07.04.2015
14:23

Sutton House (National Trust)

Address:

2 & 4 Homerton High Street, Hackney, E9 6JQ

Phone:

020-8986 2264

Website:

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sutton-house

Opening times:

Wen-Mon 12:00-17:00

How to get there:

Station: Hackney Central (Silverlink from Highbury & Islington)

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:

Café, shop and art gallery

Sutton House is the oldest domestic house surviving in the East End of London. Built in 1534–35 by Ralph Sadleir, a wealthy soldier and diplomat, secretary to Thomas Cromwell and later knighted as King Henry VIII’s Principal Secretary of State, the house was first known as ‘the bryk place’, being one of the very few brick-built residences near the villages of Hackney and Homerton. The ragstone tower of St Augustine’s church nearby is the only other building to remain from the period. Constructed on the familiar Tudor ‘H’ plan, the building has been altered several times since—notably around 1620, in 1741–43 and in the early 19th century—but the original form remains remarkably intact. As such it represents an important London example of the development of the medieval hall house, with cross-wings and servants’ quarters. In 1550 the house was purchased by John Machell, made Sheriff of London five years later. The property passed to his son John on his wife Jane’s death in 1565, and later in part to Thomas Sutton, who according to the diarist John Aubrey was the type for Ben Jonson’s Volpone. Made wealthy by investments in Durham coal mines, Sutton founded the Charterhouse Hospital and School in 1611. Under different names the house passed through several hands, becoming a girls’ school until the mid-18th century, a boys’ school in the early 19th century, and from 1890–1930 the St John’s Institute, a recreational church club for ‘men of all classes’, known as the ‘Tute’. In 1938, thanks to a bequest from the Robertson family in memory of two brothers killed in the First World War, the National Trust was able to purchase the property and it was let out to a variety of tenants, including the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs trade union. When the union moved out, the house was squatted for a period in the early 80s, when it was known as the ‘Blue House’. After the eviction of the squatters, period fixtures began to be stolen, although some were later recovered. A local pressure group, the Sutton House Society, formed in 1987, helped devise a scheme that would forestall the National Trust’s plans to divide the house into flats. In 1993, after a three-year restoration project, the property was opened to the public and local community as a focal point for the exploration of the heritage of Hackney.

 

Tour of the House

The exterior of the west (right-hand) wing retains its Tudor diaper brickwork. The first room of great historical interest is the Linenfold Parlour, at the front of this wing. The small room is lined with very fine mid-16th-century carved-oak linenfold panelling. Originally the wood was painted pale yellow with green in the folds, a colour scheme that can still be seen behind hinged panels in one wall. Other panels reveal what may have been tradesmen’s sketches for the room’s interior decoration. Quite possibly it was in this room that Sir Ralph Sadleir held negotiations during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which carved up the wealth of the Church. The fireplace is original, with a modern reproduction fireback. In the cellar beneath is a small exhibition on the different types of brick used in the house. To the south of the west wing is the Dining Room and a modern entrance to the Courtyard, where the two wings and general plan of the house can best be appreciated. On the opposite side of the courtyard are the Old Kitchen, with a display on Tudor cuisine and several original surviving features; and the Georgian Parlour, panelled in 1740 and restored to represent a simple mid-18th century parlour. At the back of the house, the Wenlock Barn is a performance and conference venue also housing a display of ephemera on the St John’s Institute.

Crossing the courtyard again, and ascending to the first floor in the west wing, the Painted Staircase has elaborate patterned and trompe l’oeil wall paintings dating from around 1620. Turning right at the top leads into the Gallery, a space for temporary exhibitions that also contains a particularly well-preserved fireplace from around 1630 and fragments of late 18th-century wallpaper. Turning left at the top is the Little Chamber, above the linenfold parlour in the west wing, with more oak panelling, but dating from slightly later in the 16th century. Above the shop and former Great Hall is the Great Chamber, the most important room in the house when built, where the 16th- and 17th-century panelling has been hung with portraits from the period, including one of Sir Ralph’s grandson. The replica fleur-de-lis panels replace those stolen in the 1980s. On the opposite side of the Great Chamber, in the east wing, is the Victorian Study, restored to its mid-19th-century appearance and also containing a Tudor garderobe. Further up the stairs on this side of the house is an exhibition room displaying preserved examples of the squatters’ artwork around the fireplace and providing information on the various architectural changes to the house over the centuries. Throughout the restoration of the building, the aim has been to reveal these changes wherever possible, rather than opting for a mock-up of a single historical period.

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MUSEUMS & GALLERIES OF LONDON

Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

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