It’s rare for Mr Techno to have a day off at the weekend (perils of restaurant work) and there was no way we were going to waste the opportunity sitting at home. However, the torrential rain this Saturday was a bit much, even for us, so we decided that it might be a good time for a more indoor visit!
I’m ashamed to say we hadn’t yet been to our local National Trust place, despite the fact that we are members and both Mr Techno and I used to work for the National Trust (at the beautiful Greys Court near Reading). Add to that the fact that I work for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and you will see just how shocking this is! Clearly, something had to be done to remedy the situation.
There are comparatively few National Trust places in London, but we are lucky to have one not far away. Sutton House in Hackney is a Tudor house, originally built for Ralph Sadleir, who was a member of Henry VIII’s court. The house is brick built, which is unusual for the period, and deceptively large, with rooms spread over three storeys.
Some of what you find at Sutton House is what you would expect from a National Trust site; Georgian wood panelling (cleverly hinged to reveal the Tudor brickwork behind), some good insights into the conservation work done at the house, and a lovely little shop. But this is not your average historic home. Sutton House was squatted during the 1980s, and the Trust uses some of the rooms to show this fascinating stage in the house’s history. So while some rooms are more ‘typical’ and focus on the Tudor history, one is dressed as a squatter’s bedroom, complete with pairs of jeans thrown over the furniture, slogans against empty housing and a graffiti wall. Events at the property echo this past – in fact the cafe was being set up for a punk gig that evening, which was a bit of a shame because we missed out on the requisite National Trust scone and tea combo. (I’ve just read that last sentence back. I am officially old.)
Although it was a wet weekend day, we shared the house with only one other family and a handful of other visitors, giving us the chance to wander freely. We parked our sopping wet buggy up by the cafe – buggy parking space might have been an issue had there been more families visiting, but as it was the volunteers were happy for us to leave it there. The other family had a toddler roughly the same age as Tom, so the two of them enjoyed little spurts of play as we crossed over on our meanderings.
Most of the rooms were surprisingly toddler-safe, with very few breakable objects to be threatened. In fact, the whole house was very child-friendly – there were toys stashed away in some of the chests downstairs and upstairs we found tents set up in two of the rooms. One was allegedly an example of a recuperation tent from the Crimean War, complete with dress up kit and notes on herbal remedies, whilst the other had no explanation that I could see (I think it was part of an artist’s residency that is being set up currently, but couldn’t swear to it). Either way, they were perfect for little ones to explore. There was also some kind of feeling game set up in the kitchen – of the put-hand-in-box-and-guess-contents kind – bit old for Tom yet but good for older kids.
The thing we did miss out on is Breaker’s Yard – the outdoor space around the house which has been transformed from unused space into an urban garden (one of Boris Johnson’s ‘Pocket Parks’). It seemed to have been closed up for the winter – or at least for the rainy day – which is a shame as I very much want to see the caravan which has been done up as a stately home. They had some great-looking events in the space over the summer, but somehow we never quite made it to any of them. Next year maybe.
Though we did miss out on Breaker’s Yard (and cake!) we had a great afternoon at Sutton House and will definitely be going back.