New College of the Humanities

Sutton House - A New Lease of Life

Michael Leech on a Tudor revival in the East End

In the sixteenth century Hackney was a salubrious place where contemporary City gents lived in country houses. It remained a village until Victorian suburbs submerged it and tore out old roots. Sutton House, which dates from 1535 and which has just been opened to the public by the National Trust who have owned it since 1938, has been labelled as the oldest house in East London, yet not long ago other older buildings still stood in what must have been the Tunbridge Wells of Tudor times.

Mike Gray, a photographic technician and local historian who has been instrumental in saving Sutton House from an uncertain future recalls that medieval Brooke House existed until 1954 when it was pulled down to make room for a school. Built by Henry Percy it was later owned by Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII. When it went only Sutton House, or the bryk place as it was known, remained of Hackney's old buildings.

'When I turned my attention to Sutton House in 1987' says Gray, 'I thought it was a lost cause; planning applications were about to come up before Hackney Council for private development. We immediately began to gather local supporters to form the Sutton House Society to save Sutton House. The initial campaign was to persuade councillors not to approve the application. Fortunately for us Robin Mills, the regional director of the National Trust was very sympathetic and the then chairman of the Trust, Dame Jennifer Jenkins also came to visit after many letters from Trust members. The house was in an appalling state but Dame Jennifer could see its importance.'

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