Sutton House: Hackney’s Tudor Home

Did you know that Hackney is home to Sutton House, built in 1535?

Now a part of the thriving East London Community, Sutton House is full of weird juxtapositions. The best is the upstairs bedroom – kept as a 1980s squat –  but there’s also Breaker’s Yard, a community space with a huge abandoned van in the middle.

Sutton House Hackney

The History

Sutton House was built in 1535 as a 3-story family home known as ‘the bryk place’. The owner was Ralph Sadleir, a name you might recognise from Hillary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies.

Sutton House Hackney

How the bryk place appeared in the 1530s

Meet The Sadleirs

Sadleir had been placed in the household of Thomas Cromwell at 14 and later helped Cromwell carry out duties in connections to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He wanted Sutton House for his wife Helen Barre, also a part of Cromwell’s household.

Sutton House Hackney

A portrait of an unknown man by Hans Holbein the Younger. It’s thought this could possibly be of Ralph Sadleir as Holbein painted a lot of henry VIII’s court including Thomas Cromwell.

This portrait inside Sutton House shows Ralph in later life as an MP.

Sutton House Hackney

He was an important diplomat under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I (and anyone that can survive through all of those wildly differing monarchs must have been a shrewd, diplomat!)

Opposite the portrait of Ralph are two other Sadleir descendants; Sir Edwin and his wife Lady Mary.

Sutton House Hackney

They’re included here because they were painted by a female artist; Mary Beale in 1687. Incredibly unusual for the time, Beale was one of only a few women able to make a living as a professional painter in the 17th century.

The bryk place

In the 15th and 16th Century bricks were rare and most houses were made with wattle and daub panels. This house would’ve been very unusual , extravagant even.

Hillary Mantel came here while writing Wolf Hall and a particular place you can see its influence on the novel is in the cellar. As the New Statesmen reports

Sutton House Hackney

“she found the original Tudor bricks, and in one she spotted the imprint of a dog’s paw. Centuries ago, when the bricks were made and then laid out to dry, some unknown mutt had run across them. The sight moved her. Most of us would see a paw print; Mantel hears the dog, smells it, feels its rough fur under her fingers, watches it lope down a stinking London street.”

Sutton House Hackney

It’s All In The Details…

Throughout the house there’s opportunities to peel back the panelling, some of which is original Tudor, but the information panels aren’t too clear on which are restored.

Sutton House Hackney

Some of these can be flipped back to see original carved fireplaces, window lintels and brickwork.

An example in the Great Chamber is over the fireplace; 

Sutton House Hackney

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Sutton House Hackney

In another room the plaster has been revealed to show a hidden message;

Sutton House Hackney

“This panelling fixed by George Barnett in The Month of September 1904″

Most intriguing however is this curious bit of graffiti, appearing to show a man holding a grid-iron.

Sutton House Hackney

These were practical household objects used to cook food but were also used as a torture device. It’s thought the figure might be a good luck charm warding off the devil, who might try to enter the house through the chimney. 

In more recent history a new group of spirits did move in. But they weren’t all that evil…

1980s – ‘The Blue House’

In April 1985 a group of squatters moved into the house, writing a letter to a local resident explaining their mission;

“several of us have moved in and are hoping to convert it into a kind of community centre.”

Sutton House Hackney

Mural of an eye painted by an anonymous squatter in the house in 1985. According to Sutton House it’s the emblem of the rock group P.S.I

They wanted to open the house to the public and even hosted rock concerts here which, despite good intentions for community building, were not conducive to a 500 year old house.  

The squatters were evicted after a year the Save Sutton House Campaign started racing funds to restore and reopen the house. The renovations with finished in 1991. It’s now owned by the National Trust.


Sutton House Hackney

Sutton House is open Wednesday – Sunday 12-5pm, Adults are £6 and Children £3. 

Find out more and organise a visit on their website here.

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