Tucked away in between Hackney Central and Homerton station is an unassuming brown brick house. It may not look like much from the outside, but this is Hackney’s oldest residential house. Since it was built in 1535, wealthy merchants, sea captains, clergymen and even squatters have called Sutton House home. Today, the Grade-II listed National Trust site pays homage to its various tenants with rooms showcasing what the house was like in each of period of history. From carved Tudor fireplaces to a squatter’s makeshift bedroom, this unique house showcases British home life through the ages. The garden of Sutton House, formerly a derelict patch of scrubland, is now home to Breaker’s Yard.
On entering the house, I’m greeted by… well, no one. An unmanned cash register sits on a table by the door as two elderly ladies chat near the window. I head down the corridor to the self-service cafe, fitted with a big farm-style table covered in cakes. There, I find someone to take my money and hand me a map of the house. I get to wandering – apparently, I’m the only visitor here to see the house rather than indulge in cakes.
The rooms are pretty bare, save for a few pieces of original furniture pushed up against the walls, and a fraction of a Victorian tea set on a tray. The carved panelling in the Tudor rooms is beautiful, warmly framing the brick fireplaces. A few portraits, presumably of former residents, decorate the walls. There’s something charming about the fact that the house hasn’t been fully restored.
Walking up a flight of dated pink stairs, though, I reach the real gem of the house. I peek into the room at the top of the staircase and my heart jumps as I see an unmade bed surrounded by rugs and photographs. Did I accidentally wander into someone’s bedroom? This room is the gem of Sutton House. It was created in collaboration with some of the former squatters and displays what the house might have looked like in the 1980s.
When the squatters arrived in 1985, they sent a letter of intent to neighbourhood residents. ‘Hello!’, it read, ‘As you’ve probably noticed, something is happening at Sutton House – several of us have moved in and are hoping to convert it into a kind of community centre’. The squatters dubbed Sutton House as ‘the Blue House’ during this period. They opened a cafe, gave arts & crafts workshops and even organised gigs in the house. Eventually, the council evicted the squatters. The house was nearly sold to developers to be converted into luxury flats. However, the community protested, and the house was turned over to the care of the National Trust.
Having checked out the cafe and shop, I head outside to Breaker’s Yard. At the time that the squatters occupied Sutton House, this was an auto scrapyard. Today, it is a garden, incorporated as part of the National Trust site. Like the rest of the site, the modern installations pay homage to the history of the space. Artists have created installations here incorporating scrap car parts. The centrepiece of the garden is a two-story caravan, decorated from the inside as a stately home, with crown moulding and imitation plaster bust included.
Other installations include a bus fitted as a greenhouse and a collection of sandboxes within truck tires. Perhaps the most delicate feature, though, is the gate to Breaker’s Yard. Local residents, artists, and even celebrities donated over 1000 toy cars to decorate the gate.
Sutton House and Breaker’s Yard is open Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is £6.30, and they often host events for children and adults alike. Upcoming events include a Cadbury’s Egg Easter Egg Hunt and an Evening of Norse Mythology. Where should we go next? Let us know in the comments below and sign up for our weekly email to keep up to date with what’s on in London.[mc4wp_form id=”1182″]