The East India Company and Sutton House


In 20219, ten year 5 pupils from Shoreditch Park Primary School helped us uncover the connections between the East India Company and Sutton House.

Colonial Countryside is a national writing and history project led by the University of Leicester in partnership with Peepal Tree Press and the National Trust. The project assembles authors, writers, historians and primary pupils to explore country houses’ Caribbean and East India Company connections. It commissions, resources and publishes new creative writing by children and professional writers.

In addition to the children’s written responses, here at Sutton House we took the project one step further, and the children worked with an artist called Lola Lely to create an object to display in the house to help tell the story of the East India Company.


Captain John Milward and the East India Company

From the mid 1620s Sutton House, then known as the Bryk Place, was owned by Captain John Milward. Milward was a ‘Merchant Adventurer’.

His ability to purchase such a house was likely to have been due to the wealth he obtained through the East India Company, of which he was a governor. He had a grand painted staircase built in his new home, decorated with trompe l’oeil paintings, and may have been responsible for installing the exquisite linenfold panels, both of which still remain today.

He largely traded in silk, but the price of silk decreased rapidly throughout the 1630s, and Milward’s wealth was short lived. By 1641 he had transferred all of his holdings in the East India Company to four individuals including his son. He died soon after.


Lola Lely and Shoreditch Park Primary School

While some of the results of Milward’s wealth still remain in the house today, the troubling history of the East India Company is not one we have told in any depth before.

Our New Museum School Trainee Daniel Adediran conducted new research into Milward and the East India company, to form a new guide for visitors.

East London based textile artist Lola Lely took inspiration from the children’s writing about Milward and the East India Company to help them create an original artwork to display in the Linenfold Parlour.

They used traditional techniques and materials including indigo dye and other natural dye extracts to dye silks. The finished product resembles billowing sails.