If you walk past the BSix Sixth Form College building in Hackney’s Clapton area, you may not notice anything too unusual about the site. But, this was once the site of one of the most impressive Tudor homes in the East End and, at one point in time, it was one of the royal palaces of Henry VIII.
The original building that came to be known as King’s Place and latterly Brooke House, may no longer stand, but it has seen some interesting historical action over the years.
The building of Brooke House
In Tudor times, the East End was an attractive area to the nobles of the London court who liked to spend time here to get away from city life. This was a green and pleasant area that was full of woodlands and marshes. It is thought that the main house on this site started to be built in the 15th century. At this point, the land was owned by the Dean of St Paul’s, William Worsley. The original house is held to have been composed around a courtyard and was well known for its brick hall, gatehouse and chapel.
Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell
The estate passed to a couple of other families in the next few years until it was sold to the Earl of Northumberland, Henry Percy, in 1531. He swapped some land with Henry VIII a few years later and the house then became the property of the king for a while at least. Henry gave the estate to his trusted minister, Thomas Cromwell and the house really started to develop under Cromwell’s management.
He redeveloped and expanded much of the buildings, adding new chimneys and glass windows, for example. The house started to shape up as an impressive home and the redevelopment work cost Cromwell a lot of money. However, in 1536 Cromwell gave the house back to Henry – Cromwell was never to actually live there himself, despite all the work he did on it.
Henry VIII and the East End – Hackney’s Royal Palace
Henry visited the estate a few times. His most notable visit, in historical terms, came in 1537. He chose this estate as neutral ground where he could meet with his eldest daughter, Mary. They reconciled here when she agreed to take the Oath of Supremacy. This effectively meant that she accepted that she was illegitimate and that her father was the head of the Church of England.
Following Henry’s death in 1547, the estate was given to Sir William Herbert who had served Henry as a gentleman of the Privy Chamber.
Brooke House after Henry VIII
Herbert sold the estate in 1547 to Sir Ralph Sadleir. He had served Henry VIII at court and had been a protégé of Thomas Cromwell. Sadleir lived locally and had previously built his own home, Sutton House, in the Hackney area. Sutton House is still standing and is a fine example of Tudor architecture. He did not, however, hang on to the house and estate for long, as he sold it to Sir Wymond Carew a year later. The house stayed in Carew hands for the next few decades, but they did not live there and rented the estate out.
One of its most notable tenants was Lady Margaret Douglas who was a granddaughter of Henry VII. She could not enjoy the house as much as she may have liked as her relative Queen Elizabeth I imprisoned her in the Tower of London a couple of times!
The connection with Henry VIII continued, however, after the house passed on to new owners. Richard Carew sold the estate to Henry Cary in 1578. Cary was Ann Boleyn’s nephew. In 1583, the house passed into the hands of Sir Rowland Hayward, best known for twice being the Lord Mayor of London. By the late 1590s, it was owned by the Countess of Oxford, who then sold it to the family who was to give it its most recent name, the Grevilles who held the Brooke baronetcy.
The Grevilles are thought to have substantially altered and developed the house, adding a double courtyard. The house was changed yet again in the early 1700s when the house was sold on and divided up. By the mid 18th century, it was best known not as a royal palace or impressive Tudor stately home but as the local lunatic asylum.
Modern History: Brooke House Today
The house was severely damaged by bombing raids in the Second World War and fell into the hands of the local council in 1944. It made the decision in the mid-1950s to demolish it completely. It may be that people did not fully understand the historical significance of the house at this stage as it had been redeveloped so completely over the years. An archaeological dig was put in place before the house was pulled down, but by that time, it was too late to save Brooke House for the future.