenants until sometime in the 19th century when the building began to deteriorate. The various inhabitants made use of the place’s formerly large grounds for agricultural purposes: principally, grazing. The National Trust (‘NT’) bought the house in 1918, and this purchase is responsible for its survival. Owned by the NT, it was Barking’s local museum between 1935 and 1941. Now, still the property of the NT, it is maintained by the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.
“A little beyond the town, on the road to Dagenham, stood a great house, ancient, and now almost fallen down, where tradition says the Gunpowder Treason Plot was first contriv’d …”
I checked my copy of Defoe’s book and discovered that the editor of my edition (Pat Rogers) had doubts about this connection with Guy Fawkes et al. Rogers noted that the conspiracy was largely planned in Northamptonshire.
The house, which stands on land rich in clay, is built of bricks made locally, on-site. It is built to an H-shaped plan: two parallel wings are linked by a central portion perpendicular to near their northern ends. The central part and the two wings enclose a charmingly intimate courtyard, whose fourth (southern) side is bounded by a wall connecting the two wings. Although a modern staircase and lift have been added, the house’s original timber spiral staircases were housed in octagonal towers that encroach onto the northwest and northeast corners of the courtyard: they are classed as ‘external staircases’.
The house and its garden have many fascinating features typical of Tudor architecture. For example, in the Great Hall on the ground floor, there is a huge fireplace. It is large enough for several adults to stand within it. Our informative guide directed us to look up into the large chimney. There, we could see platforms that were built to allow workmen to climb into the chimney to clean it in the era long before there were chimneysweeps with special equipment. The Tudor brick wall surrounding one of the gardens has 17 small niches. These were designed as bee boles, in which skeps, baskets where bees lived, were placed. Interesting as these and many other things are, the most amazing feature is to be seen in the so-called Painted Chamber on the first floor, which we reached using the original timber staircase.
Discovered beneath layers of paint after a fire during the 19th century, are the sizeable fragments of two exceptional wall paintings. It is believed that these were commissioned by the London Alderman Sir John Moore who died in 1603. His coat of arms is depicted on one of the pictures. Moore, who took an interest in international trade and the then proposed East India Company, used the house as his country home.
The paintings depict trompe-l’oeil walls with columns, classical figures, and archways. The latter frame depictions of countryside and nautical scenes. Apart from their great age and skilful execution, these frescos are remarkable for their use of perspective. The lady who was showing us around the Manor mentioned that these wall paintings are some of the earliest surviving examples of pictures in England displaying the kind of perspective that is now commonly used in Western European art. So-called ‘true geometric perspective’ was developed by Italian painters during the 14th and 15th centuries. Its use spread to other parts of Europe and would have been known in England by the time of Moore’s occupancy of Eastbury Manor. The surviving wall paintings were executed before his death in 1603, but by whom we might never know. It is quite possible that the artist had either been abroad or had come from overseas. Whoever painted these lovely images had a good grasp of what was then regarded as the latest way of portraying the illusion of depth and distance. Whether there are earlier examples of surviving paintings created in England (using tru perspective) than those at Eastbury Manor, I do not know. So, until I am wiser on the subject, I will accept what we were told. I have seen older surviving wall paintings in English churches, but none of them display even the slightest hint of true geometric perspective.
All in all, it is well worth venturing into the rather dull suburbs of Dagenham and Barking to visit Eastbury Manor. It might not be as glorious as other surviving Tudor edifices, such as Hatfield House, but it is no less a wonderful reminder of an era long-since passed.
Yesterday, Sunday the 15th of August 2021, we noticed an attractive wall painting not far from the large Liberty shop on Great Marlborough Street. It is the Soho Mural in Noel Street, the eastern continuation of Great Marlborough Street. With the title “Ode to the West Wind”, it was created in 1989 by Louise Vines and The London wall Mural Group, whose telephone number (on the circular blue patch) was then 01 737 4948 (now, the number would begin with 0207 instead of 01).