Although much of the East End has been renovated over the years and the area is seen as being more modern than traditional, you can still find historical buildings in the area that hark back to older times. A visit to Hackney, for example, could include a trip to an authentic Grade II listed Tudor house, Sutton House.
Tudor London – Visiting Sutton House in Hackney
This is considered to be the oldest residential building in the Hackney area and, according to some experts, the oldest or second oldest in all of the East End of London. It gives you one of the few chances you have to see an original brick building from the Tudor period with Georgian features that were added in later years. Over the years, the outside of the building may have been modified and developed, however its interior retains many interesting features that show us how families lived in the time of Henry VIII.
The history of Sutton House
In 1535, Sir Ralph Sadleir built Sutton House as his home. Sadleir was the Principal Secretary of State in Henry VIII’s court and, as such, was a significant political figure of the time. During his teenage years, Sadleir had worked with the influential Thomas Cromwell and, as part of his staff, had played a part in the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He built his house when he married at which point it was known as the “Bryk Place” due to the fact that it was made, unsurprisingly, from bricks!
Over the next few centuries, Sutton House was the home of many different families and was used for different purposes by merchants and Huguenot weavers, for example. In the 1750s, its owner, John Cox, split the house into two homes, Ivy House and Milford House. By the 18th century, the buildings were being used as separate schools for boys and girls.
In the 1930s, the National Trust purchased the two houses that make up Sutton House. During the Second World War, it was a local fire warden centre and, after the war, it is best known as the headquarters of the ASTMS Union until the 1980s.
From this point onwards, the house went through some troubled times. In 1982, it became home to a group of squatters who held popular rock concerts in its barn. They renamed it the Blue House for a time. You can still see some of the squatters’ artwork and graffiti in the house when you visit. Sutton House has now been restored by the National Trust and is a popular tourist attraction.
Things to see and do in Sutton House
Just a quick walk around Sutton House will give you a unique idea of how Tudor families lived. The National Trust has retained and restored many of the traditional Tudor oak panelling and many rooms contain their original carved fireplaces and windows. You can also see some interesting examples of extremely colourful Jacobean wall paintings and a Tudor kitchen. It is said that the house is home to what may be the oldest existing toilet in the capital as it has an example of a garderobe that dates back to the 16th century!
The Trust has placed a variety of treasure chests around the house. These are especially popular with kids who can get hands-on with the contents of the chests, learning about the way that people lived in the house over the years.
Families are also well catered for with regular family days and activities. Some of these, such as fencing and dance classes, must be booked in advance but you can simply pop in to take part in others. These include activities such as arts and crafts, trails, fancy dress, games and storytelling sessions. The museum also runs candlelit tours on a regular basis if you want to get a really atmospheric view of the house.
If you are aged over 55, you might like to pop down to Sutton House on a Friday afternoon. The house runs an open afternoon for this age group (known as the “recycled teenagers”) each week with a range of activities including arts and crafts and even exercise classes!
Visiting Sutton House
There is a tea room that has indoor and outdoor courtyard seating, a small National Trust shop and a second-hand book shop on the site. You can also buy vintage teapots there. You do not have to pay to access the tea room or the shop; however, there is a small charge to go round the house itself.
The closest stations to Sutton House are Hackney Central and Hackney Downs. The house is not usually open on Mondays or Tuesdays, although it does sometimes open on these days on some holidays. It is open from 10.30am to 5pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays and from 12pm to 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays.