Stacks of work at Eastbury Manor
Richard Griffiths Associates has completed its third phase of restoration on the Elizabethan estate’s chimney stacks and east stair turret
There can be few more incongruous sights than that of the spectacular Elizabethan Eastbury Manor surrounded by an inter-war housing estate in Barking.
But back in 1566, around the time the manor was completed for its owner, Clement Sysley, this red-brick architectural gem would have once looked out on to marshy fields.
Now owned by the National Trust (which purchased Eastbury Manor in 1918), and leased to the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham, this grade I listed U-shaped house has over the last few centuries experienced a complex history of ownership, tenancy and usage. And if not for several committed individuals and heritage bodies, which recognised the architectural importance of the three-storey house, Eastbury Manor would not be standing today.
One individual who has been consistently involved in the building’s gradual repair and refurbishment is architect Richard Griffiths. In 1990, prior to establishing his practice in 1993, he was asked by the National Trust to make an inspection of the manor on the strength of his work at Sutton House in Hackney. Griffiths’s report led to a programme of works that began in 1996.
The practice has just completed its third phase of works, which has involved the rebuilding of the east stair turret and the elaborate chimney stacks to the south-west.
The latest phase, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and costing about £850,000, has also entailed the landscaping of the south-facing walled courtyard where the east turret is, and the insertion of a new oak access door in the existing brick south wall.
Inside the house, timber repairs have been carried out to the oak window sills and to the historic oak doors, and sound insulation has been incorporated into the first and second floor voids.
Barking & Dagenham Council considers that this latest work now completes the restoration of Eastbury Manor. As part of the building’s regular maintenance programme, Richard Griffiths Architects may be asked to make a further inspection some time this year.
Rebuilding the south-west chimney stack
The four magnificent chimney stacks that rise above Eastbury Manor’s roof are particularly distinctive, but some have been poorly repaired in the past.
The south-westernmost chimney has three octagonal stacks, nicknamed Tom, Dick and Harry, which were in a fragile state. Richard Griffiths’s associate, John Woodcock, says they contemplated at one point just repairing the chimney. However, the discovery of asbestos and concrete lining the inside of the stacks meant they had to be carefully dismantled to the base and the upper part rebuilt on site. Some of the original bricks were reused and each one had to be numbered and labelled.
Tudor bricks are generally longer and narrower than modern ones so, to achieve an exact match of the original brickwork, the bricks had to be handmade, by Suffolk-based Bulmer Brick & Tile Company.
The bricklayers from Fullers Builders had to set out the bricks, cut them and then carry out a “dry run” to make sure the intricate bond pattern was correct, with each course of brickwork running first clockwise and then anti-clockwise. Working from a high platform during the winter and taking months to complete, the bricklayers then built the stacks up using hydraulic lime mortar.
They reinstated the Tudor scalloped corbel at the top where each side is slightly concave, creating an exaggerated point at each corner of the octagon.
The base of the central five-stacked chimney also had to be repaired. It was discovered that the decayed bricks could just be cut out and replaced using the correct lime putty and mortar.
East Turret Stair
Partially demolished two centuries ago, the east turret stair would have once led to the apartments of Clement Sysley’s family. Eastbury Manor has two symmetrical flanking wings — the kitchens and storage occupied the west wing and the principal apartments were in the east wing. These stretch south with two stair turrets rising from opposite ends of the hall — the “low end” to the servants quarters and the “high end”.
In 1996 Richard Griffiths Architects recommended that all three floors off the shattered eastern octagonal turret be brought back to use by being fitted with a galvanised steel spiral fire escape stair since the original oak stairs had been destroyed.
However, the down-side of this action was that the interior of the original east turret stair — in particular, the unusual recessed handrail cut into the brickwork — was still exposed to the elements. The third phase has allowed for the east turret to be enclosed and made watertight so it can once again be used as a regular staircase.
Rather than mimicking the original and rebuilding the turret in matching brickwork, the architect chose a deliberately modern treatment using horizontally fixed oak boards. To support the new timber frame on which the oak boarding would be fixed, steel sections spaced every 2m were driven into the 680mm-thick original brickwork.
The 25mm-thick seasoned oak horizontal boards with a 30-degree chamfer, were screwed into the battens and arranged horizontally to echo the banding of the original brickwork as seen in the surviving west turret stair.
Four bronze doubled-glazed top-hung casement windows with generous 430mm-thick oak sills puncture the new infill. A new 1m-wide oak door detailed like the original Elizabethan doors (vertical planks on the outside; horizontal planks on the inside) provides access from ground level.
The treatment of the new work allows the visitor to still see, as Richard Griffiths says, “the scar of where the turret collapsed” and distinguish the old from the new. A toughened glass viewing panel butting up against the newly restored turret at ground level also allows the visitor to see the turret’s 16th-century stone foundations.
Inside, the existing brickwork has been cleaned and the new turret infill is finished with two coats of glaster plaster (lime plaster made from recycled glass aggregate) by Ty-Mawr Lime with glass fibre mesh in between and painted white.
As the budget did not extend to replacing the existing spiral stair, oak treads, 22mm thick, have been bolted onto the steel steps to echo the original oak steps and provide a warm finish.
Brick supplier Bulmer Brick & Tile Company
Steel windows Vale Garden House Windows
Mortar Rose of Jericho
Bound gravel Cedec
Glaster and limecrete slab Ty-Mawr Lime
Leaded light repair Heritage Stained Glass
Wrought iron opening light repair IJP
Cleaning and leadwork masonry DBR
Architect Richard Griffiths Architects, Client London Borough of Barking & Dagenham, Structural engineer The Morton Partnership, Main contractor Fullers Builders, Timber decay survey Ridout Associates, Archaeological watching brief Northamptonshire Archaeology, Services engineer Bianco Sale