The courtyard at the heart of the house
From an aerial viewpoint Sutton House looks more or less like a square, with the Courtyard in the middle. However, its original Tudor plan was ‘H’-shaped, with the centre block slightly more towards the front (north side) and the two aisles a bit shorter, more like a squared ‘U’. On your next visit, look for our models of Tudor Hackney and Tudor Sutton House to aid your imagination.
Some of our tour guides like to start their narration in the Courtyard, because only from here is it possible to see how the house would have appeared in the 16th century when it was built. The front façade of Sutton House has changed over time and now presents a mixture of architectural styles, demonstrating the house’s adaptation. However, from the back of the centre block the Tudor gabled roof is still visible, as well as the original chimney stack (up to the first parapet) and a lot of original Tudor brickwork, characterised by diagonal and diamond patterns made of glazed, darkened bricks.
In Tudor times it would have been very expensive to make glass windows, as each individual diamond pane would have been made and cut by hand. This often meant that family-owners would take their windows with them to the next home! The only surviving original window in the house, the 'Armada’ window, overlooks the Courtyard on the west side. It may have been left untouched during the house's Georgian makeover because it was facing into a shed, and not deemed important enough to replace with a sash window, as happened everywhere else.
The Courtyard as we now know it dates back to 1904, when the Wenlock Barn was added on the south side, sealing it and creating a nice area of shade. This Arts and Crafts addition was built by the St John’s Church Institute to accommodate large social gatherings; it was restored in 1991 and is still used for the same purpose.
In every season, the Courtyard plays a central role in the life of the house and it’s very well cared for by our passionate volunteer gardeners. During spring and summer, colourful tiny flowers bloom here and there and a few wooden tables and chairs accommodate visitors. Its orange and yellow tones brighten up dull autumnal days… and give our volunteers lots of work with fallen leaves! At Christmas, it turns into a magical spot, decorated with a grand Fir tree and fairy lights and candles all around.
Like the rest of Sutton House, our lovely Courtyard has really seen it all in the last 500 years. But, despite all transformations, it will never cease to evoke calm and serenity to visitors and workers alike – a true sanctuary from busy, noisy city life.