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At Sutton House

August 18, 2022
by the gentle author

Next tickets available for my walking tour on Sunday 21st August



I love to visit dark old houses on bright summer days. There is something delicious about stepping from the heat of the day into the cool of the interior, almost as if the transition from one temperature to another was that of time travel, from the present into another era.

I wonder if this notion is a residue of my childhood, when my parents took me on summer trips to visit stately homes, so that now I associate these charismatically crumbling old piles of architecture with warm English afternoons.

Such were my feelings when visiting Sutton House, the oldest house in the East End, recently. It made me think of the country mansions of city burghers that once filled Spitalfields before the streets were laid out and the terraces built up.

Built between 1534-5 by Ralph Sadleir, an associate of Thomas Cromwell, Sutton House employed oak beams from the royal forest of Enfield given to Cromwell by Henry VIII. In 1550, Sadleir sold his house to John Machell who became Sheriff Of London, acquiring wealth as a City merchant. Overreaching himself in debt, the house was repossessed by Sir James Deane, a money-lender.

By 1627, it was in the ownership of Captain John Milward, a silk merchant and member of the East India Company, who furnished it with oriental carpets and commissioned elaborate strapwork murals upon the staircase that survive in fragments to this day.

Sarah Freeman leased the house in 1657 for a girls’ school which ran for nearly a century until it was divided into two dwellings in the mid-eighteenth century, Ivy House and Milford House. Only at the end of the nineteenth century were the two halves reunited when Canon Evelyn Gardner created St John’s Institute as a recreational club for ‘men of all classes.’ Within ten years the building was condemned as unsafe, but thanks to a public appeal which raised £3000 it was extensively renovated with additions in the Arts & Crafts style.

After the Institute left, a failed attempt was made to buy Sutton House for the nation before the National Trust stepped in to save it in 1938. For decades, rooms were let as offices to voluntary organisations until squatters occupied the house in the eighties. Then developers were prevented from converting it into luxury flats by a successful local campaign to Save Sutton House which eventually opened to the public in 1991.

Thus history passed through Sutton House like a whirlwind yet, despite all the changes, the atmosphere of past ages still lingers, especially in the shadowy panelled rooms that enfold the overwhelming mystery of numberless untold stories.

Tudor door and Georgian fanlight

Original transom window dating from the Tudor era

In the Linenfold Parlour

Looking downstairs from the Great Chamber

Looking from the Little Chamber into the Great Chamber

The Great Chamber

Cabinet in the Little Chamber

Tudor kitchen

Cellar stairs

Looking through the courtyard

Looking up from the courtyard

Known as the ‘Armada Window,’ this is the oldest window in the East End

Sutton House can be visited as part of a guided tour. Tickets go on sale every Friday for tours on the following Wednesday, Friday & Sunday.

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10 Responses leave one →
  1. Nicholas Borden permalink
    August 18, 2022

    A hidden gem in hackney.

  2. August 18, 2022

    Much of the ‘old’ Hackney that I knew and loved from my childhood days has gone….. thankfully this gem of a place remains. A miracle it didn’t fall into the hands of greedy developers thanks to hard fought local opposition.

  3. Rob Hill permalink
    August 18, 2022

    I always find it slightly amusing that the National Trust hold up Sutton House as one of their treasures as in the late 1980s they were eager to get rid of it as it was only in Hackney. The campaigners pointed out that they would not take a similar view if it were in Hampstead, fortunately they changed their minds.

    The squatters actually helped to preserve the house as when they were evicted thieves stole the linen fold paneling, fortunately it was recovered.

  4. Nina Archer permalink
    August 18, 2022

    So lovely – thankyou

  5. Angella-Dee Sherriffe permalink
    August 18, 2022

    This was The Blue House when we squated it. The punx retrieved some of the old pannaling . Well done those Punks We had many historic moments too. The Best squat Ever!

  6. Bernie permalink
    August 18, 2022

    Sadly, I can only dream of visiting, being almost 90 and resident in Glasgow. But I am a Hackney Lad still at heart, having grown up in that borough. Yet I was not aware of Sutton House and still do not know where it sits in Hackney. Grateful thanks to anyone who will tell me where it is!

  7. Keith permalink
    August 18, 2022

    A lovely house, full of things to see and a remarkable survivor from the age of Tudor kings, 2 world wars, doodle bugs, the blitz and periods of destructive councils and developers who love to pull things down and replace them with monstrous tower blocks. Touch gently the bricks of this beautufully kept building.

  8. Martin Izat permalink
    August 18, 2022

    When looking around Sutton house with one of the volunteers.I noted the graffitti left by the squatters.It was a band name/ logo that a friend knew. his band had played with them.I think he contacted them about it & let them know what details he knew about this band.A very little kmowm psychedelic rock band

  9. Marcia Howard permalink
    August 18, 2022

    An amazing gem

  10. Robyn permalink
    August 19, 2022

    Thank you for these wonderful photos – I’m almost at the end of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy and I’m very pleased to see Ralph Sadlier’s home!

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