Sutton House

Above: The front of the building. Although the windows are not of Tudor style, the rest of the exterior and interior is, in part, 16th century.

Sutton House is a Grade II*-listed Tudor manor house in Homerton High Street, in the London Borough of Hackney. It is now owned by the National Trust and is now the oldest residential house in Hackney.

Sutton House was built in 1535 by Ralph Sadler a courtier of Henry VIII. At the age of fourteen, Ralph had been placed in the household of Thomas Cromwell. Here he learnt Latin and developed other skills he would later put to good use in his political career. Sadler met his wife Helen Barre at Cromwell’s house.

Sadler was Principal Secretary of State to Henry VIII. He carried out missions in connection with the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He was later sent to embassies to Scotland and France.

By 1535 Ralph Sadler had built his family a three-storey house in Hackney, called the ‘Bryk Place’. The house is built of red brick and was originally built of four blocks enclosing a quadrangle exactly 81 ft. 3 inches square. In 1751 John Cox divided the house into two self-contained residences – Ivy House and Milford House. The Hackney Parish rate books provide a complete record of the occupants of the two houses from the 1750s onwards.

The house became home to a succession of merchants, sea captains, Huguenot silk-weavers, Victorian schoolmistresses and Edwardian clergy. The frontage was modified in the Georgian period, but the core remains essentially a Tudor building. Oak panelled rooms, including a rare ‘linen fold’ room, Tudor windows and carved fireplaces survive intact.

The name of the house is due to a misattribution to Thomas Sutton, founder of Charterhouse School, who was another notable Hackney resident, in the adjacent Tan House. This was demolished in 1806 to allow for the extension of Sutton Place, a terrace of 16 Georgian Houses (Grade II listed) to the west of the property.

At the turn of the 18th century, Hackney had many schools, and Sutton House was in use as a boys’ school. The building later became Milford House girls’ school.

In 1938 the building was given to the National Trust by W A Robertson in memory of his brother Norman Cairns who died in 1917. During the Second World War, it was used as a centre for Fire Wardens. During the 1960s the house was rented to the ASTMS Union whose General Secretary was Clive Jenkins. The Union left in the early 1980s and the house fell into disrepair. In 1982 the house was occupied by squatters and re-named the ‘Blue House’. Rock concerts were held in the barn and this only contributed to the house falling into further decline. The squatters were evicted but still, the building was not looked after and a small fire broke out in the building causing further damage to the interior.

It was not until 1987 that the Sutton House Society was formed with the aim of rescuing the building. At what might be called ‘the eleventh hour’, renovations were put in hand and completed in 1994. The building is now in use as a museum, a cafe, an art gallery and a gift shop. It is even registered for the holding of marriages.

Sutton House is a very important building architecturally and contains many features that are unique in London and, indeed, in the rest of England. Its future is secure now but, due to neglect in the 20th century, many of its important features were damaged for one reason or another.

The building stands at Nos 2-4 Homerton High Street, towards the western end, and is well worth a visit.


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