Wellbeing at Sutton House, the Old House at the Corner

Church Institute Committee 1935

In 1891, the local church St. John at Hackney took over Sutton House as a home for their men’s club, affectionately known as 'The ‘Tute'. They remained here for over 40 years and brought together men of all ages and classes. The club was largely a social place, and the mission of the institution was '...to promote the Spiritual, Mental, Social and Physical welfare of young men'.

2020 was the 125th anniversary of the church buying the freehold of Sutton House, and also the 125th anniversary of the National Trust, which planned to focus on wellbeing. Wellbeing means an array of different things to different people: from exercising to baking, it can take many forms.

As we thought about the anniversaries we tried to picture what wellbeing might have meant for the members of the ‘Tute, taking the New Economics Foundation’s 'Five ways to Wellbeing'  as our guide and applying this to its principles and activities.

1Connect

The Institute was created to build a strong community among men who sought to 'better themselves'. An account written by John Dyter, who was a member of the club in the late 1920s, says, 'Class distinction did not exist – no barriers of any sort were put up and everyone was on equal terms.'

Although it was created by the local church it was a generally secular place, however alcohol and gambling were strictly against the rules. The ‘Tute was primarily for socialising and games, with little discussion or any pressure to attend church, according to Dyter.

Of the spaces in the house, the Wenlock Barn embodies the socialising and connecting principles most of all. It was specifically built for hosting events and various types of gatherings, including theatrical performances and concerts put on by members.

2. Be active

To keep up physical wellbeing members were able to practise various sporting activities, including football and gymnastics. The club held billiards tournaments across its two billiards rooms, one of which was in the Great Chamber. They even had a room specially for table tennis!

3. Take notice

The Church Institute was responsible for a lot restoration work we still enjoy at Sutton House. In 1897 Reverend Algernon Lawley became the rector of the club, and was shocked to find the building in such a poor state. By 1904 he had managed to raise £3000 to begin repairs on the house, which included removing a roof over the courtyard and installing the prentice that still stands to this day. He also oversaw the installation of Tudor reproduction panelling in the Gallery, to match the original panelling found in the adjacent Little Chamber and Great Chamber.

Lawley was also responsible for the addition of the Wenlock Barn, which was funded by an anonymous donation of £1000 from a member of the Lawley family. He named the barn in memory of his mother.

4. Learn

The Institute had a library and writing room. Its collection boasted a large selection of fiction, history and biography and a number of reviews, magazines and newspapers, as detailed in the club’s prospectus and rule book.

It was in this space that members hung the anonymously donated Hogarth print-set, Idleness and Industry. This series of 12 engravings depicted how hard work and diligent application will always reward those who live by them, suggesting that the club saw these as aspirational and relatable.

Today, in the same room, we still display a series of Hogarth prints, although different in theme (A Harlot’s Progress), to maintain that connection to the days of the ‘Tute.

5. Give

From the very beginning, the church was committed to renting out spaces in the east wing of the building to charitable bodies. The Charity Organisation Society (COS) was the first. Founded in 1869 and initially led by National Trust matriarch Octavia Hill and social reformer Helen Bosanquet, it aimed to provide relief for those living in poverty.

Sutton House's courtyard

The courtyard at the heart of the house

Our Courtyard is a quiet and secluded space enclosed by the four walls of Sutton House, but it was originally the beginning of verdant and thriving 30-acre grounds.