Barking Abbey

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!”
– Genesis 28:16

Citing from Bishop John Inge’s book A Christian Theology of Place, the Right Reverend Dr Trevor Mwamba opens his Barking Abbey guidebook welcome letter with “The place in which we stand is often taken for granted and ignored in our increasingly mobile society.” Over recent years, the demographics of London areas, particularly the East End, has rapidly evolved from locally-born people to a population made up of people from all areas of the world. As a result, the history of the towns and cities of Britain are gradually fading into obscurity. An example of this can be found in the ethnically diverse town Barking; once home to one of the most important nunneries in the country, Barking Abbey, the commercialised town has almost forgotten its former roots.

Situated at one end of Barking Town Centre Market, St Margaret’s Church, dedicated to Saint Margaret of Antioch (289-304 AD), was originally built within the grounds of the former royal monastery, Barking Abbey. It originated as a chapel for the local people, its oldest section being the chancel built during the reign of King John (1166-1216), eventually becoming a parish church in approximately 1300. The abbey itself, however, is thought to have been founded as far back as 666 AD.

Most of what remains of Barking Abbey is the buried layout on the north side of the church, now named Abbey Green, some of which has been reconstructed. Fortunately, one part of the abbey survives intact. This is the Curfew Tower that was once one of the abbey’s three gateways. Built in 1460, many repairs have kept the Grade II listed building standing, a remnant of the past. On the upper storey, a small chapel can be accessed up a set of stairs, although, this is not used so often nowadays.

Historically, Barking was once a fishing and farming area, as remembered in many of St Margaret’s stained glass windows. A window on the east side, however, depicts a traditional Crucifixion scene flanked by two saints, St Cedd (right) and St Erkenwald, the founder of the abbey (left). In the 7th century, Erkenwald founded two monasteries, one for himself in Surrey and one for his sister Ethelburga. These abbeys were intended to re-introduce Christianity to the British Isles. Whilst Christianity had been made legal during Roman rule in the 4th century, it had begun to fall out of favour.

Ethelburga, later Saint Ethelburga, became the first abbess of Barking Abbey with the intention “to be a mother and nurse of devout women.” (Bede, 731 AD) Ethelburga was a holy, upright woman, constantly concerned for those under her care. Later, she founded the church All Hallows Berkyngechirche (now known as All Hallows by the Tower) in 675.

Barking Abbey was initially a double monastery of nuns and monks who shared the church whilst living in separate quarters. Later, in the 10th century, all double houses were reformed into single-sex abbeys. For the next couple of centuries, many abbesses were appointed by the kings of England, for instance, Matilda of Boulogne (1105-52), wife of King Stephen (c1092-1154), and King Henry II’s (1133-89) daughter, Matilda (1156-89). This ended in 1214 when the Pope insisted the nuns should be allowed to elect their own abbess.

After the Norman conquest in 1066, William the Conqueror (1028-87) took refuge at Barking Abbey whilst he constructed the Tower of London. It is thought the king may have fled here after unfortunate misunderstandings during his coronation. Later, the abbey also became the holding place of Elizabeth de Clare (1295-1360), who was forced to surrender some of her property to Hugh Despenser the younger (1286-1326).

As with all abbeys, monasteries and so forth, Barking Abbey succumbed to Henry VIII’s (1419-1547) Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. Following this, the abbey was gradually demolished until only the Curfew Tower remained standing.  A lot of the building’s material was reused, for instance, to repair the roof of Greenwich Palace and to construct a new manor for the king in Dartford, Kent.

ees11608Due to its almost complete destruction, it is not altogether certain what the layout of Barking Abbey was, however, many rooms have been identified during recent excavations. The abbey’s main church sat at the heart of the site, its size similar to a cathedral: 103 x 30.5 metres (337 x 100 feet).

As well as the church, various chapels would have been found in the abbey, including the one that has been developed into St Margaret’s Church. Three grave slabs, attributed to the abbesses St Etherlburga, St Hildelith and St Wulfhilda, mark the position of the Saints Chapel. Other rooms, including cloisters, parlours, dormitories and the Reredorter have also been identified.

There are so many buildings that have not been excavated and have since been built upon. It is thought that the land belonging to Barking Abbey stretched as far as the River Roding, a tributary of the Thames, as shown in a drawing by Sir Charles Nicholson (1867-1949) based upon an original sketch produced in 1500.

St Margaret’s Church was fortunate to survive the Reformation and remained a parish church when the abbey was dissolved. Throughout the years, changes have been made to the building, including the plastering of the ceilings during the 18th century. The building was grade I listed in 1954 and has since been extended to house an office and refectory.

45150956_250210462310684_4637149440711327744_nWithin the church are a number of items that help to preserve the memory of the abbey and the history of the land and building since the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Remnants of floor tiles from the original abbey are conserved in a glass display cabinet. From these, the quality and appearance of the masonry can be appreciated.

Other discoveries are also kept in this case, for instance, a Breeches Bible, which predates the King James Bible by approximately 50 years. This was a variation of the primary Bible of 16th-century English Protestantism and would have been read and used by people such as Shakespeare (1565-1616) and Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658). It was the first mechanically printed, mass-produced Bible in England, thus the first made available to the general public. The reason for its name, Breeches Bible, is the wording of verse 7 in Genesis 3:

“Then the eies of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed figge tree leaves together, and made themselves breeches.”

The King James Bible, printed in 1611, changed the word “breeches” to “apron”.

dsc00485Also within the display cabinet are examples of more recent histories and gifts given to the church. One of these is a book of paintings presented in 2004 by local artist George Emmerson. For a decade, Emmerson had been producing watercolours of St Margaret’s Church, the Curfew Tower and grounds, of which this was the final result. He gave it as a gift to the church as a means of saying thank you for the kindness and help shown to him and it “is a tribute to the clergy and the many people who do voluntary work to keep the church alive and prosperous.”

St Margaret’s also pays tribute to the explorer Captain James Cook (1728-99) who was married to his wife, Elizabeth Batts (1742-1835) in the church on 21st December 1762. This year, 2018, has been a significant year for remembering Cook’s first voyage of exploration to the Pacific Ocean upon HMS Endeavour, which set sail 250 years ago. The church holds copies of newspapers about Cook’s demise in Hawaii and copies of the Marriage Register showing James and Elizabeth’s entry.

The church building itself is crammed full of history, from architecture to objects within the sanctuary. Although many renovations and extensions have occurred over the years, remnants of old decor can be seen in one corner of the ceiling where little cherub faces peer down at the congregation.

The timber beams and design of the roof over the North Aisle, which was built around the late 15th or 16th century, suggests the involvement of local ship-wrights. The Norman pillars in this section may have been taken from the abbey and the windows would have once been a traditional medieval style. In 1771, the windows were replaced with Georgian versions but the ones in place today were added in the 20th century.

Many bodies have been interred under the flagstones, which, unfortunately, are inevitably becoming illegible the more they are walked over. Some are now covered up by carpets and it is impossible to tell how many people are buried in total, nor their names. There are records of some of the people, for instance, William Pownsett whose tomb is more prominent. In his will, he asked, “to be buryed yn our lady chaple next unto my pew at Barking.”

On the walls around the building are monuments to those who had significant connections with the church. Some are more elaborate than others, a few including busts of the deceased. An impressive monument to Captain John Bennett (d.1716) remembers a wealthy man who became a captain in the Royal Navy at a young age. Another, featuring a skull, remembers the life of Sarah Fleming (d. 1715). Francis Fuller (d.1637), an official of the Exchequer who owned a number of estates in the parish of Barking is remembered in a monument featuring his bust in an oval niche.

During excavations of the abbey in 1912, an incised stone slab was unearthed in the Nun’s Cemetery. As well as words, it features an etching of a man named Martinus who was the first vicar of Barking from 1315 to 1328. This memorial stone is now kept in the sanctuary safe from the effects of harsh weather conditions that could permanently damage the inscription.

When renovations began in the late 1920s and 30s, George Jack (1855-1931) an architect, wood carver, stained glass artist and furniture designer for Morris & Co, became involved with the repair work. Jack was responsible for the fisherman’s stained glass window as well as a couple of memorial tablets and a pair of candelabra. For the Youth Chapel, Jack carved eight wooden figures of people with some association to the church. As well as two fishermen, these include James Cook, Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845), St Ethelburga, St Nicholas, St James and St John. They are still in remarkable condition today.

dsc00465On the Youth Chapel screen below the wooden figures is a contemporary painting by the artist Alan Stewart, which was unveiled by the Bishop of Barking in 2005. Titled Early in the Morning, the painting shows a black Christ in 21st-century clothing surrounded by disciples from a range of ethnic origins. This is to reflect on the diverse population of Barking and those who worship at St Margaret’s Church. The scene depicts Jesus serving breakfast to his disciples by the side of Lake Galilee as told in John 21 after his resurrection.

At the rear of the church is an octagonal stone font with a decorated wooden lid. This was painted during the renovations in the early 20th century. George Jack employed his daughter Jessie to help to paint his design onto the cover. Each of the eight segments features a bird and flowers on a blue background. Around the rim, carefully painted letters spell out the phrase “God hath given to us eternal life and this life is in his son”.

45192226_188526105356556_497570805895397376_nThe font, stained glass windows and wooden figurines are some of the most attractive objects in St Margaret’s Church, however, one carving often gets overlooked. In fact, people who attend services for years do not always notice it unless it has been deliberately pointed out.

At the end of each wooden pew is a distinctive carved design that, in some way, resemble leaves or a plant. Due to the similarities between each one, it is easy to miss the intriguing design at the end of one particular pew. Taking the same shape as all the others, this one features the heads of two dogs. The meaning of the carving is unknown but it is thought it could be a family’s coat of arms. This suggests that at one time wealthy members of the congregation may have paid to have their own pew where they would sit during every service they attended.

Although St Margaret’s Church may be tiny in comparison to the original Barking Abbey, its elaborate decor, architecture and age make it stand out from other churches in the area, particularly the more contemporary. It has also had a large share of notable clergymen, many of whom eventually became bishops. Even today’s vicar was once the Bishop of Botswana.

The Right Reverend Hensley Henson (1863-1947) was one of the many significant clergymen associated with St Margaret’s. Ordained in 1888, Henson was the vicar until 1895 when he became chaplain of an ancient hospice in Ilford. He was only 25, the youngest vicar in the country, when he joined the church, putting him in charge of an ever-growing working-class parish, whose population then stood at 12,000. Undaunted, Henson made a favourable impression on the congregation, a colleague later stating: “He came six months ago to a parish dead – 250 a good congregation in the church; and now, when he preaches, every seat is filled – 1100!”

St Margaret’s was only the beginning of Henson’s career; by 1900 he was appointed canon of Westminster Abbey. In 1917, he became Bishop of Hereford and it was only another three years before he also became the Bishop of Durham. During his final years, Winston Churchill (1874-1965) persuaded Henson out of retirement to resume his position as Canon of Westminster Abbey. It is said that Churchill was impressed with Henson’s strong views on ecclesiastical matters and his support of the Church of England.

Other vicars of St Margaret’s have gone on to be bishops including the Scottish Painter George Leslie Hunter (1877-1931), who went on to become Bishop of Sheffield, and William Chadwick (1905-1991) and James Roxburgh (1921-2007) who were both Bishop of Barking.

Today, St Margaret’s Church continues to welcome friends and strangers, inviting everyone to various services throughout the week and on Sundays. Visitors and regulars are also encouraged to enjoy tea, coffee, cakes and lunches in their cafe. Surrounded by a graveyard and the remains of Barking Abbey, the church is a beautiful, peaceful place to visit, both outside and within. It truly is a place of history and religion worthy of being used and remembered. It is thanks to places such as St Margaret’s that local history is recognised and commemorated.

Sunday Services:
8:30am – Said Eucharist
11am – Sung Eucharist
6:30pm – Evensong

Capel Manor Gardens

With over 60 gardens spread over 30 acres, Capel Manor Gardens is home to London’s specialist teaching establishment for those who wish to learn about plants, animals, flowers, trees and the environment. With a history that dates back to the 13th century, Capel Manor, Enfield, is open daily throughout the summer for adults and children to enjoy the colourful themed gardens that surround the Georgian Manor house and its Victorian stables. The estate is also home to a handful of exotic creatures, a great attraction for animal lovers and children.

The history of Capel Manor begins in 1275 when the land was known as the Manor of Honeylands and Pentriches, alias Capels and owned by a man now referred to as Ellis of Honeyland. Little is known about the use of the land and its buildings during the 13th and 14th century, however, from the late 1400s, there are better records about the ownership of the estate.

Sir William Capel (1428-1515), twice Lord Mayor for the City of London, became the owner of the land in 1486. Again, nothing much is known about Capel’s use of the land, nor that of his son, Sir Giles Capel (1486-1556), who became the owner after his father’s death. It can be ascertained, however, that the family had an accumulation of wealth, thus Sir Giles was raised at and around the royal court. As an adult, he was a good friend and attendant of Henry VIII (1491-1547).

Despite Sir Giles’ favour with the king, the family was forced to surrender their estate to the crown during the 16th century. From here on, the land passed through a number of hands, beginning with a William Thorne in 1562, who was given the manor house by Elizabeth I (1533-1603). By 1642, the Capel Estate was in possession of Samuel and Mariabella Avery. Their granddaughter, Susanna Avery, became semi-famous after 1688, when she wrote a book about how to manage a country estate. Historians liken this publication to that of Mrs Beaton’s Victorian writings on cooking. It included recipes for various pies and cakes and a number of remedies for various ailments.

The house that the Capel’s and Avery’s inhabited is no longer standing thanks to Robert Jacomb, who demolished the original building when he took ownership in 1745. The following decade, another house was built adjacent to where the original building stood, which is the Capel Manor everyone knows today.

In 1793, Robert Jacomb dispatched the entire estate to the Boddam family, who retained it until the death of Rawson Hart Boddam (1734-1812), a former Governor of the Bombay Presidency during the rule of the East India Company in British India. For the following century, the estate was owned by a succession of owners until 1840.

Although the existing Capel Manor was built in the 1750s, its decor is the result of extensive refurbishment in the late 1800s by the Warren family. The first Warren, James, took ownership in 1840, and the last Warren, also called James owned the house until 1932. It was during his residence that the gardens were first, on occasion, open to the public.

The final owner of the estate, Lieutenant Colonel Sydney Medcalf, who had a passion for horticulture and horses, began breeding Clydesdale horses during the 1940s. Despite his love of agriculture, Medcalf decided to pass the estate on to the Incorporated Society of Accountants. Fortunately, Frances Perry (1907-93), a local horticulturist, suggested to the district council that it would be worth leasing the area to apprentice gardeners.

From 1968, buildings on the estate were used to educate its first group of students in what would become the famous Capel Manor College. The following year, dedicated work began on the 30-acre land to produce the stunning gardens that are kept and maintained today. Now with over 3500 students and celebrating its 50th anniversary, Capel Manor College provides hands-on experience and study in horticulture, arboriculture, floristry, animal care, and conservation.

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Capel Manor Gardens

Whilst having over 60 individual gardens, Capel Manor Gardens is split into eight main sections, which includes the old manor house garden and a woodland walk. After passing through reception and the restaurant, visitors have a choice of direction; they may either go via the National Gardening Centre or opt for a tour of Capel’s Creatures. Depending on the weather and time of day, the latter is often the first or the last section people go to on their visit.

Capel’s Creatures contains animals from various locations around the world and can be viewed in their individual enclosures or at special weekend talks, which can involve anything from joining a ring-tailed lemur for a mid-morning snack to finding out the secrets of barn owls.

All the way from South America are common marmosets, Azara agouti, Patagonia Maras and Huacaya Alpacas, and in the Australian Aviary are Rock Pebblers, an Eastern Rosella called Ruby and Clara and Ozzy, the king parrots. Say hello to lizards such as an African bosc monitor and a common green iguana named Barry, and watch terrapins cooling off in their small pond.

New to Capel Manor is a “tiger of the Highlands” in the Scottish Wildcat Conservation, which are currently in danger of extinction. A talk about the Manor’s conservation effort is also available at weekends.

Other projects at Capel Manor Gardens are taking place in the Which? Gardening Trial Gardens sponsored by the well-known review and advice magazine. Currently, several experiments are taking place, including, getting tulips to reflower, growing onions from seeds and testing for how long alliums flower. Regular visitors will be able to see the progress of these investigations and the results will be written about in the Which? Gardening magazine over the next couple of years.

The Woodland Walk can be accessed from the Which? Gardens via a path that travels past three totem polls and a monument on the hill. The woods provide shelter from the sun on hot days, and, in the shadows of the forest, it is rumoured that fairies dwell.

Although Capel Creatures may be the highlight of some people’s visits, the Historical Gardens contains something else that children and adults will enjoy. Made from holly bushes is an Italianate maze created by Adrian Fisher (b.1951), a man who has designed over 700 mazes around the world, including the mirror maze at the London Dungeon and the Leeds Castle Hedge Maze in Kent. After eventually finding the centre of the maze, a viewing platform provides beautiful bird-view sights of the rest of the Historical Garden and the Georgian manor house and clock tower.

After finding the way out of the maze, the rest of the maze-like gardens are still to be explored. The historical section includes a sensory garden, a koi pond and Japanese rock garden, as well as a walled garden that provides the Manor House with fruit and vegetables.

In the 17th-century garden are four statues that represent the classical elements: earth, water, air and fire. These were produced by Haddonstone Ltd, a British manufacturer of cast stone garden ornaments, however, they look as though they belong to the distant past.

Across the “equator line” is the Australian Garden, which won the 2011 Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medal. Another winning garden is Le Jardin De Vincent inspired by the Dutch impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-90). This won the Chelsea Flower Show Silver Gilt Medal in 2007.

Many of the gardens have been put together by different people or organisations, for instance, the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies. The most thought out of these creations, however, is, by no contest, the Growing Together in Faith Garden. Winner of the Silver-Gilt Lindley at the 2007 Chelsea Flower Show, this faith garden combines four of the main religions: Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism; and their appreciation of the natural world. Each faith tradition has a connection with or a use for the rose, which is also a universal symbol of perfection and beauty. In Christianity, the red rose symbolises Christ’s blood during the crucifixion. Also, the Virgin Mary is sometimes referred to as La Rosa Mystica, the pure one, which is a thornless rose. In Hinduism, it is believed the goddess Lakshmi was born from a rose, whereas, in Islam, roses grew where sweat dropped from Mohammed’s brow. Finally, in Judaism, legend says that each righteous man in heaven will have a tent and 800 roses.

Despite the differences in the four religions, it is refreshing to see something that they have worked on together. Putting aside their separate beliefs, members of these religions have found a connection within the natural world.

In the Temple Lake section of Capel Manor Gardens is, unsurprisingly, a large lake containing a water fountain. The area is reminiscent of ancient Greece with a reconstructed temple and amphitheatre. It is within the latter that many open-air theatre events take place during the summer months.

The temple and amphitheatre are, of course, modern constructions built to look like old buildings, and, over in the Old Manor House Garden, there is an ongoing project to add to remnants of the cloister and bell tower belonging to the old manor house church. Phase one was completed and opened in 2010 by the Queen.

These follies show the remains of St Ethelburga’s Bell Tower and Cloister which was named after the abbess of Barking who died in AD 675. St Ethelburga or Æthelburh is attributed to several miraculous events and was the founder of the double monastery of Barking. In Saint Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (AD 731), Ethelburga is described as “upright in life and constantly planning for the needs of her community”. She was also the founder of All Hallows Berkyngechirche, which is now known as All Hallows by the Tower in the city of London.

Having come full circle, visitors return to the National Gardening Centre (NGC) before reaching the gift shop and exit. Here, the NGC exhibits a variety of gardens to inspire keen gardeners and landscapers, as well as encourage the less green-fingered. On Sunflower Street, with several false facades of houses, are a handful of gardens designed by former students of Capel Manor College. The purpose of these is to show what can be achieved in a variety of locations or to match particular style houses. Examples include Victorian, cottage, Mediterranean, modern, family and minimalist gardens.

The NGC has also constructed memorial gardens for past members of the royal family, such as the Queen Mother. In 1997, work began on the Princess Diana Legacy Garden, which contains a variety of roses with meaningful names, i.e. Princess of Wales, The Prince and New Dawn. There are also other flowers that bloom in different seasons so that the garden has colour all year round.

Finally, gardens such as Secured by Design and the Low Allergen Garden reveal how nature and beauty can be enjoyed by everybody whilst keeping vulnerable and delicate people safe. The security of these gardens may encourage and inspire parents of young children to create safe areas at home for their family to play and work in, and also give hope and a piece of happiness to those who do not often get a chance to enjoy nature.

Capel Manor Gardens is a wonderful location suitable for all the family. Staff, volunteers and students work hard to maintain the gardens whilst also working on conservation projects and experiments to improve gardening and animal care. Visitors can purchase many of the plants and garden-related products in the gift shop and ask for advice from the visitor’s centre.

Throughout the year are a variety of special events and activities, details of which can be found on their website. Alternatively, guided walks can be arranged ahead of the visit and Capel Manor also caters for private functions including weddings and children’s birthday parties.

The user-friendly grounds allow everyone to enjoy the gardens throughout the year. Between March and October, the gardens are open daily from 10am until 5:30pm, however, in the winter they are only open on weekdays. Prices are a reasonable £6 for adults (£5 concession) and £3 for children, however, prices for special events may vary.

From a 13th century private estate to a public friendly garden and college, Capel Manor Gardens is a phenomenal work of cultivated and natural art. The dedicated hard work is evident from the moment of passing through the entrance right up until home time. Nothing is out of place or neglected; everyone involved should be proud of the creations they have designed and maintain. Capel Manor Gardens is a highly recommended place to visit for an enjoyable and/or relaxing day out.

Capel Manor Gardens, Bullsmoor Lane, Enfield, Middlesex EN1 4RQ